The Part of Grandfather I Never Knew

My name is Jonathan Clarence Campbell, the only child of Robert and Wanda Campbell. I was born in Lexington, Kentucky. I surprised everyone when I born 11 weeks early, weighing just 3.3 pounds and measuring 16 inches long. I was pretty tiny and spent a month in the hospital in intensive care for newborns before my parents could bring me home.

I know from the stories that they have told me and from the pictures that I have seen, they were at the hospital every day until I was strong enough to leave. My grandparents on both sides of my family also made the trip from Flint, Michigan, to visit me in the hospital, too. Even though I do not remember their visits, I feel very fortunate to know that my family cared so much about me to come see me while I was growing stronger in the hospital. My parents and I moved back to Michigan when I was two years old.

My middle name is my grandfather’s first name on my father’s side. His name was Clarence C. Campbell and he was born in 1921. He grew up during the Great Depression and served in the U.S. Army in Italy during World War II. I later found out that my grandfather earned a Bronze Star for his service in combat. He also attended the 1963 March on Washington and heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. give his “I Have A Dream” speech.

I wish that could have spent more time with my grandfather to learn more about his life, especially what he did in the war. Not too many of my friends have grandparents that age and who have lived through that kind of history.

I remember visiting my grandparents a lot when I was younger and staying with them sometimes. My grandfather always seemed like a big man. Now I am taller than he was. But he did not talk a lot. I think that is just the way he was from what my dad says about him.

My grandfather was 76 years old when I born. I was 11 years old when he died at 87. By the time I was old enough to understand the things he lived through and experienced, my grandfather had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Eventually, he had to be moved into a nursing home because it had become too difficult for my grandmother to take care of him. The nursing home was in Fenton, Michigan, where I live and that made it easy for us to visit. But I remember the hard time my dad went through as he watched his dad struggle with Alzheimer’s disease and losing his memory. My dad, aunts and uncle were very saddened by what the disease had done to my grandfather. It got so bad that my grandfather no longer even knew his own children. It seems so hard to believe that you could lose your memory like that. He also lost the ability to things for himself like getting dressed and being able to walk.

On his last birthday, we had cake and ice cream with him at the nursing home. He was having a hard time eating so my dad asked me to help him. I was able to help my grandfather eat some of his birthday cake and was happy to do it. It felt a little strange, though. I do not know if he ever fed me when I was a baby but it kind of felt like that.

My grandfather died about two weeks later so it is really special that I was able to help him celebrate his last birthday. His funeral had full military honors at Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly, Michigan, where he is buried.

My dad talks a lot about his dad. I know he still really misses him. I saw what my grandfather went through with Alzheimer’s disease and understand how important it is for younger people learn more about this disease. Having your family to help care for someone with Alzheimer’s disease is really important, too.