When they left today, Grandma said goodbye to my niece, saying “Have a wonderful life.”
I realize suddenly that I am not ready to lose my grandparents, to bid them goodbye. I realize that I hurried through my goodbyes today. What if those were my last?
It is strange to watch as one generation prepares to depart as another enters. The world as I know it is changing. I will lose my remaining grandparents someday soon and my niece may not even remember meeting them. They will be a story to her, not real people.
As I see Grandpa fading, I realize they are almost stories to me. Who they are is not who I remember them to be, not the grandparents who took us shopping and out to lunch, who let us spend the night in their hotel room when they came to visit, then took us to breakfast at Marie Calendar’s across the parking lot, who lived in the gorgeous old house made more wonderful by the huge dollhouse, the muddy creek along the spacious back yard, the big trampoline, and the tire swing, who let me carry away 50 pounds of apples off their trees and delighted in stories of my newfound interest in canning, who came to piano and dance recitals, school presentations and end-of-the-year parties, college graduations, and weddings.
Today my niece, just 5 or so months old, sat with Grandpa and gnawed on his big thumb and fingers. He looked at her with this sort of softness and muffled delight. Maybe he was remembering her mama, his granddaughter, sitting on his lap a couple decades ago. Or maybe even his daughter, her grandma sitting there once.
I wrote the above on April 10, 2013. I saw Grandpa again in August and he passed away in September. This April visit was the last time my niece spent with Grandpa. The life cycle continues and the challenge is to live in the moment.
He would want us to have a wonderful life, to play a lot of music, to work hard, to travel well and often, to love our families, to take care of each other and of people less fortunate than us.
I think of him often, but I anticipate I will especially when I vaccinate my future children and remember his fight against polio, when I drive by the Clackamas shopping center and remember how he almost-single-handedly tackled the project of convincing homeowners to sell their land so they could build a grand new shopping center, when I pass by Marie Calendar’s or Shari’s (although I probably won’t stop!), when I come across lemon meringue pie (his favorite), or happen to have donuts and coffee for breakfast.
This life is strange, thrilling, terrifying, so full of love, so full of relationships, so full of sorrow. This reflection is all the more poignant in the wake of Zack’s grandpa’s sudden passing on Friday. I actually wrote a draft of this post on Thursday night and then on Friday night I was helpless on the other end of the phone, unable to reach out to comfort my grieving husband.
I am writing this to remember Grandpa, but more than that to struggle through these seasons of growing up, growing older, watching generations cycle and families shift. The transitions are sometimes slow, sometimes sudden, always laced with a intense spectrum of emotions. I don’t always understand it, but I am caught up in the unbearably beautiful swirl of it all.