My grandfather died Saturday.
A year ago this month, we got the devastating news of his brain cancer. We all rushed down to Arizona to circle the wagons and spend as much precious time as we could with him. He decided to have a risky surgery that would potentially give him more time. He argued for years. The doctor said months. We got one more full year with him. I’ve had another birthday, Christmas, New Year, and Easter with him. Things I legitimately did not know if I would get a year ago. Even though I’ve had time to grieve and process, the finality of death hasn’t sunk in.
The last few weeks he has steadily grown worse. The cancer slowly taking over his brain and making him quieter and quieter. The sweetest side of who he is fully exposed. Thinking only of my grandma and greeting us warmly when a beloved nurse would turn on Skype so we could see each other. He remarked how beautiful I was. Told me how much he loved me. The things you always hope to hear but some never do.
His reality is no longer our world in a broken ailing body. He is reunited with my grandmother Ardita. He is holding the two children who never got to walk this earth. He is embracing his father and mother. Our dear Papa is enveloping him with light and love and celebrating a faithful servant.
Grief will come in overwhelming crashes for those of us still remaining. I bump up against a memory or a place where he belongs and the stark contrast of absence is almost obscene. Where there was life there is no more. His voice and his laughter and the tender way he said my name on the phone, they are no more. I won’t hear his voice sing me Happy Birthday. I won’t get to hear the stories of life in years gone by. I won’t smile to myself when I see a newspaper article sent to my dad with his handwriting. That is no more. As my heart screams out in agony, it does so selfishly. Because who wants to feel pain?
Yet what I have come to know is the depth of love I’ve experienced which is increasingly rare. I have known powerful transformational love with my grandparents. I’m one of the lucky few who had them at every stage of my life. Loving me in the middle of my mess and selfishness. Valuing me. Giving me all they had.
My grandfather was truly one of the best men to walk this earth. He was strong. He was smart. He was kind. He was funny. He was adventurous. He was wise. He was generous. He was brilliant. He was joyful. He liked to sneak dessert away from the watchful eye of my grandmother. He challenged me to be better. To be strong and brave and different. He left the world a better place than when he entered it. He has shared a mantle of a family. One who will stick together no matter the circumstance. He was our patriarch. A haven of safety in an uncertain world. He himself had known deep sorrow and deep love. Always choosing to walk forward in love.
He loved the stinkiest grossest cheese. He loved carrot cake. He loved tennis. He loved skiing. He loved traveling. He loved his children and step-children. He loved his grandchildren and step-grandchildren. He adored his first and second wife. He would kiss my cheek right near my ear so the sound of his kiss would ring long after. I was his first grandchild. His only biological granddaughter. I inherited his wife’s wedding dress and her smile. I was all giggles and sunshine and emotional. He would wrap me in his arms and hold me tight. He wanted us to live. Live well. Live freely. Live passionately. Live for others.
And I’m pretty sure if he could look back at this life he would smile and say, “I lived.”
He didn’t like our tears over his impending death. So while I shed them now, I know they will come to an end. My life will be all too fleeting and I know he’ll be standing there to wrap his arms around me the day I take that step from one world to another.
But now? Now because I have known the depth of love, I know the depth of sorrow. But like him, I will choose love.