I knew instantly.

Before she handed me the phone, she knew as well but just couldn’t bring herself to accept reality.

“Aunt Lillian called at 5:30 this morning and left a message. Can you listen to it?”

The lump began rising in my throat. I listened and felt the blood rush to my head.

“He’s gone,” I replied.

My wife’s beloved grandfather, Silvestre Lopez, passed away Saturday morning as we vacationed with my side of the family at Port Aransas. Despite knowing it was a distinct possibility, I could hardly believe it.

This was a man who seemed indestructible.

An avid runner, he competed in a 5K race just a few months prior, taking first place in the 69 and over age group with a time of 47 minutes. He was 84.

Within minutes of hearing the news, my wife stated she wanted to go for a run. In the moment, it felt like a proper tribute. In hindsight, it was so much more – it was a form of therapy.

We ran a hair less than four miles in the early-morning humidity, practically shedding a tear with every step. In the days since, my emotions have gotten the best of me on each of my runs. My mind has far too much time to wander into the past.

I think about how much he reminded me of my grandfathers, who were each taken away before I could truly appreciate them.

He was a man of few words, but he had a world of knowledge on the tip of his tongue. Somehow he possessed a tender touch despite having hands as rough as sandpaper from a lifetime of labor.

I think about the wife of 64 years he left behind, along with their two surviving children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, including my daughter.

I remember how he sat stoically at my mother-in-law’s and his eldest daughter’s funeral after she lost her battle with cancer – the same disease that claimed his life several years later. While others wept, he remained poised and composed, although his soul was slashed to its core.

But that is simply a pure reflection of who he was — a devout Catholic whose faith was unshakable even in the most desperate and dire of circumstances.

Mr. Lopez taught me a lot during his life, providing an ideal example of how to be a man, husband and father, but he has taught me many things through his death as well. He showed me the value of life and the importance of making every moment count because it can quickly be taken away.

He wasn’t my grandfather by blood, but he unknowingly served the role, helping fill a void in my life during the final years of his.

As he lay on a hospital bed after a relatively routine operation unveiled the vast amount of malignant tumors inside his body, his personality remained intact. Despite being heavily sedated and in excruciating pain, he would smile when people made bedside talk between his brief naps. And just like the man himself, the act was genuine, not forced.

My final words to him before walking out of the room that day were, “Now, don’t you go running. OK?” He let out a little laugh.

I wish I could go back and say something different, but I honestly expected he would bounce back and lace up his sneakers before long, and in a way, he did.

He’s gone running with me every day since.

Vaya con Dios.

I love you, Grandpa.

Contact Clay Whittington at clayw@kdhnews.com

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