The world feels off-kilter right now; my family and I are trying to re-orient after losing my beloved grandpa, John Bean, last week. It's difficult to imagine how we'll get along without him. He lived 93 years and made the most of each one. (If you need some inspiration to get out and make a difference in your community, just check out his obituary.) Because of his service during World War II, it seems fitting to write about him on this Memorial Day.
My heart swelled as I read several comments on his obituary guest book calling him "the greatest of the Greatest Generation." Of course I've always thought of my grandparents that way, but it makes me proud to see that others felt the same.
Among the many roles he assumed throughout his life, Grandpa was first and foremost a husband, father and pilot. He was endlessly generous. He taught us to live deliberately and by the highest moral standards. He also taught us that true love really can last a lifetime. (He leaves behind my grandma, his bride of 71 years.) Just this Mother's Day, I posted a 1958 photo he took of Grandma, whom he called "the most beautiful woman I've ever seen."
Grandpa was passionate about cameras and, for my 7th birthday, gave me my first one. That gift shifted my perspective of the world; since then my favorite view has been from behind the lens. Over the next 20 years, he often passed along camera gear to me as it became apparent that I'd also caught the photography bug. (Last year I wrote here about the Leica collection he gave me.) In this and many other ways, his influence on my life has been profound.
Grandpa was blessed to have a comfortable end, surrounded by his family. As he set an example for us in the way he lived, he also set one in dying with grace. He was calm, at peace, accepting.
Nora and I flew to Florida last week for Grandpa's memorial service. The evening after the service, we wandered down to the beach with my mom, sister and niece. We have years—decades, really—of memories on that beach from our annual visits to my grandparents. It just happened that we caught the sun setting, injecting a golden lining into the massive, ink-blue storm clouds that were rolling in.
As a pilot, Grandpa's heart belonged to sky. Now the rest of him does, too, and it felt like he was sending a final farewell. Thank you, Grandpa, for being the greatest of the greatest. I love you!
I'm Julia Soplop, writer and photographer. I believe there is something profound in bearing witness to moments of joy and pain in others’ lives. My husband, three girls and I live outside of Chapel Hill, NC. You can read more about me here.
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