Tomorrow, it will be two years since the day my father passed away.
Last week, it was two years since my grandfather, my mom’s dad, left us, too.
They died four days apart, and we all thought, for just a moment, that the world was going to hell in the strangest of handbaskets.
I remember being so caught up in everything relating to my grandfather that when I think back on the days before my dad died, I can’t really remember anything significantly affectionate or deep between him and I. Which sucks when you very much want life to play out like movies do.
We’d love to live in a world of goodbyes wrapped up perfectly tight. We would like grief to be neat and contained, the peace of knowing we did everything perfectly in the last moments sustaining us through the messiness of carrying on.
Our last time seeing each other, he was shuffling down the sidewalk in front of my childhood home with a walker. He was going to get checked into the hospital.
He had battled prolonged illness relating to his kidneys and liver for almost a decade. Nearly every time he needed to go to the ER relating to his illness, he fought us.
He always waited until he practically bottomed-out before he would give in and let us drive him to the hospital, usually at 9 o’clock at night when he finally admitted to himself he couldn’t take it anymore.
Not this time.
I drove over to my parent’s house with the kids in tow to greet my mother who was returning from her parents house for the first time in several days. For the first time since my grandfather died.
We were all heartbroken. We knew we needed each other, but the feat of talking everything over seemed exhausting. We spent time just sitting together, trying to piece everything from the last few days into something that resembled a new but familiar reality.
My older sister would be driving dad to the hospital to get checked out. This time, he didn’t need to be convinced. He simply gathered what he needed should he have ended up staying for several days. He got dressed. And he waited patiently for one of us to drive him.
Our hope was that he would be released the day of or before my grandfather’s funeral. I took a suit of his to the cleaners on Thursday.
I picked it up on Saturday.
The funeral was Monday.
That suit is still hanging in my closet, wrapped in cellophane. The ticket from the cleaner’s still clinging to it.
If I had known that would have been the last time I was going to see him conscious, as himself, it would have gone so differently. But, as we all know, we don’t get do-overs in real life.
In the haze of everything, I at least know our words were warm to each other in passing. His trip to the hospital didn’t raise alarm or cause us a heap of concern. This was one of the few times he wasn’t taken to the hospital when we were all in pure crisis mode. It almost felt like a relief in a way knowing he was there, being treated and resting and safe, while the rest of us were trying to support my mother.
I’m sure he reminded me, again, about picking up his suit, probably much to my quiet annoyance. I probably smiled and assured him I had this seemingly minor detail under control. I remember that he looked gray. And so tired. His own heart hurting, I’m sure, from losing my grandfather. They’d known each other for over forty years. My mother’s heart was broken. He hurt for her the way that only a spouse can hurt for each other.
I’m sure I thought that Monday would come, and then after that we could work on trying to be as close to normal as we were going to get in my family, probably ever again.
That was the last time I saw him the way I knew him.
That was before a 6 a.m. phone call on a Sunday. My mind an ocean of confusion and sleep in my eyes as I tried to understand what was happening. Things like this don’t happen. People don’t up and die days apart. This wasn’t not supposed to be his time. Not when he seemed…so okay before he left. He was only there as a routine visit. Nothing was really wrong.
I couldn’t find the light switch to flick on to help my brain understand. To help my mind find it’s way to what was really happening.
I have gone over the timeline of that day a handful of times. It feels like it was so long ago.
It sounds so cheesy when we talk about living each day like it is our last. We know it isn’t possible. We will all have days of groaning and rushing and hectic schedules and flat tires and fights with our spouse and dinner burning on the stove.
Sometimes, we have days or illness and hospital stays, funerals and depression, anxiety and penetrating sadness.
It isn’t possible to live in complete awareness of all we have. Life becomes foggy so fast. And we forget about what truly matters even faster.
We are seemingly at its mercy, at the whim of this endless cycle. Like I said, it’s but a breath. I’ve been a student ever since, to these mechanisms of time.
The way we break this strain of time, though. How we can climb out of its clutches – even if just for moments – is to throw everything open and let love in wherever we can.
Which is why you should tell them while they’re still here. While you are still here.
I wrote a note to my father a year or two before he passed. I left it for him on his hospital nightstand while he slept. I couldn’t look at him and give it to him. I don’t know why I thought I’d rip apart at the seams if I did.
He never mentioned the letter, or what was in it. It was all the things I thought I needed to say. We never talked about it together.
Now that he is gone, there is so much more I wish I could say. I’ve faced down so many days without him. Without my grandfather. My mind ever busy writing a manuscript for them they will never read. The things I wish we could share but can’t. The love that’s trapped with nowhere to go.
That day two years ago makes me ache. That girl didn’t know that the man she brushed shoulders with on the sidewalk out front was going to leave.
But I know, at least once or twice, in a letter. At the bottom of a birthday card. On the phone when we exclaimed how good it was to hear each others voice.
In quiet passing. I said it. Not enough. But I did. We both did.
Something. Something that let him know how glad I was that he was here. Something, from him, that said more than that he was proud of me.
And this is how we break the chains of time. By breaking focus from the things that syphon joy from our lives. By helping someone understand how much you love them. By speaking the words out loud to someone who has filled your heart with such love that your life would have been a thousand shades darker if they weren’t there.
By giving someone’s life that much more intrinsic worth and meaning. By telling them you wouldn’t want to do this life thing with anyone else.
You let someone know they matter, and really, you let rays of heaven’s light in. You let divine purpose in.
When we do this, we elevate the things that matter. And the things that will matter one day. When they’re gone. Or when we are gone. It’s the people that prove we were here, the negative space around us shaping us into who we are.
I think about all that often. And when I do, the grayness of death stills. Just for a bit. It’s not the same as if they were here.
But it reminds me that they were here.