Death, Empowerment, and How To Make Your Grandpa Proud: Thoughts on A Wish Come Clear’s Anniversary

There’s a great deal of power in having someone believe in your dreams.

The path to following my dream of becoming a full-time writer is filled with people who believed in me. From my grade-school teachers (who thought I had a gift for writing) to my parents (who took me to 6am skating practice, helped me get to Vassar, and so much more), to my friends and readers here (who have brought stories, help, and support to every post) to my husband (whose technical and emotional support have been invaluable) … I could not have done any of this without them, without you.

But in honor of the fact that A Wish Come Clear is celebrating its first-year anniversary today (!), I’d like to tell you about someone else. Someone who believed in me so thoroughly that, even though he passed away a year ago, keeps empowering me today. I’m talking about my grandfather.

Growing up, I heard my grandpa tell my older cousins, “If you don’t like your job, quit. Find something you do like.” As a father of 7 children, he didn’t say this lightly. He knew what it meant to provide for a family, but he also knew what it meant to do a job that didn’t suit.

As the years went by, he gave this same piece of advice many times. He was flexible on the timing of such a transition (for example, he’d encourage his grandchildren to save up and plan for a career change, but not wait too long) but he wasn’t flexible on the idea that work should be energizing rather than draining.

He believed that life was too short to do work that didn’t fulfill you. And, more importantly, he believed in each child and grandchild’s agency … their power to change their circumstances and improve their lives. He always thought I had a compelling story to tell, and he always treated my brother Willie as a valued member of the family. He used to say to me, “Caroline, your mom and dad … you and Willie are so lucky. They’re just … ” He’d trail off, but I knew what he meant.

Grandpa knew how to work hard, but he also knew how to laugh and tell stories and make you feel special just being with him. Because that was the thing, really — it wasn’t just that Grandpa would tell you to make a change in your life. It was that he’d sit with you and talk with you and make you believe, however fleetingly, that you could make it happen.

When he passed away last November, I was devastated by the loss, but I was also strangely …  empowered. In the wake of his death, I took his most frequent advice to heart. Ultimately, this led me to begin A Wish Come Clear with this post on January 16, 2011. From the day I ran that first post, I knew that I would continue. I knew that I’d found what I wanted to do.

Fast-forward a year and 80+ posts, and I still get a thrill every time I press Publish. Moreover, I’m successfully self-employed as a copywriter, an online columnist, and a features writer as well. I’ve published 2 books, and look forward to publishing more. And I’ve met wonderful people and told true stories.

Yet when I went to visit my parents and brother last week, I came soul-weary. My husband and I have been working hard to pursue our dreams, and we were both in need of rest. What I didn’t realize was that I needed encouragement, a reminder of why we were working so hard in the first place.

And, as grace would have it, I got much more than I needed. On my first morning at home, my parents took me aside and handed me a beautiful card from Ten Thousand Villages. I was so entranced by the paper and the design that my dad had to prompt me to actually open it. Inside, there was a note and a check.

My father wrote, “We decided that Grandpa would have wanted to help get your self-employment off the ground, so here’s a part of his estate to help out. He would have been proud of the fact that you are taking a shot at your dream of writing for a living. Love, Mom & Dad.”

The check would have been overwhelming in and of itself, but the note? The note had me in tears before I’d finished reading it. The note reminded me that, in some mysterious way, death hasn’t really changed my relationship with my grandpa. Somehow, he’s still empowering me to go for my dreams, and, in forging ahead, I’m still making him proud.

And so it should come as no surprise that today, on A Wish Come Clear’s first-year anniversary, I can feel my grandfather cheering me on. 

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*Names have been changed to protect privacy.