I won't be going north for the funeral - will make the fourth funeral of grandparents that I have missed. Formal goodbyes have never been my thing.
I'll be saying goodbye, in my own way, here and when I land in Vermont in 4 weeks and a day. For a trip I scheduled because every part of my being told me I didn't have much time to see him. I've got the intuition, it just happens to be a little off. So, today, in memorial, I share:
We were arriving late one night in early June for our annual two-month summer stay. We snuck up the front sidewalk, which was never how you went into their house, to the screen door. Inside, they played a word game at the kitchen table. My father listened a moment as his mom argued the validity of her word before teasingly interjecting that she was cheating. She fought back for a moment before realizing who she was arguing with, and they excitedly came to welcome us all in.
The next morning, while everyone else slept, the two early birds in the house met in the kitchen. He was sitting at the table, massive hands handling the newspaper and a cup of coffee, empty plate next to his placemat. He whispered good morning and asked me about breakfast. Instead, I crawled into his lap as he turned the paper, whispering the comics section to me and talking me through the crossword puzzle clues – a padded click accompanying his inhalations.
The summer Grammy died, I couldn’t bring myself to go to her funeral. After the funeral, our family had a big gathering, and once again, I crawled into his lap, allowing him to cut my food, finding mutual comfort. At family gatherings, especially as I got too big to crawl into his lap, I would sit at his feet, and he would rub my head, almost absent-mindedly playing with my hair, as the family sat around the living room and talked. When I was older, I went to visit him alone. Those nights I was there, he sat in his chair across from me, while I sat in the chair my Grammy occupied that last summer of her life, and told me, with a sad longing in his voice, about the mistakes he’d made, about his love for Grammy, and how the walls in his house would sometimes feel as though they were talking, full of memories.
I’ll miss those hands – for whatever reason, I have strong images of the hands of each of my grandparents stored in my head. Watching them tie flies, make pies, or kill a bug headed my way. I’ll miss the pep talks – I’d call him weekly (and catch him about every other time), tell him what was going on in my life, and he’d tell me what a special girl I was, how amazed he was by what I was doing. He wanted me to come back up and run the Maple Leaf half marathon again, and he always asked about whether we’d “been down to the coast” and how Winston and my husband were. I don’t think he ever quite figured out that I could be working full time AND back in school (honestly, I’m not sure I have either). I’ll miss the hugs that always reminded me of crawling into his lap and feeling the love.
But what gratitude I have! Ninety-six years of opportunities, challenges, and love. Thirty-four of my years in the presence of two generations before me. Health up until the very end. Memories of fly fishing, pie making lessons, cheesecake and strawberry rhubarb pie, hiking, fixing those stupid runners in his living room every two seconds, raspberries and garden bounties, the constant reminders to drink water, shooting BB guns in the back yard, non-fiction book recommendations, stories of fly fishing at 85 and pushing blocks of snow off his roof at 89, special dinners, dancing at my brother’s wedding… And the stories of "you're never going to believe what Grampa said" (well, she ain't no spring chicken! has got to be my favorite) -- hah... And incredible love still – now, the love of friends and family enveloping us, just like his arms did many years ago, quietly providing mutual comfort in our time of grief.
So Grampa, after 25 years without the physical presence of love of your life, I hope you are reunited in God's presence and that you have ultimate peace - I look forward to feeling the energy of the love of 5 amazing grandparents from my life, sending us unconditional love. I'll miss you terribly.