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Stories My Grandfather Told Me

by Bella Leon about a month ago in grandparents

Pursing Memories with the Man with Dementia

Stories My Grandfather Told Me
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

My grandfather passed away in September of 2020. His friends called him “Jimmy” while others liked “James.” But I always called him Papa. Before his passing, my sister’s and I rotated in shifts during the height of the pandemic to make sure he was not escaping his home to hangout with his friends. He often enjoyed walking around his neighborhood to socialize. My grandfather encompassed the phrase “social butterfly.” But he had been diagnosed with dementia and needed someone to remind him that he could not leave his house, that he needed to take his medication, and that he needed to exercise. But while I was making sure he took his daily dose of medication, he liked to tell me stories of his life. And just like any nugget of wisdom you could receive from your therapist, in books, in movies, from friends and more, the stories my grandfather told me have improved my life tenfold.

I would like to highlight some of the stories he told me. I believe they can be extremely helpful to any individual looking to start fresh in the upcoming spring season or looking to embrace new perspectives on life. Let's begin.


Pearl Harbor Attack (from Wikipedia)

My grandfather’s parents immigrated from Japan to Hawaii before he was born. He was the youngest of nine brothers and grew up in Kalihi on the island of Oahu. Around the age of eight and unbeknownst to him, he found himself watching a historic day unfold before his eyes. He was playing on a mountainside with his friends when the ground shook and dilapidated buildings in the distance began to smoke. It was December 7th, 1941. He was watching the attack on Pearl Harbor.

He often told this story as a precursor to a sadder experience, but more on that later. He always said, “It was one crazy day. I didn’t understand what I saw. And I think in order to move on from what I saw, I had to start being kinder to myself.” He spoke about the experience as being invasive and traumatic without actually saying these words. My grandfather refused sentiment and often deflected when it came to emotional indulges. But throughout telling this story, he said to always take care of yourself. The first lesson that he implored me to utilize in my everyday life was that self-care is essential.

Take the time to understand your emotions. Peel apart your schedule so that you can fit in thirty minutes to an hour of self-care. This could be face-masks, reading your favorite book, watching your comfort movies, making art, or exercising. It is essential to take care of your emotional well-being and mental health. So prioritize your emotions! Why not try it? My grandfather told me it works!


Executive Order 9066 (from Wikipedia)

There were two negative effects on my Japanese grandfather's life after the attack on Pearl Harbor. First, upon the Executive Order 9066 issued by President Franklin Roosevelt, Japanese Americans were arrested and placed in internment camps during the course of World War II. My grandfather was not a victim to this order, but his older brothers were taken to these internment camps and lived in it for two years. Second, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Asian Americans became victims of brutal racism. My grandfather told me that racist slurs were thrown around at him for sometime. Then, violent attacks against his mother and himself began happening. He told me that he learned how to box because he was attacked so much while walking home. One day while his mother walked home from the grocery store, kids began throwing rocks at her as she passed by. They spat damning slurs at her as she began to run away. My grandfather's rascal spirit exploded as he began to square up. He was only eight at the time, but he tried fighting the teenagers who picked on his mom.

He told me the experience taught him a few things. But it was a staple moment in his life because he began to change the way he organized his life after being attacked every other day for being Japanese. He told me to try to learn something new every day. He was forced to pick up boxing because of the constant fights others would start with him; but he was grateful for knowing how to use his hands, exercising, and learning a new useful skill. From this story, I took his advice to heart.

Create a schedule that will allow you to make time to learn something new. This might mean searching Youtube to learn how to cook, crochet, or juggle, or reading an article about a subject that fascinates you (i.e., history, anthropology, astronomy etc.). But you should incorporate this into your daily schedule. This life is hard enough as it is for individuals looking to achieve career, educational, or personal goals. But making time to gain a new talent will expand your perspective in life. It will add miles to your soul. And dedicating a small amount of time every day to learning something new will help you learn to prioritize your time very well.


By Museums Victoria on Unsplash

During the Korean War, my grandfather decided to sign up for the military. He became a paratrooper for the United States’ Airborne Infantry. He often told stories of traveling the world with his band of brothers, and even explained experiences of racism in the states. But he often boasted about the new skills and lessons he learned while being a paratrooper. Again, without saying these words, my grandfather alluded to having anxiety upon moving from base to base. He was a brave man. He enjoyed jumping from airplanes and embraced the physical challenges of being in the military. But oftentimes, his stories about his time in the service alluded to nervousness. But he always said that the task of cleaning helped him declutter his mind and stabilize his anxiousness. It also helped him become a more efficient person.

