I have read of such loss lately, Gramps, and just like it always does, any loss (whether it’s mine or my family’s or the guy down the road or my good friend losing her dog or a tragic ending in a book) reminds me of the late August night, almost 12 years ago, when Big Dawg came and picked me up in a raging thunderstorm to go see you one last time.
I remember I was on a low-carb diet at the time, and I had just started eating dinner — flank steak and broccoli and salad. I still can’t use that particular seasoning rub to this day, without nearly breaking down in my kitchen. I don’t remember exactly what was said, but whatever was said, I had hopes in my head that I was going to get to talk to you again and hear your scratchy and gruff voice say my name, Rosie.
It didn’t turn out that way. You were wrapped in a white sheet from head to toe and on a gurney and I touched your chest and put my face close to yours and my whole world exploded and, while I don’t remember the exact details, I remember hearing a howling noise and then realizing that noise was me and shutting my eyes tight and saying something about how I had just seen you a few days before and you had been FINE. FINE, DAMMIT.
I turned back around because I wanted to kiss your cheek before they took you away, but I was in a big empty room, just me and QoB and BD and some nursing staff. I couldn’t tolerate that I had ruined my chance to say goodbye to you by getting overly emotional. Whoever thought it was a good idea to wheel you off at that point was obviously a person that did not know me deeply.
The next week was a blur. I tried to go into work, failed miserably. Everyone around me was a complete wreck. I can remember going through pictures to put up at the memorial service and I remember breaking down into tears time and time again. Hysterical tears, hot tears, fast-moving, and unforgiving tears.
I still don’t remember much of that time, but I do know that I think of you all the time. The wounds have healed over some, but I still have regret. That I didn’t see you often enough or say thank you enough or stop by with a box of Cheez-its (our special favorite) just to say hi. It was so hard being around Grandma, I just wanted my Grandpa back, the one who gardened on his knees for hours on end, even when he could barely walk, and the Grandpa that taught me how to drive by having me take back-roads from Topeka to Silver Lake at every opportunity.
The grandpa after the apartment with Sparky was sad, when he had to live with grandma again, when he didn’t feel as good physically, when PTSD from his time in the Navy rattled him as it never had before, when he couldn’t drive, couldn’t walk, couldn’t do whatever the hell it was he wanted to do. Because he was like that, he was a man who did whatever he pleased. If he wanted to whip up a bunch of refrigerator pickles, then he was going to do it, and if he felt like taking a drive or going to all of your basketball games (even though he could barely walk), then that is what he was going to do.
I find that every year that passes, I lose more of my memories of him. Some are extremely fresh in my mind, some not so much. In a day or maybe a week where there has been so much loss, the pang to my heart from Grandpa being gone is next-to-unbearable. Should I be over this MUCH better 12 years down the road, yes. I don’t need anyone to tell me that. Some things are really hard, and this is one of those really hard things. Every loss reminds me of him, and everytime I think of him, I am frightened by how much I don’t remember.
I hope you are proud of me, Grandpa, up on that big pontoon boat in the sky, and I am pretty sure you are. Sometimes when I don’t feel like being tough, I think about your life and it gives me strength. I hope you would be happy for me, too. I have found love and love conquers all, and I know that you knew that. It is still a month and several days until the anniversary of your death, but I wanted to be the first one to say how I miss you so, and how I wouldn’t be where I am today without all the love you poured into me when you were here. I know you weren’t into religion or going to church, but I do believe that you and Sparky (and Mom’s childhood dogs) are out there somewhere, catching crappie after crappie, and moving around with the legs and back of a 16-year-old.
Always, Forever, Amen. I love you.