Remembering the life of my best friend and everyone’s Grandpa: William “Bill” Swetten.

Life is a marathon, but all too often we treat it as a sprint. But for those rare few who do recognize that it is a marathon, life becomes so beautiful and sacred that everyone else is left in shambles once the race is finished.

I can’t think of a better way to describe Grandpa’s life than just that, a marathon we all wish he kept on running.

93 years he gave us and somehow he left us wanting just one more lap, one more day with him. Yes it is a selfish approach to take but damnit he had that effect on everyone he ever crossed paths with.

Whether it was his friends he left behind in Scotland, or his hundreds of community grandchildren, and of course his blood family, the outcome was always the same: William “Bill” Swetten always left you with a smile on your face and a handful of candy. 

But being my grandfather and ultimately my best friend, I know so much about him that the rest of the living world probably never heard about.

So let me tell you about the life, oh the incredible life grandpa lived like you never heard it before.

He never went into great depth about his days in Scotland except for the fun times and his cat Spunky.

Any time he would tell us stories about Spunky and his childhood days in Scotland his face would come alive. He always told me about Spunky running through the fields, chasing mice and chicken. It was simple joy for him, but then again Grandpa was a simple guy who just loved a good laugh, both as a kid and in his final days.

He would have us in tears talking about his family member who was a boxer back in Scotland. He always told us he would come home bruised and blooded so he couldn’t have been that good.

Fast forward to 1954 and the beginning of the rest of his life.

Grandpa left behind his home in Scotland for the greener pastures which America offered. It was a tough decision but one he felt he had to make to fully get all out of his life.

Early on he landed a job with a canned company. It wasn’t much but it was enough for him to get his footing in his new home of New York. Soon after he found his career working for Trans World Airlines.

At TWA grandpa worked as a part of the runway team with the task of loading and unloading luggage for all flights. He worked the 4-12 shift which he loved because he was able to avoid the traffic commute in the mornings. He often took up overtime to ensure his family was well taken care of. One thing he always capitalized on was his vacation time, taking the family on trips every summer.

When discussing his time working at TWA, he always had everyone’s face hurting from full on laughs. My personal favorite was when he would tell us about his coworker getting caught drinking on the job and saying “it was a fucking set up.” And how can I not include the story he would tell about getting sideswiped by the wing of a plane. 

Work however was the least of his worries and values. Grandpa’s main focus in life was his family. His wife Cathy, his daughter Cathy and son Frank, later followed up with his 5 grandchildren. 

I can only speak for myself but I know the same applies to us all. He always made it a point of emphasis to be there for any and every occasion. 

My earliest memories are going to you and Grandma’s house every weekend. And the Disney vacations every single summer. 

Then there are the days of you picking me up every day from school, even when I was obviously capable of walking home myself. I will always cherish those walks home. The small, but important talks of how my day was, if I ate, if I wanted to stop at 102 before heading home. 

Those were the good times, but little did I know those were just the beginning of even greater days ahead with you. 

You see when Grandma passed away and you moved in with us our relationship grew closer and closer each waking moment. Maybe that is why it feels impossible to imagine a day without you here by my side. 

For the past 10 years and 12 nights I ended mine the same way you did, with a good night and a walk to your bed. It was always 10 minutes of the 10’ OClock news then off to bed. Unless of course the Yankees were on and it was yelling at the tv until the final strike. 

Over the past few years, after the stage 4 cancer diagnosis we came more dependent on each other than ever. For you I was your right hand man, ensuring you were safely tucked in at night, fed and comfortable. And of course stocked up on candy. 

But I depended on you because I knew the shot clock on your life was winding down. I needed to build any and every memory possible because I couldn’t have any regrets with you the way I did with dad. 

Oh man did we make those memories. They gave you 3-6 months. You lasted 3 YEARS. But of course you did, you overcame and beat everything thrown your way in life.

You lasted to see your great grandson to be born. For his first steps to be taken and his first words to be spoken. When you and him interacted I was a spark in your eye that had not been there since Grandma passed. He injected a whole new battery into your back and it was beautiful to see. 

Even on your final night you only really looked alive when Seppe would walk over and talk to you. We didn’t understand either of your words but I’d like to think it was your last goodbyes to one another. 

I promised you years ago to only remember the good times because it keeps those who passed on, alive. So I’ll do just that. 

I’ll remember the summer days at 102 where everyone and yes even their mothers would wait for your baby blue Oldsmobile to ride past the park and for you to enter with lunches prepared by Grandma and candy and gum to feed the neighborhood. 

You were our designated pitcher as we played baseball for hours on end in 90 degree weather. Looking back on it you were 80 years old throwing 300 pitches a day and avoiding line drives. It was insane but you loved every moment of it. 

At night we always had to make you a cup of tea, no sugar nor milk, with two pastries of some kind on the side. One for you and one for your dogs. God did you love them and clearly they loved you equally with the way they laid across your body and guarded you like no other. 

The Yankees games were always a 9 month of the year essential for you. It didn’t matter if they won or lost, one of the players would get cursed out. You didn’t understand football much but you sure enjoyed it every sunday. And I still don’t think you knew any basketball players bedside Kobe but you made sure to know what he had going on so you could spark conversations with me. I always appreciated the gesture. 

As we got older I always got a kick out of you taking shots of Hennessy or chugging it straight from the bottle on New Years Eve. You knew it would put us into a frenzy and you loved to start something then head directly to bed. 

Or the jokes you would make about any and everyone no matter the situation. Your charm was always on display but so was your bluntness. You weren’t one to bite your tongue, but most didn’t know that side because you were always the sweetest guy in the room. 

Everyone loved and respected you. 

You raised multiple generations of people from all walks of life. Didn’t matter who they were, you were willingly their grandpa even if they were grown adults with their own kids, and even grandkids. You impacted more lives than you will ever know, and the our pouring of love that flowed in when news broke was proof of it. 

You were the gold standard. The measuring stick for what greatness is. 

So as you hang up those metaphorical track shoes tonight, just know you won the gold medal and thousands of roses lay at your feet as you rest for the final time. 

I love you Grandpa, we all did. Now go live the rest of forever the way you did this life. 

William “Grandpa” Swetten 

10/11/1928 – 1/31/2022


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