Try to clean something everyday. It can be anything. It does not need to be your work area if you’re more comfortable with clutter (I know so many people who like the mess). It does not need to be your room since some people thrive off of their own way to "organize" their things. But clean something to clear your anxiousness and nervousness. You can clean your car, clear your laptop of unwanted documents and pinned videos, you can wash your clothes, sweep the floor, or clean the bathroom. By cleaning something everyday, you are making it a habit to clear your mind of clutter. It really does work. I’m not just here to remind you to make sure you clean your room. Physically clearing space in your life enables your mind to be clear of unwanted anxiety, making it easier to be efficient and creative in your day to day life.


By Aaron Burden on Unsplash

My grandfather was obsessed with music. In particular, he loved to sing songs about Hawaii. He was deeply in love with Hawaii and loved Native Hawaiians. He even married a Native Hawaiian woman (my grandmother). While married to her, he often sang songs to her on his ukulele. And as I gathered from his stories about her, the time they shared together was always a light in their life.

In his old age, he told me stories about her. I had never had the opportunity to meet her since she passed away when my mother was young, but I loved hearing stories about the grandmother I wish I knew. While he told stories about her, it always involved his love for music or dancing. He once told me that while he was singing his wife’s favorite songs to his kids, he realized that music allowed him to live in the moment. Ugh, I know it is so cliche. But the sentiment is something I have thought about while trying to organize my life and goals.

Try to live without the internet for a few hours every day. This means logging off your computer, social media accounts, or steering clear of Youtube. Try to work this task into your day as you see fit. You can take a break from your phone during the day, and indulge in it during the night. Or you can do the opposite. Whatever your busy schedule is fille with, logging off the internet for a few hours everyday not only optimizes your time, but it allows you to value life in real time. This is not to say that social media is a hindrance to “real time.” But the best way to collect your thoughts, be creative, and be productive involves slicing out unneeded indulges.

NOVEMBER 13th, 2020

By Aurélien - Wild Spot on Unsplash

For this last tip, I won’t be telling you stories my grandfather told me. This time, I’ll be referring to my experience on the day of his death. It was November 13th, 2020. My mother had received a phone call from the hospital that her father had passed away. During this time, the hospitals restricted people from visiting due to covid-19. Because of this, my siblings and I were unable to see him before he passed. Our hearts were heavy and the day seemed more dour than usual. I had relished the idea of seeing him one more time to thank him for his stories. But covid-19 worked against my wishes, and I found myself waiting outside his house to say my final goodbye to something. But the greatest thing I learned from that day actually changed how I organized my life from then on.

I learned the importance of sitting in nature. This is a weird tip that might not work for everyone. But it severely helped me move on from sorrow, and now it helps me clear my mind to be the most creative person I can be. After hearing that I could not visit my grandfather before his passing, I drove to his house to say goodbye. Down the street from his home was a small park near a dock. I sat on the dock for a few hours and let the wind consume my hair, twist it up, and curl it into tangles. I felt completely free.

At the best hour of the day, try to take a walk to a nearby park with your favorite song playing into your headphones. You can always sit in your backyard and read. Or you can try to take a short hike in your area. By getting in touch with nature, you might be able to clear your mind so you can finally overcome writer’s block, remove anxious feelings, or it can be your daily dose of exercise. But above all, nature inspires us. Let nature inspire your new ideas!


By S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

With my grandfather’s stories, I picked up new ways to organize my life. With the wisdom he supplied me, I was able to optimize my time and become more creative. This is the list that I use to organize my time to become a more interesting, creative, and proactive person:

1. Make time for self-care

2. Learn something new

3. Clean something

4. Log off the internet for a few hours

5. Get connected with nature

I can’t promise that these tricks will make you the most successful person in the world. I can’t promise that this process will work for everyone. But my life has positively changed because of it.

Everyday, we go to work. We eat. We sleep. And we live in between the colorful moments of life to survive this grey laborious life. The daily tasks that have been impregnated into the rules of social order can exhaust a person to no end. And excessive stress hinders creativity, stops productivity, and clutters your life and mind. Hopefully, these tips will aid in your endeavor towards complete and consistent creativity. Hopefully, these ideas might aid your wish to optimize your time, organize your life, and achieve those goals you put on the back burner.

Just remember: make time for your emotional well-being, learn something new everyday, clean your life and it will clear your mind, log off the internet to become more sensitive to the world around you, and connect yourself with nature to breathe new life into your ideas. Again, this process might not work for everyone. I know life is full of many people with different lives and experiences who can't make time for these ideas. But if this process does help, you can thank my grandfather for the stories he once told me.

Bella Leon
Bella Leon
Read next: Understanding the Effects of Addiction on the Family
Bella Leon

Storyteller / Poet / Cinephile

Deeply obssessed with cinema and heartily opinionated about films.


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