|My Grandpa, February 7, 1928--September 15, 2012|
When I first allowed myself to envision this day, I thought that I could be the one to write something for him…that maybe it had to be me because my grandpa and I had a special connection, we shared the love of words and putting them together with the goal of making someone feel something when they read them. But the more I really thought about it, the more I became aware of the fact that I wasn’t even close to being the only one to share that connection with him. That there are probably dozens and dozens of people who could write something just as meaningful if not more as what I’m sharing today.
I don’t do fluffy. And clichéd prose is something that I’m not capable of producing for the sake of saying what you’re supposed to say in times like this. I just want to write the words to go with the visions and the memories and feelings lodged in my head…The best way to prove that someone means the world to you is to allow yourself to see what moments are right there on the surface, always within reach no matter how much time has passed.
Moments I Can Recall Without Even Trying
The first time I stayed home sick from school alone, Grandpa came over and brought me 7-up.
Sitting in the car with Grandpa, driving from Beavercreek to Dayton and listening to him tell me he was about to quit smoking. After 50 years. I remember thinking he was strong and weak all at once. I remember thinking he wasn’t perfect and being surprised to discover this. I was 12 and it was one of the first of many adult conversations I had with him long before I ever became a real grown up.
I remember him telling me about the last time he saw his dad, when he was only four years old and how he remembers it so vividly.
Grandpa picking me up from soccer practice every day and taking me to Wendy’s and buying me lunch for almost an entire summer.
Hearing him order pizza with pepperoni and green olives and discovering that I had a new favorite. I was 15.
My first semester of college, he discovered computers, AOL, and email and felt compelled to forward everything that was forwarded to him.
When I was 7 months pregnant and had just moved to a new city and new apartment, he drove nearly five hours each way to come and have lunch with me. I didn’t even have a couch for him to sit on yet.
In 2009, I finished writing my first novel, he read that awful book in forty eight hours and then continued to encourage me to keep writing. He called me an author long before I ever called myself one.
In 2010, he wrote this on facebook (yes, he moved passed AOL to discover facebook) to convince people to “like” my fanpage when it was first started, “I’m a true and loyal fan of this very talented and targeted author! Julie has the warm smiles of her heroines, the energy of many fav's, and the faith and encouragement of all that know her. Her pages are faith, hope and commiserates of the future and we thirst for them! Stay with us and we will see your success and feel the love!”
In 2011, he held the first bound copy of my first soon-to-be-published novel and opened it up to the final page, read it and said, “I already know it’s great because of the last line in the book.” That line is, I have no regrets.
|My grandparents, me, my sister, and brother in 1987|
When he said that about my final sentence, I almost wanted to change it…I wanted to remind him it was fiction. Just a story. I didn’t like hearing him talk about what it meant to be at the end of your life and look back and wonder if you’ve done enough. I hated thinking about him being gone. I hated thinking about him wondering if he’d done enough. And I hated thinking about the fact that someday I’m going to contemplate that very same thing about myself.
But when I sift through the memories of my grandfather and the time I spent with him and the time I know he spent with others, I don’t see a person who only spent the very end of his life trying to live without regrets, I see someone who spent at least the length of my life, which is 32 years, trying to live without regrets. He often did the ugly jobs and tasks that we all are faced with when it comes to family and he did them when no one else wanted to or was able to. He did these things because he cared and because they needed to be done, but mostly because he didn’t want to wish he’d done more later on.
|Grandpa with my first born in 1999|
When I heard he wasn’t doing well a couple months ago, I wanted to ignore it, to pretend I didn’t know and no one had told me, I was afraid to face reality. But I remembered him looking at those words…have no regrets…and for the first time, I let myself understand and comprehend the fact that time really would take him away and there was no going back. Without even trying to change, without making any declarations to do better and to be better because we all know that’s very easy to say in times like this, but much harder to remember later on, I’ve felt these tiny bits of him gluing themselves to me and giving me the strength to say and do what needs to be done before it’s too late.
I was very scared to visit in June knowing what was coming but listening to him talk about being in pain, being ready to let go and knowing that he had left so many marks on the world through his children and grand children and great grandchildren, I felt like I was 12 again and we were having our first real grown up conversation and he was using his life and his choices to tell me not to smoke and at the same time he was telling me we all have a chance at redemption, at forgiveness. He told me those same things in June, that what he wanted most for all of us to remember is to love more, to understand more, and to forgive more, and most of all to live without regrets.
I feel sad today and I’m going to feel sad tomorrow and every time I’m hit by one of those moments, but I also feel stronger and less afraid, like maybe I’ve become part of the cycle and that someday I’ll have a granddaughter who will write words about me and how I’ve made her remember something without even trying. How I’ve made her different without trying.
I love you, Grandpa. Thanks for everything you’ve given me.