A year ago I said good-bye. My grandfather was slowly losing his fight for life. My kids never got one last chance to see him.
I had taken the kids back home for a fun summer visit and he suddenly took a turn for the worse the day we arrived. He had rebounded before, but I knew it would be the last time I saw him. You just know.
Before I left to come back to North Carolina, I went to the hospital hoping he’d wake up and know I was there, say something, anything. The day before I couldn’t wake him so I tried one last time. I held his hand, pulled the blankets over his legs, nervously ran my fingers over his soft, white hair. Did he know he was dying? How do you tell someone you love good-bye, that you won’t be back? I felt so inexperienced at this, not that I wanted more. He said my name. He said he was glad I came. I didn’t get to tell him everything I wanted to say, but I don’t think he would have heard me. I don’t think I could have choked it out. I’m not good at good-byes. I hide from them like a child under a bed.
I’m not sure I made it out of the elevator or the lobby before coughs turned to sobs. I’m not sure how I found my car through the flood of tears. I don’t know how I started the car with shaking hands. But I clung to the steering wheel while grief overtook my body in a way that both surprised and relieved me. It came in a time and place when I could just let it sweep over me and I didn’t hold back.
When my grandfather died, my son wanted to go to the funeral. They had been close, some inner pull you can’t see but you know is there. I told him no. At age 8, I didn’t think he was ready. Funerals always scared me as a kid. They scare me now. I was afraid he’d get there and change his mind, seeing his great-grandfather’s body but no signs of the jolly, gentle soul that he loved. The truth is, I wasn’t ready. I couldn’t handle it. I am supposed to be the adult, but in that time I was still the child, seeing my grandfather’s body but no signs of the jolly, gentle soul that I loved.
I regret that I didn’t take my son, didn’t give him that chance to say good-bye when he knew he was ready, even if I wasn’t. I felt like the kid. I’m the one who doesn’t like funerals. I said my good-byes. And I regret that I took that chance away from my son. At the funeral, I was still the granddaughter who couldn’t comprehend seeing a lifeless body of one I loved. In my moment of grief, I couldn’t also be the parent.