The Last Smile

Cyn and I help Grampo celebrate his 64th birthday, fifty-two years ago today

It was the day after Christmas, 1971. I was fourteen and my sister, Cyn, was fifteen. Our family was at the Vets Hospital visiting Grampo, my dad’s father, who had spiraled into dementia after undergoing double-cataract surgery months earlier.

Our beloved Grampo was sitting in a wheelchair in his room, staring vacantly ahead. My sister and I were sitting patiently on his bed, waiting to go home. It had been a long time since Grampo had recognized any of us or demonstrated that any trace of the Grampo we knew and loved was still “in there.”

Suddenly, Grampo turned to look at Cyn and me . . . and smiled. It was no ordinary smile. It was a radiant smile that spoke to us, telling us, “I love you so much, you have given me so much joy, and everything is as it should be.” And then, in an instant, he turned and was gone again, lost in the vast wilderness of his ravaged mind. Cyn and I sat on the bed, transfixed, not wanting to move, wanting to hold on to that precious connection, that loving smile, for as long as we possibly could. Four days later, Grampo was gone.

Today, forty years later, Cyn and I still talk about Grampo’s last smile with awe, reverence, and above all, gratitude. We can still feel his love for us as strongly as we did in that most unexpected of moments, and we feel blessed beyond words that Grampo was granted permission to give us that final, glorious gift.

Happy 116th birthday, Grampo. You are loved and missed beyond measure.

Grampo snuggling with his grandcubs

Click here to see all my posts featuring my parents and grandparents.


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24 Responses to “The Last Smile”

  1. Kathleen Says:

    What a sweet and moving remembrance. Always wished I could have met him. How wonderful that you all experienced the gift of each other’s presence.

  2. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Yes, it was indeed the most precious of gifts, Kathleen.

  3. From your sister Says:

    Wish he coulda stuck around a little longer, but we sure were lucky to have him for as long as we did, aren’t we?

  4. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Yes, it would have been great for him to hold his great-grandgirl. I’m glad I could share that moment with you and that it meant so much to both of us.

  5. Serena Says:

    What a beautiful family memory. :)

  6. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Yes, it’s one of my favorites, Serena.

  7. Harriet Says:

    How precious the memory. A loved one’s moment of saying “I’ll be seeing you.”
    Bless his soul for giving you that smile!

  8. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Thank you so much, Harriet.

  9. Erin Says:

    Made me tear up. What an amazing and special occurrence. I love our family!

  10. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Me too, Er. I sure wish Grampo could have welcomed you into the world. He missed you by only seven-and-a-half years.

  11. Julia Says:

    Thank you for sharing this heartfelt memory! Thank you for sharing your gift of conveying the moments that really matter, the moments that make life precious and alive.

  12. Phil Bolsta Says:

    You are very welcome, Julia!

  13. LunaJune Says:

    Phil.. thank you for sharing that… I love how what you need comes .. I am dealing with my little sister dying faster every day… and in her anger and frustration I feel pushed away… but late at night when the hospital is quiet she calls me.. and those moments are precious, even if all I am doing is looking for the smile or the laugh between the tears.
    Your Grampo is proud :~)

  14. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Oh, LunaJune, I’m so sorry to hear about your sister. I’m glad you are cherishing the moments you do have together.

  15. SHARON Says:


  16. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Thanks so much, Sharon!

  17. Barb Getty Says:

    How very cool that, even as a young child, you were able to recognize and appreciate how special that moment was. Wow. Thanks so much for sharing this, Phil.

  18. Phil Bolsta Says:

    You’re very welcome, Barb!

  19. Margaret Says:

    What a lovely piece, glad your Grampo could give you that special message through his smile, showing his love for you and that this stayed with you through your life. Thanks for the share!

  20. Phil Bolsta Says:

    You’ve very welcome, Margaret!

  21. Todd Silva Says:

    That’s a beautiful and touching story Phil. Thank you for sharing it! And Happy Birthday to ya, Grampo!

  22. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Thanks, Todd!

  23. anniegoose Says:

    This is a beautiful tribute to your wonderful grandfather.


  24. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Thank you very much, Annie!

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