Today would have been Johnny Carroll’s ninty-fifth birthday. He passed away on Tuesday July 17th, 2018 at he age of 94. On Sunday July 15th I took the last flight out of Boston to fly to Ireland and see him for what I hoped wasn’t the last time. On my return to Boston on Tuesday July 17th my wife Eirinn picked me up at Logan airport with tears streaming down her face. I knew then that my grandad had passed away. It was a surreal feeling to say the least. Even now it doesn’t feel real.
My grandfather was a huge inspiration to me and my family for many reasons which I will discuss later. I made sure I told him how much I needed him to stay around and how much I loved him whenever I saw him on my visits home or when I spoke to him on the phone. His most urgent question to me was always…..
“When are you coming home for drinks?”
I wanted to write a piece to thank my grandfather for the life lessons he taught me just by his example alone. Actions speak louder than words. People who continually say they have your back most likely don’t but my grandad did and I didn’t even have to ask.
Every time I flew back to Ireland to visit, my father (Derek) and I would take grandad out to a local pub for pints of Guinness. This was the setting where Grandad would tell his stories from all parts of his life and they would have us in stitches laughing. Some quick ones that stick out include him telling me how scared everyone in his family was to turn on the lights when electricity was first introduced as they thought they would be electrocuted. Or the time when he went to the dentist aged ninety and they asked him to take out his false teeth and he said “these are my teeth and you can’t have them”. The dental staff were shocked he had all his own teeth at that age.
You see life isn’t plain sailing. You have to go through tough times to build resiliency. If you don’t and you get lucky enough to have money you will fold at the first sight of adversity.
The last time I flew back to Ireland was Sunday July 15th on the last flight out of Boston. I saw him on Monday July 16th and held his hand and looked at him and told him he was loved.
After he passed I heard my father describe him as a great man, my father has never said that about anyone. He was my fathers best friend. I am so thankful they had each other. I am also thankful for my fathers siblings Alan, Noel, Deirdre and Sandra who also looked after grandad down through the years.
There are what seems like so many fake people around today with social media there to show our best life but most accounts don’t show the lows. Going home and visiting Johnny was like a breath of fresh air, a realness that couldn’t be replicated by any form of social media.
Things were not smooth sailing in life for my grandad though. You see my grandfather was no stranger to adversity. Working hard manual labor from a very young age after being pulled out of school, he then went on to run his own farm and support his family of four sons and two daughters. Over the years he lost a son in a farming accident and then a wife before being attacked and burglarized in his own home by four men. I don’t want to focus on these points because I want to celebrate his life but this suffering built resiliency. Losing his son Nigel and his wife Nancy were major turning points in his life and mine. The type of resiliency he dispalyed I have yet to encounter in anyone else I’ve come across to this day. You know that saying “They were made of tougher stuff back then”. Well, its true and my grandfather epitomizes that statement.
If this was a hollywood movie this part would show what my grandad taught me.
My grandad showed me the value of hard work. We should all try it some time.
Take pride in your work, it will take you further than you think.
Last of all, Johnny Carroll thrived off conversation, laughing and enjoy the moment with other people. We have lost this element in modern life and I need to try just experiencing the moment instead of thinking about the perfect social media moment.
My favorite Johnny Carroll stories include…
1. I’m Out Of Here
After being hospitalized for a broken collarbone my grandad proceeded to check himself out of hospital and return to work on his farm. A broken collarbone didn’t classify as a reason to not be able to work on the farm.
2. Best Friends Have Your Back
During a very cold winter in Ireland, Johnny fell while in his shed and as temperatures dropped, Sootie his dog wrapped himself around Johnny in order to keep him warm. As Grandad started waking up and realizing what had happened he was ever so grateful for this dog that was abandoned by some family around Christmas time. Their loss was his gain.
3. I Want To Go Home
In the days following his final hospitalization, my grandad woke up one morning and dressed himself, started walking out of Navan hospital until he was approached by some nurses. He simple wanted to return home to be with his companion Sootie. If something was going to happen he wanted to be in familiar surroundings. As you can see below, Sootie knew there was something going on with Grandad. Ears down, ever so careful to take a step towards Johnny. We are so lucky to have these animals, they are so much smarter than we give them credit for.
4. Post Robbery Routine
After four cowards broke into my granddads home and scared him so bad he couldn’t even sleep in his own home he developed a routine as a coping mechanism.
His routine after the burglary was to take Billy the pony down the fields to run around while Sootie stretched his legs also. Grandad would then talk to Billy and discuss his feelings about what had happened. This was his therapy and went a long way to reconciling what happened in a space he thought was safe for him.
During my trip home on May of 2018 I vowed to get some of Grandads stories recorded so I could go back and listen to them. He always told me these funny stories which I forgot before I could write them down. Below is an audio clip of Johnny talking about Sootie getting ready for bed.
Grandad never sat me down and told me this is how you do this or that etc. Instead he lead by example and his hard work made sure his family were always looked after. Even up until age ninety four he was out cutting sticks with his chainsaw and loading them onto the back of his tractor. Seeing him live a simple life of manual labor, enriched interactions with those around him, love of family and his pets while enjoying the small pleasures in life really stuck out to me. He was always looking to better himself and didn’t see why you couldn’t improve if you wanted to. Part of this is why I can’t stand being around people who refuse not to better themselves. I’ve seen someone fight against being knocked back multiple times in life after major life events and he kept coming back for more so we have no excuse.
Johnny Carroll truly is one of a kind and someone I will forever look up to and aim to emulate by matching his work ethic but also know in the back of my mind that I will never get close to the heights he reached and that is okay with me. Rest in peace grandad and thank you for setting the bar high.