I watch a lot of horror movies that feature some of the most gruesome death sequences you can imagine. I work in a field surrounded by death almost daily. As a living, breathing human death is a natural part of the life cycle we all have to deal with at some point until such time as the Grim Reaper arrives to transport us to the afterlife.
As a Baptist-turned Catholic I have a lot of thoughts on the afterlife. The loss of a friend or family member usually brings much of this to the forefront of our minds. This happened today as I learned a life long addiction to tobacco resulted in the termination of my grandfathers life this morning. I had learned he was sick more than a week ago. I had gone through the grieving process at that time, expecting I would move on once it was finalized. You know the waiting around for death is sometimes harder than the news itself.
I sit and I ponder. Not this person I hardly knew who I never will know any deeper, but the reality that here is another person whose life I had a chance to become a part, I no longer have that opportunity. The sting, for me, is knowing I missed my opportunity to have a relationship with my grandfather.
Grandpa, pops, there is a wide array of nicknames given to the individual who fathers our own father. In some cultures, such as Gaelic, they take their fathers name or grandfathers name as a surname. This is where you get Mac or O’ from. MacDonald means Son of Donald. O’Reilly means decedent of Reilly. It is a popular trope in television, a sight in many families, a grandfather teaching his decedents the way things used to be. I never had that.
I remember a story of when I was around six or maybe even five years old. I was returning from a church event in tears. I had learned a friends grandfather had passed away and it hit me, both of my known grandpas had both died either before I was born, or when I was too young to remember them. I processed this then and spent the next few years knowing in the back of my mind my mother had a father I never met and her stepfather had died before I was born. I later learned that last one was not the case. Not only was her step-dad still alive, she actually had a new stepdad still married to her very much alive mother, whom I had also never met up to that point.
I was 14 years old the first time I met either grandparent. Okay technically I was seven when they stopped in for an overnight visit once but I had the stomach flu and they were gone before I had a chance to really spend any time with them or form a lasting memory. Does that event count? I say not. At age 14 we moved across the country, in another of many moves but this time further than ever before. We did so mostly on my own account. That’s a story for another day.
We arrived in Sand Point Idaho, technically Ponderay, where my grandparents lived. I slept in a tent in their backyard. Grandpa Jim, he would come home, crack open a beer, sit in his chair and watch TV until bedtime. We sat down and ate supper as a family but, from what I remember, I was very distant and reserved so I hardly spoke. I took the time to bond slightly with grandma, but not nearly as much as I could have I suppose. Grandpa, he drove long haul trucks for a living. Despite living there an entire summer, he was hardly around long enough to formulate a lasting image of his face in my mind, let alone any mannerisms or details that would leave a mark.
When I was 16 he had a heart attack. I had only been away for barely a year from living with them a summer so the sting of knowing I might lose the closest thing I ever had to a real grandpa kind of hurt, like a lot. Enough that I ran to the pay phone and called the Pastor of our church to pray for him and then called collect to try to reach him or his wife in the hospital. I don’t have any solid memories of what happened next so I can’t be sure if we spoke or not. All I know is, well I never saw him again. Not a single other day in my life did I occupy the same space as the man I was calling Grandpa Jim. I did, however, get rather close to my Great Uncle Ed. He was a character for another story but helped shape who I became in a lot of ways. I guess you could argue, if you were in such a mood, he filled the role a grandpa might have otherwise. However, as I referred to him simple as Uncle Ed, I figured he fit the uncle bill much better anyways.
A week ago we learned he was dying in the hospital. At the time I knew it was inevitable but I wasn’t able to muster the funds, time, or will power to get in the car and make the trip. I can’t say I didn’t have some desire but I figured it wouldn’t have made anything better. Still, there is always regret in life. I don’t do a very good job connecting with people to begin with. I don’t really have anyone to blame, it just is what it is I suppose.
It is now, as I grieve not for my lost family member, but more so for my mother and also for my lost memories I never got to have. I missed out on. That will haunt me I am sure than the memory of losing someone I cared about. I say this as someone who has lost loved ones. I don’t feel guilt for not being more sad. I feel the appropriate amount of sad considering the circumstances. There isn’t going to be a funeral or memorial right away that I know about. I heard they will cremate him and the family will grieve. I will do my own reflecting as I determine is necessary for my own well being. I will offer support for those I care about who were closer to him than I was and I will do my best to not let it get me down.