At 1:08PM CST on Thursday, June 12, 2014, the world lost one of its kindest, gentlest, and most generous souls at the age of 66 to a rare form of cancer that originally attacked his Ampulla of Vater, a small pathway located in the pancreas. William J. Bezdek was beloved and admired by all who met him. I was blessed with the distinct privilege of being able to call him Grandpa.
Grandpa was diagnosed with cancer two years ago and the process was up and down the whole way through. In the beginning the tumors gradually shrunk and the chemotherapy worked, but the side effects of that chemotherapy made Grandpa extremely sick. Several times he was forced to go off the chemo and the tumors eventually started growing. Things got really bad about a month ago, but the doctors told us last week that additional surgery could give him two additional months of life. Grandpa went through with the procedure and initially recovered in admirable fashion, but it simply wasn’t meant to be. My entire family is a bit stunned right now. I personally have never experienced such a grievous loss in my lifetime.
It crushed me to see the pain he endured over the past two years, but I am taking comfort in the fact that he’s no longer in pain. Hopefully we as a society can someday look back at the process of chemotherapy and react to it with the same horror and shock that accompanies any discussion of Civil War medical practices today. We recoil with disgust when we hear about those Civil War practices because we can’t imagine the idea of doctors not washing their hands before performing surgery or slicing off limbs with rusty medical devices. I can only hope that medical advances for treating cancer can eventually lead to future generations recoiling in disgust when they hear about the ways chemotherapy could literally destroy the humans it was supposed to save.
Grandpa was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1948. After graduating from high school in 1966 he attended Iowa State University, where he studied engineering and no doubt graduated towards the top of his class. In 1970 he moved to St. Louis, Missouri, to work for McDonnell Douglas (which is now Boeing) as an aerospace engineer, staying with them until his last days and absolutely loving the work he did there. He married my Grandmother in 1981 and became a grandfather six years later when I was born.
I have nothing but happy memories of spending time with Grandpa. When I was growing up in the 1990s he regularly attended my sporting events, school concerts, and just about anything else I participated in. We also worked on and played a lot of games on the computer; I fondly remember playing a NASCAR racing game with him online back when you still had to use a dial-up modem to connect to the internet. I also remember going to the Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with him for several years in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Neither one of us maintained our interest in NASCAR, but we always enjoyed talking about cars, planes, trains, and just about any science or technology thing that moved fast.
My most prominent memories of Grandpa revolve around all the St. Louis Rams football games we attended together over a span of nearly twenty years. When the Rams moved from Los Angeles to St. Louis in 1995 Grandpa immediately purchased season tickets. He originally envisioned a process by which a different family member would attend each game with him, giving everyone in the family who was interested the opportunity to go see an NFL game. The Rams, however, were pretty bad when they came here. A few family members took an interest in going to those games in the early years, but it soon became evident that someone in the family would have the chance to attend two or three games a year. I became that person.
Grandpa and I went to the first Rams game at the Edward Jones Dome in 1995 (then called the Trans World Airlines Dome) and many, many more over the years. I attended at least one game with him each year from 1995 to 2013 with the exception of one season when I was in Indianapolis for graduate school and couldn’t get back for a game. We saw some amazing football during the “Greatest Show on Turf” years and were there when the Rams defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 11-6 in 1999 to go to Super Bowl XXXIV (and it just so happens that the last game we attended together was another victory over the Buccaneers on December 22, 2013). I still remember that 1999 game against the Buccaneers. The dome was so deafeningly loud that Grandpa insisted I wear earplugs. When Rams wide receiver Ricky Proehl caught that game-winning touchdown in the last minutes of the game I thought the dome was going to explode. Grandpa and I went crazy, jumping up and down and hugging each other like we had just witnessed a miracle performed by Jesus Christ himself. I think others around us were crying. And all of this celebrating was over a silly football game! For that short period of time we saw Rams stars Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Issac Bruce, and Torry Holt at their finest. But most of our football-watching experiences during those years were spent watching lousy football, unfortunately. The Rams have lost a lot since being in St. Louis. That’s okay, however, because it was always about spending time with Grandpa at the end of the day.
There are a lot of other memories I could reflect upon, but it’s hard to add much else. The pain I feel from his death is so immediate right now that I can’t convert my other thoughts into words. I will say, however, that I could not ask for a better, more loving grandfather to teach me about the ways of the world and be there by my side at all times. He was thrilled to hear that I earned a full-time job with the National Park Service a few weeks ago and delighted in seeing me succeed in my professional endeavors in both history and music. Grandpa was intelligent, hard-working, and dedicated to producing the highest-quality work at all times. I stand in awe of him and intend to use my Grandpa’s example to advance my own professional career while at the same time always making sure I strive towards being a more loving and caring person towards others.
I got nearly 27 years with Grandpa and was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to say goodbye to him before he passed. I am blessed in both regards and fully realize how lucky I really am in my life. Many grandkids in my situation don’t have living grandparents and never get a chance to even say hello to them, much less goodbye.