Watching a mind slowly fade away is heart breaking.

I lost the ability, as a small girl, to be overly trusting of men. My biological father was, well he was absent. He checked out. I do not blame him as he was just a child himself. That is that. However - I am not writing this to tear him down. But in order to paint this picture, my picture, I must lay out all the pieces in which I was given. I must show you where I was knit from. So that I can explain to you how the colors made their way to my canvas.

Henry Tjoelker, my grandfather, quite literally saved me.

He formed me. He took my shattered, untrusting and young heart and he made it whole and capable of love. I like to think that the reason we were so smitten with each other is that somehow our souls were weaved together, even before we met here on earth.

We shared something very special.

And this year, on the fourth day of May - I lost him. Simply put, it was the absolute worst day of my life. I felt like in that exact moment in which his soul left this earth I was unable to breathe. Actually putting those words to this screen, just now, made my entire body go numb and my eyes well up with tears.

In the months preceding his death something magical happened.

His mind was slipping away. His strength was diminishing. He worried endlessly. He was angry. He didn’t trust a soul, besides mine. He put his mind within my hands. He called me in his lowest moments. He asked me to lift him up. He wanted reassurance of his great feats. He wanted to know he had done everything right.

And my God, had he ever.

It wasn’t until after he was gone that I realized what I had done for him. I did all the things for him that he did for me my entire life.

My grandfather was a pillar, in every aspect of the word. He held me up. All was built around him. And without his existence I, without certainty, would have crumbled to bits. 

So what would I do now?

I didn’t know what this world looked like without him. And if I am being completely honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in this world without him. Many, many, many of nights were spent in the dark, drowning. I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath. I felt like no matter how many times I tried to smile - I just simply couldn’t.

And then I found a glimpse of hope. There are still nights like this. And I feel like there will be for the rest of my life. But I have found ways for him to still be that driving force within my life.

I grow my photography business for him.

He always told me that my eyes had something within them that no one else had. That I viewed this world differently. He said time and time again that he wished others could see what I saw. So I push myself, I take risks, I find creative outlets and I don’t let the fear of disapproval from others scare me - because he made me believe in myself.

I am focusing on my health for him.

Without fail, he would compliment me every single time he saw me. Even on my worst days, he would make me feel like a queen. He showered me in praises. And so now, I am finding comfort in my own skin. I want to feel the way about myself that he did. He seemed to think the sun rose and set upon me. And so now it is my turn to find that light.

I am raising my son in his honor

In one of our last conversations, he asked me if he was a good grandfather to me - it took all of my entire strength to not completely break down at that point. How do I even begin to explain to this man the impact in which he had upon my life? I simply said-

“I named my son after you.”

I could hear his smile through the phone.

So I have vowed that Brooks Henry will grow up with a strong voice, a gentle heart, and enough grace. Just like my Bapa.

[ I mean look at the two of them in the photo at the beginning of this post. Goof Balls. This was weeks before he passed during a family Easter celebration. He begged me to bring my camera and get some nice shots of him and the family. I am ever grateful that I have these. ]

I never left his side during the final days of his life. Quite literally. He went home on hospice and I spent the night before he died at his bed side. Clutching his hand. We talked, well I talked. We cried. We tried our hardest to put to rest the last thirty one and a half years. I think just as badly as I was afraid to let him go, he was afraid of letting me go too.

But somehow we found the ability to.

There will be a void. There will be heartache. But my God, am I forever grateful for this man taking me, and forming me into the woman I am today.

There would be no Tiffany Ann without Henry.

This I promise you.