My grandfather was proudly riding the early, avoidable death train the entire time I knew him, with the exception of the year he was 74 and got treated for cancer (I think it was because he was a newlywed). When I was little and was taught, sans nuance, that smoking kills, I would lecture him all the time and he would laugh it off. He continued smoking even after the mother of his children died of a heart attack brought on by getting by on just the one lung for years. Probably the sweetest death train story is that he wore a seat belt until it was legally mandated, and then he never wore one again. He also ate what he liked in the face of diabetes and didn't care to exercise. He retired at 55 and spent decades going on cruises around the world with his second wife. When they split up, he got together with his high school sweetheart. I am sorry we didn't get in some long, meaningful coffee dates before he passed, but we did get to say goodbye, at least, while he was lucid.
The checks he sent me every birthday and Christmas used to be wonderful when I was a kid- I would plan how to get to the bank, when to cash them, what to put the money towards, and then when thanking them I could specify what books I'd bought. Since then, though, I have used the checks toward groceries or paying bills and I appreciate it of course but it's not the same as that thrilling glimpse at adulthood. I am so grateful that this last Christmas present was something tangible, a flashy set of cocktail jewelry. I wore it to his deathbed. He said it was sold as jade but was probably just glass, and that I didn't have to wear it at all if I didn't like it. We have always just talked about me. I don't know who I thought was going to tell me how he became an engineer or where he met his French wife or what his family did for fun when he was a little boy.