About a year ago, my grandfather passed away suddenly. We spent the days surrounding Memorial Day in the hospital watching him deteriorate quickly just days after he had moved from his secluded farmhouse into a new senior living apartment building.
I didn’t get many gifts from my Grammie and Grampy growing up, but Grampy gave me a gift that week. He gave me the gift of time to grow closer to my family, and it was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received.
I grew up only seeing my dad’s family about once a year, usually for Thanksgiving. Visits usually consisted of sitting around and listening to the adults make small talk about things that were way over my kid head or politely learning to be friends with step cousins who were older than me. There were frequently uncomfortable moments between family members, usually stemming from disagreements about things spanning from belief systems all the way to menu choices. I often dreaded the 3 hour drive to the small town near Winona, MN in the fall. It was hard to feel “at home” with that side of my family.
A little over a year ago, as I sat in a hospital room with my family listening to the strained last breaths of my grandfather, I was once again forced into that familiar environment filled with small talk and discomfort. But this time it was different.
The process of listening to doctors explain what was happening, watching Grampy’s condition change (for better or worse), meeting new nurses every 8-12 hours, and constantly communicating new information to the 15-or-so people in and out of the room seemed endless. There were many times where we thought, maybe this is the hardest it’ll get, or maybe this is the end. Often, it was just another threshold to more waiting. There were fresh waves of emotion with each change in Grampy’s breathing.
I sat in that hospital room making small talk like we used to, but this time as an adult, part of the conversation, part of the mourning, and part of the family. Many hours passed talking with my uncle about great books we’ve read. Relationships were strengthened with my cousins over talks of jobs, movies, and life goals. Goofy looks on the faces of my aunt and dad reminded me just how much we are all like Grampy. All the dread of past visits faded and, in its place came the feeling of safety and comfort. Fear also came: the fear of losing this connection I had gained with my family. I began to worry that without Grampy around, we wouldn’t have a reason to gather anymore.
Saying goodbye to my Grampy was harder than I ever thought it would be. I realized what I would be missing, that he wouldn’t meet my husband or my kids, he wouldn’t catch the next season of NCIS, and he wouldn’t be around to beat me at Trivial Pursuit.
But I also realized that, while he was here, I had something beautiful. I inherited a love of learning from him, something that I thought came just from Grammie. I got some really funny faces from him. I got sarcasm up the wazoo from him. I got my love of sugar and my limited self control from him. All of those things make me smile.
There’s a picture of me reading with my Grammie (forever the teacher) on the couch that we found when we were looking for photos for Grampy’s funeral. It’s your classic cute picture of a toddler and her grandma learning to love a good book, but what’s more important about this picture is that Grampy is sitting down on the other end of the couch watching with this priceless look on his face. It’s a look that says, “That’s MY granddaughter, and man is she impressive.” When I see that picture, there’s no doubt in my mind that Bill Jamieson, my Grampy, loved me. And that’s what I’ll remember the most.
Thank you, Grampy, for building a family that I’m becoming more a part of every day. Thank you for raising sarcastic, intelligent, compassionate children. Thank you for serving our country and protecting my freedom. And thank you for giving me the gift of time with my family. I miss you dearly, buy you are more alive in my heart every day. Love you.