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  • rachellesinski

Alzheimer's and my Grandfather

Updated: Jul 20, 2021

My grandfather, Frank Lesinski Sr., was many things, but most of all he was a storyteller and an optimist. Even after Alzheimer’s concluded his story, he left behind an abundance of materials with which to see the world through his eyes. I knew him as my Paw who cheered at my tee ball games in elementary school and always bought me art supplies to encourage me to paint. His memory had diminished by the time I graduated high school, but his stories of travel, and his account of witnessing history inspired me to study both international politics and art at my university. My image of my grandfather was limited because by the time I was maturing mentally, he had lost most of his ability to share his stories firsthand.

My first year in college I was reading the classics, and occasionally, he would hear a quote from Plato or Locke and his eyes would light up. In those small moments he would reconnect to his younger self, but mostly he was stuck somewhere between the past and the present. My father and even my older brother got to know him in a way that I did not. They had years as complex adults to understand his perspectives and develop their own image of him. I had to construct one. The saving grace was that my grandpa left behind decades of letters, love notes, maps, and post cards from his time as a Merchant Marine and his almost sixty-year marriage with my grandma, so I was able to piece his story together for myself.

In the fifties he first wrote to my future grandma as a single father of four, out at sea trying to provide for his children and serve his country at the same time. It started out as a supportive friendship, with my grandma taking my uncles to school and doctors’ appointments, my grandpa lovingly waiting for her updates. She shared their struggles with elementary school and the current music that was sweeping the nation, and he cautioned her from doing more than she could handle and particularly from falling for men at sea. She was already in love and patiently waited for him to return to marry her and have a child of their own, my dad. He never missed an opportunity to express his gratitude and even called her his “Rock of Gibraltar,” highlighting his particularly intellectual love language.

When I was abroad studying in Spain, it was no coincidence as I traveled to Morocco, passing the Rock of Gibraltar that I felt a strange connection knowing he had been in almost the same place in a much different time. Over the years I have read and reread the letters from his time at sea and tried to position many unlabeled photos left behind in place and time. I have incorporated his words and images in my art as a means of processing his absence in my life. I hope he would appreciate posthumously contributing to my artistic process.

The hardest part of losing him is wondering what he would have said. I wish I could ask him about what it was like returning from sea and graduating from Washington University in 1980 after years of working full time and attending night classes. I wonder what he would think about politics today, because he was never at a loss for words or opinions. I wish I could hear him support his wife through carrying on his memory and enduring breast cancer treatment, because he would be so proud of her. Over the past year I have thought about what it would have been like to still have him around every day. The profound challenges that so many other families experiencing Alzheimer’s have made me wonder how he would have handled the pandemic. He was relentlessly optimistic, and I know he would have been a source of light.

As I prepare to graduate college this May, almost three years after his passing to the day, I wish I could ask him about his yearbook quote from his senior year in 1947. I would ask how he was able to see past the chaos of living through history and the uncertainties of the future. I would ask how he knew he would have such an amazing story to tell. I would ask how he had the forethought to know that without a doubt “The best is yet to come."

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1 Comment

Jill Lesinski Blackson
Jill Lesinski Blackson
Sep 01, 2021

Beautifully written, sweetheart. I know he is so proud of you.

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