There were many things my stubborn and self-righteous old grandfather did wrong. There's no doubt about that; even he admitted to and apologised for many of them. But I'd like to remember what he did very well indeed: he made a marriage last for 64 years; he saw himself as his wife's husband even when she was almost completely silenced by Alzheimer's; and he was faithful to the end.
There were many things this child never saw or understood, but these are the things that remain: he was surprised and delighted every time she brought out the violet crumbles, rubbing his hands together in anticipation before tucking in. He thanked his wife every night when he sat down to dinner, and always remarked on how delicious the food was. He patted her arm and called her 'pet', and meant it with great affection.
A person could do worse than to be grateful: for his sweet but vague wife, for the meals that appeared with clockwork regularity, for every shiny foil wrapped sweetie. A person could do worse than to plant a garden so his wife could have armfuls of roses whenever she did the church flowers.
A person could do a lot worse than to cherish someone for decades. As they aged, my grandfather seemed to became more affectionate towards my grandmother. He had always been thankful for her to some degree, but in later years, after a lifetime of gratitude, he expressed it in small ways every day. As she became more and more forgetful, I watched him wrestle with his frustration and choose to be protective, instead.
The choice ran deep, so that for the last couple of years, my grandfather sat with his wife at a nursing facility hour after hour, day after day, as she gradually lost all her faculties. He refused other options, seeing it as his duty to stay by her side, keeping his familiar face in sight, and acting as her protector and advocate. As her memory faded, her speech disappeared and her reflexes returned to those of an infant, still he sat, her husband to the end.
The man who had been angry and judgmental, even violent at times, the man who my parents' friends from student days, now grandparents themselves, still refer to as 'Father Abraham' in slightly awed tones, learned late in life to curb his temper and his tongue. At some stage he opted for patience and gentleness; and with regular practice, he mastered them.
A person could do an awful lot worse than to soften as they age. He gives me something to aim for.