“Grandpa had a stroke. Not sure what’s going on. Call when you can.”
It was the voicemail that made my heart sink. My wonderfully strong healthy grandpa had a stroke. I knew he was headed in for an MRI and now it was just a waiting game. The next morning I got another phone call. “They found a mass. We’re headed to Arizona.”
My world flipped upside down in that moment. Trying not to assume the worst, I distractedly carried on through the day, keeping tabs on my parents.
The minutes ticked by.
And then, that phone call came. The phone call that comes in the middle of the night, or too soon after you’ve had the blood work done, or when the phone shouldn’t be ringing.
It’s that phone call.
Cancer. Brain cancer.
The world stopped in that very moment. I heard my heart pounding and the blood rushing into my head. I could hardly make out the words as my precious father tried to explain. Book a ticket. Get to Arizona. We need to be together.
I walked out of the conference room and wept. My beloved grandfather was dying of brain cancer. The very same weekend six years past the last time I said goodbye to my other grandfather.
NO! I shouted in my head. NO THIS ISN’T HAPPENING! NOT AGAIN! I CANT DO IT!
WHERE ARE YOU
WHERE ARE YOU
WHERE ARE YOU
The birthday phone calls and family reunions and quirky jokes and moments around the table and the Easter egg hunts and family dinners and porch swinging. The times where I should have called and didn’t. The times I chose not to go visit. They swirled in my head and became a disjointed soundtrack of my life.
The world became smaller and smaller until I couldn’t breathe.
How do you do this? How do you say goodbye to the one you love? To the one who has existed in every major moment of your life from the time you were born? How? And how could I be reliving losing my grandfather six years later. Is this a cruel joke? Can this actually be happening?
I wept. From the depths of my soul.
I thought I had time. I thought I had years. I wrote the love letter to my future with him in mind. Because I wanted to him to pass the story of our family down to my children. I thought he would be there to see me walk down the aisle. To see my children. To hold them in his arms.
I thought I had time.
But I was gently reminded of the things he has seen. My first steps, my loose tooth, my 8th grade graduation, my high school graduation, my college graduation, my heartbreaks and triumphs, my sunburns and little girl twirls. My moments of insecurity and my moments of strength. He has been there. Constant. Steady. Loving selflessly and generously.
How can life go on without that?
Yet somehow it does.
The day that shatters my world can be just an ordinary day for anyone else. The day that I’ll remember forever is the day that someone brought life into this world, or said yes, or got that job, or believed. These days become locked in my memory but can fade away for anyone else.
So for now, I’m going to pack my suitcase, hop on a plane in Denver, and go sit with my family. I’m going to tell my grandpa how strong and wonderful he is and will be. I’m going to tell him that he has not only all of my love but my respect. That he’s left a legacy that will continue for as long as there is breath in my body and damnit if he doesn’t call me on my birthday and leave me that voicemail, I won’t ever forgive him.
All we can do is keep breathing.