I guess we’re supposed to expect to start losing people we love when we reach a certain age. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to us when we lose a grandparent after they’ve lived such a long, fulfilling life. So why does it feel like we never saw it coming? Like all of those years of their unconditional love and support has just been balled up and thrown in our face and all of a sudden it’s gone and they’re gone and all that’s left is the people they left behind, working together somehow to cope.
My grandfather was the single most inspiring person I have ever known. I will never be able to live up to the things he accomplished in his life, yet somehow he treated every accomplishment I ever made, no matter how small, like I had just won the Pulitzer Prize. My grandfather received a Bachelors degree, a Masters, and finally a post graduate degree from HARVARD, at a time when it was uncommon for an African American man to go to college at all. Yet when I called him my sophomore year to tell him that I landed my first internship, he was in tears with pride. And each semester when grades came out, I could expect a phone call from him, barely able to put words together because he was so proud of me for making honor roll yet again.
How is it that some people have so much love in their hearts? It’s things like this that make them so hard to lose, but also make us so lucky to have ever even had the chance to know them at all. At first I struggled with the concept of why such bad people get to live while people with not an ounce of hate in the depths of their hearts have to leave us. It just doesn’t make sense to me. However, last week when I was remembering the first anniversary of my grandmother on the other side of the family, it all became clear. The anniversary fell on a rainy day that fell between several other rainy, dreary days. “Only fitting,” I thought to myself as I woke up that morning. It all changed when I walked out of work that night. The sun had not been out all day, yet there was this beautiful orange and pink sunset – the most beautiful one I had seen in quite some time. A smile that I could not control came across my face as tears filled my eyes. It’s not that my grandmother and grandfather, two virtual strangers with me as their common thread, had been taken from me. It’s that they have been relocated from a place where I saw them only on holidays and quick visits, to a place where they were together for, I think, the first time ever – a place where the could look down and be with me every single day.
The last time I saw my grandfather awake, he was not himself. Dementia had rapidly taken over his brilliant mind, and it was clear that although he knew deep down that I was “his baby”, he just couldn’t quite put his finger on it. We barely had any conversation during my short visit, as he spent most of it resting. When I left him on that hot day in the middle of August, he took my face in his hands as he always did, looked straight in my eyes, and said “bye bye”. It was as if he knew that his time was limited. I hope he also knew that he would be in my thoughts every single day. That I have countless saved voicemails from him that I will someday have the strength to listen to. That I will think of him each time I see a breathtaking sunset on a day when there is no sun.
We may think that we can come to terms with our loved ones reaching old age and eventually passing, but you never really know until it’s all happening too fast for you to wrap your mind around it. I hope every person is lucky enough to have someone who loves them unconditionally and thinks that everything they do is worthy of singing high praises. I know I am, and now he’s with me every single day. What could be luckier than that?
Bye bye, Grandpa. See you later.