Friday, October 2, 2015

A Great Father-in-Law from the Greatest Generation: A Remembrance

Bob and Jean, around their 50th anniversary

Among the sadder of life’s milestones: when your son loses his last surviving grandparent. My father-in-law, Bob Bray, passed away peacefully on October 1, two weeks shy of his 90th birthday

Bob proudly served in the US Navy as a sonarman on a destroyer escort and saw action in the Battle of Leyte Gulf and Battle of Okinawa in World War II. (He also served during the Korean War.) Our son Sean became the fourth generation of Brays to enter military service when he enlisted in the US Marine Corps.

Bob in his Navy uniform

Bob's military decorations

I could not have asked for a better father-in-law and a better grandparent for our son. Bob adored Sean. When we handed him an infant Sean in the Albuquerque airport, Bob, an otherwise fairly stoic man, began to cry. Bob’s own parents died before he met my mother-in-law, so Bob often worried he wouldn’t live to see his grandchild.

We never lived in the same town (and sometimes, not even the same country), but we worked hard to make sure Sean had quality time with his grandparents, especially after we moved back to Virginia from spending four years in Germany. Sean has fond memories of spending summers with Grandma and Grandpa. One summer, they took him to the YMCA, and he returned home knowing how to swim. Another summer, to DisneyWorld and the Kennedy Space Center (where Bob worked on the Apollo program in the 60s and 70s). And one summer, my exasperated mother enlisted my assistance in getting Bob to turn loose of Sean so she could have some time with her grandson.

In 2013, the extended Bray family met at a hacienda B&B in Albuquerque to celebrate Bob and Jean’s 50th wedding anniversary, and Bob surprised me by starting to cry (the second and last time I saw this) as he recited his renewal of vows.

From the time Sean turned 15, Bob’s first question to him (on phone calls or in person) was unfailingly, “How’s your love life?” the question only stopping when Sean became engaged to Carey in the summer of 2014. And despite failing memory in his later years, Bob absolutely knew who Carey was, never needing a reminder. (We asked him on one fall visit, “Do you remember what happens with Sean in January?” Without a pause, and with lots of enthusiasm, he replied, “Sean’s getting married!!”) 

When talking about losing loved ones, people often ask if it’s better for it to be sudden and quick or long and drawn out. Having lost both my parents fairly young (and my mother totally unexpectedly), I can tell you, they both just suck.

I’ll close with a line from the Navy theme, “Anchors Aweigh.”

      “Until we meet once more, here's wishing you a happy voyage home!”

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