One day, everyone realizes that the one person you thought would live forever can not, and will not, do such a thing.

Today, my grandfather — Grandpa Boyer – and the rest of our family found out that the cancer in his lungs, a cancer that we all had thought would recede and disappear with treatment, has moved to his liver, and that he may not live another year.

He may not live another year. That is not what is supposed to happen to the person I thought would live forever.

I’ve spent over 26 years knowing that, whenever I wanted, I could hop in the car, or charter a flight, and head to Wyoming, or Idaho, or Kentucky, or wherever I needed to, and my grandfather would be there. I have always had it in my mind that no matter where my life takes me, that no matter how long it has been between visits, or between phone calls, that when I showed up at his front step, my grandfather would be there.

Growing up, my grandfather was invincible. He was the strongest man I’d never known. He still is. He was my first hero – he had lived through rough times and had taken it in stride, learning and growing stronger for every hardship that was thrown at him. He was the solid stone that our family was built on, and even though that family would splinter and shake, he would be there, no matter what, trying to hold everything together, giving everyone a little bit of solid ground to stand on.

But now, he has become human. I cannot see him with the rosy lenses I once used when I was naïve to life. I watched him grow older, and he was still strong — he was still that stone. But he gained some of the soft qualities of an older man, the sensibilities of someone who knew that they wouldn’t be around forever, as I had always imagined.

He is gruff, he is unapologetic about his views, he is an old-school Western man, raised with the realities of life smashing him around like a plastic bag stuck in a tree. Recently, though, with the news of his cancer, he has cried – my grandfather never cried – and has thought about his own mortality. For the first time in my entire life, when I talked to him on the phone, he sounded… scared.

I spent every summer in Jackson, WY – two months at a time, even up until high school — and my grandfather taught me a lot of things. I learned to cut wood, and haul wood, from the forests of Targhee National Park. I watched him perform small engine repair in his shop on Jackson Street, and, occasionally, I would wander off to the Post Office and deposit the mail and pick up my grandparents correspondence from box 3763. I watched baseball and westerns with him, and would listen to him tsk-tsk MTV if I happened to have it on. I learned who Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood, and John Wayne were, thanks to his movies. I built character.

My eyes have been red and sore since I found out. I haven’t been able to think of anything else since I realized that our family’s stone, its foundation, it’s strongest person, was not going to make it out of this. He’s only got a few months left with us, with anything, and it hurts to think that will be weighing over his mind for the entirety, that he’s gonna know that this won’t last. That this can’t last.

But, hopefully, he won’t have any reason to be scared anymore.

I love you, grandpa.

This was lovingly handwritten on March 8th, 2005