Are you home now?
I left my grandfather’s side at the hospital today and immediately went to get lost in the foothills. He had that look that everyone seems to have right before they die. His body still rests in this world but he is clearly somewhere else. I joked with my mom every time he murmured that he was dreaming about golf, cigars, and fishing. Sometimes it feels like those were the only things I ever knew about this man.
When I was younger and he would come visit I would try to show him my entire world, all at once.
“Grandpa, watch me dribble this basketball.”
“Grandpa, listen to me sing this song-horribly off key.”
“Grandpa, let me show you around this house, this town, this entire space before us.”
I was so desperate for him to know my world, and yet I knew almost nothing of his. Who was this man who raised my mother?
I thought I would get a chance to understand more about him a few years ago when my parents asked me for a handheld voice recorder I had used for some oral history projects. He had agreed they could document some of his story. The wars. All his years gone. But then he changed his mind. Some memories are too difficult to let people in.
And yet, he was always around. He put me on my first flight, walking me to the gate and telling me not to eat any food until I knew whether I had to pay for it or not. He handed me a few dollars, in case of an emergency, and kissed me goodbye. I was too terrified to eat my peanuts until I was home in my bedroom.
He was the first person I called when I found out my uncle, on my other side of the family, had died unexpectedly. I was alone in a city without most of my family. He listened to me cry and then invited me to dinner.
He blessed the bald heads of both of my babies and then spoiled them with candy for years to come.
The only person I have ever seen right before death who didn’t have that unearthly look was his first wife-my grandmother. Her mind went far before her body failed her. The last time I saw her, my father and I walked into her nursing home and she immediately started crying when she spotted us. She had late stage Alzheimer’s at a very young age and she hadn’t recognized anyone for quite some time. She sat in a bright colored sweater, her mind belonging to a different world, but her cheeks still collecting tears in this one. She might not have been able to say who I was, but something about us felt like home. It must have been more than 20 years since she passed.
Home is something my grandpa hasn’t felt in quite some time. During the last four months he has bounced around between four different care facilities and numerous trips to the hospital. This will be his last one. There won’t be any more moves.
As I was walking along the trail today I had a thought that stopped me in my tracks. I am about to be grandparentless. Tear stained treks and silent sobs carried me back to my car. I don’t know how to live in a world without grandparents? I don’t know who else will look at my life and think that this mess is as beautiful as my grandparents did.
But this isn’t about me. I’m not nine years old anymore trying to show off my entire world. I am the granddaughter who got to say goodbye to her grandfather. One that I wished I knew better, but one that I think loved me the best he could. He is the one that gets to slip out of this life and leave behind the memories that he chose.
How long has he been without his grandparents? His parents? I know it has been a lifetime since he saw my grandmother.Can he hear them now? Are they the ones he murmurs to?
Will he cry when he sees them?
Are you home now, grandpa?