I love my grandfather…surely. But I certainly don’t know him, nor does he know me.
I know him like a story – highlights and references, but nothing of substance. I know what he never gave to me. I know how he willfully resisted helping me when asked. I know that he never came to see me or my Mom and our little family. I know when I showed up to visit, I got a hug hello and a hug goodbye and perhaps some random comments in between. But I never got anything to build or enhance a relationship with.
The two longest conversations I recall having had with my grandfather were while I was in college. Even with loans, grants, a work study and a part-time job, I couldn’t afford the tuition my first semester in college. I had begged my mother to ask her father for help. My mom was so reluctant to ask him for money, she repeatedly told me, “It will do no good. He’s going to say no.” Her way of softening the blow of rejection, I guess. She asked anyway. He said no. Then I asked for myself. He said no again. That Christmas. Granddaddy gave all his grandchildren – except for me – cash gifts. He had a lot of grandchildren. When I called to ask him why he wouldn’t help me when he knew I was struggling and when I asked for help, he responded simply, “You’re not here. They are.”
Perhaps I remember that as the longest conversation because the hurt burrowed deep. The second “long” conversation happened some time later during one of the times I was looking to transfer colleges. While talking to Granddaddy, he urged me to move back to my hometown, Gary, Indiana – a town that had been spiraling into ghost town status for decades – in order to be closer to him and my grandmother. He sweetened his request by promising to buy me a car to get to and from campus in. It was a generous offer. I turned him down. I wanted to move forward, not backwards. There were no opportunities in Gary and I had already become uncomfortably acquainted with the true lack of familial support.
I wish I had softer memories, kinder thoughts to dwell on as I’m confronted with the end of my granddaddy’s life; but these are the memories that I had to acknowledge and overcome so they would not be all I had to look back on in the future.
I wasn’t keen on visiting grandad in the hospital. I’m not a fan of hospitals in general, but Granddaddy has lived a relatively healthy and active life into his late eighties. I don’t recall him ever being sick or hospitalized. He’s become less mobile over the last few years, but he was still getting around and maintaining some independence. A few weeks ago, at the beginning of December he had a massive stroke. A few days later he had a second massive stroke. He went into a coma shortly thereafter. My internal debate about visiting him came to a head when I learned about the coma. From an uncomfortable amount of experience with death and loss, I knew his days were short. That surety drove me across the country with a determination to be present for the opportunity to touch his skin and kiss him as I told him I love him and bore witness to God’s love for him. These weren’t fully formed thoughts on the way to the hospital. I actually had no idea what I would say or do once I got there, but was elated to have experienced a flow of love so natural and fluid, I’m convinced he heard everything he needed to hear. His toes were stretching and curling in response to my words.
I spent half a day getting to him and had only five minutes at his bedside… but it was all I needed to say what I had to say… what I was sent to say.
On the drive into Indiana from the airport, I listened to a sermon titled You Are An Incredible Testimony Of Mercy by Pastor Carter Conlon. It calmed me. It centered and focused me. It confirmed what I considered to be my mission to speak life into my granddad before he left this world.
I didn’t understand that so clearly until I showed up… until I got there to bless his life in person with all the love God has poured into me flowing through me.
That was on Sunday, December 20, 2015.
Today, Thursday, December 30, 2015, I received the call that my granddad has passed on. I was already grateful for the five minutes at his bedside, but now it will be the most prominent memory of the two of us alone and take over as our longest and deepest conversation.
Mercy, grace and love on your journey, Granddad.