Where is my Grandpa? Where is the giant I have known all my life, anxious to discuss life, ask questions, and mentor me at every juncture of life?
I haven't seen my grandpa for several months, even though family members told me his health was declining. My mom flew down to visit him, a sister's family took a weekend trip, and cousins flew across country. I stayed home. I deliberated. I thought about him as I had known him, and prolonged the goodbye until now. Even now, goodbye is elusive. He doesn't recognize me, looking beyond me with blank and pain-filled eyes. Goodbye wasn't possible before: I wasn't ready, and he was fighting to stay. Goodbye isn't possible now: I am here, but he is fighting to leave this life. I just hold his hand, thin and long, and allow the memories to rush over my mind.
His place is at the kitchen table, drinking carrot juice and eating sprouted wheat toast, asking me about my work and what I am reading. When I was a child, he asked me about school and ballet class, focusing on the one-on-one conversations that I would expect with every visit. As a teenager, I was dragged to a health food store as a first stop on a grandpa-granddaughter outing. We stayed there for 3 hours while he became best friends with the owner, and had his cooperation with signing a health bill for congress at the end of a conversation. In college, he wanted to hear about every class, every thought I had. I called him from my apartment throughout the years, giving him updates and waiting for counsel. I didn't always look forward to it, and sometimes complained about it afterwards, but now I wish I had one more chance to listen to his wisdom. He understood then what I value now--he was my grandfather. He understood that I had enough "friends", he took the greater role of a teacher, leader, and mentor. In a family that was spread coast-to-coast, he filled the role of Grandfather and Patriarch to each of us. That is what I realize I need to tell him in my goodbye--that I'm grateful I had a Grandpa, and that I really did listen and tried to follow the counsel he shared.
Unlike me, he had always been listening and learning. If I read a book that I enjoyed, he would read it too and want to discuss it, ranging from The Secret Garden to Fahrenheit 451. His appetite for learning never stopped, insisting on being read to during road trips. We worked our way through Mere Christianity while driving to Zion National Park, stopping at least once a page to discuss the ideas and how these applied to our lives. Is it any wonder that I listen to audiobooks and want to discuss everything I read? Learning kept him young and alive, even at 91 years of age, and I find myself wanting to learn as much as possible in all different subjects. This is what I need to tell him in my goodbye--that I am just realizing how little I know, and how much I want to keep learning.
I think of this now, while I sit next to him, trying to formulate thoughts that follow a sequence or pattern. I jump from memory to memory, smiling at scattered images from my life. These images are what I want to write about, but my grandpa gave specific instructions for me: I am to write his obituary. My mom suggests I begin now, since these are the final days of his life. We are staying with my Aunt Kathy and Uncle Dave, where my grandpa has been staying the past several months. The writing is difficult and a day of work yields one paragraph about his birth and childhood. It is too little, too chopped for the man I know as Grandpa Great. How do you synopsize life in a sentence, a paragraph, an obituary? Can I write anything about a man that was both grandfather, tutor, mentor, and teacher? And I know he was that and so much more to others. I can't write all of that in an obituary, but I do need to tell him in my goodbye.
I'm realizing more and more that the goodbye may not be for him at this point...maybe it is for me. Maybe it is good for me to realize just how much I've inherited and learned from my grandpa. I think I took it for granted that he was amazing--and I feel like my children are getting shortchanged by not knowing him, or having his influence. And it is here that I finally realize that I am more like my Grandpa than I ever knew, and that my kids will know him because they know me. They will listen to audiobooks with me, or if I am really like him, we will read books out loud in the car and discuss the theories and ideas. I'll talk to people about The Book of Mormon the same way he did--as something he wanted to share because it was the best and most important message he could share. His memory will be with me when I go running, or work on an important goal, or make fun family time a priority. At some point, I'll explain to my children that I do all these things because it is a legacy passed down from Grandpa Miller. And instead of saying goodbye, my girls will say hello to their Grandpa Great when they see him in the life beyond this one.