I still remember when my mom called me nine years ago and told me you had suffered a stroke. I had just given birth to my first child, and was completed overwhelmed by the news. I asked her if we should make the 12-hour drive to see you, but she said no. The hospital was no place for a newborn, she said, and she was right. I didn't get tell you how how much you meant to me, though. And now that another Father's Day has arrived, grandpa, I miss you.
When I was a kid, it was easy to assume you'd always be around and take your presence for granted. If I wanted to find you, I just had to walk up the street to your house and there you'd be: reading in your recliner, weeding your vegetable garden, or working in your wood shop in the basement. I can still remember you patiently teaching your grandchildren to play cards at your dining room table, way before we were even big enough for our feet to reach the floor.
As we grew from children into teenagers, and moved away from the house up the street, it still felt like we could always come home to you. You made the drive for holidays and graduation parties, always telling me you were so proud of me. But as a young woman, my life got busy. I started forgetting to call you on your birthday, and I eventually moved too far away to visit. Now that you're gone, I regret my absentmindedness and the physical distance between us. But what I regret the most is that you never had a chance to see me as a mom, or meet your great-grandchildren.
If I could go back in time, I'd ask to hear your stories about life on the farm when my dad was little, and when you met my grandma for the first time. I want to know the secret of your relationship with her, which seemed so unbelievably strong. I want to know how you managed to get your grape vines and raspberry bushes to grow so large and produce so much fruit, too. Because, grandpa, I definitely didn't inherit your gardening abilities.
I can no longer visit you, but I hope you know that you're still here with me. Every once in a while I see, hear, or smell something that will remind me of you — my parents' garden, saw dust, an old Ford truck, a pack of playing cards, a glass of sun tea dripping with condensation. Last year on Valentine's Day, I was in the hospital with my youngest child when I heard a barbershop quartet singing your favorite song, "Let Me Call You Sweetheart." In an instant I could remember your voice so clearly, as if you were singing next to me. You are missed, but I am constantly reminded that you're always with me.
Seeing my dad with my kids, I've realized that the kind of relationship you have with your grandpa is like no other.
You are here in my son, too, who you never got to meet but who shares your name. I smile every time I holler his full name across the room, even when I am so completely frustrated with him. It makes me think of how grandma would yell your name or call for you when she needed help reaching a shelf, or chided you for feeding us cookies before dinner. Yes, I can still hear her voice, too.
Mostly, you are here in my dad — the son you raised to be hardworking, stoic, and strong. I see so much of you in him, from his voice, his easy laugh, to his unwavering dedication to my mom, his kids, and his grandkids. It's hard to believe that he is now almost as old you were when you became my grandpa. I can't imagine life without him, or my kids not having their grandpa in their lives. You set that example, and now my children benefit from it.
I wish you could have seen the woman and mom you helped raise. I wish you could've hugged your great-grandchildren.
Seeing my dad with my kids, I've realized that the kind of relationship you have with your grandpa is like no other. Grandpas are special. Even when my dad loses patience with my children for, say, leaving the door open, fighting with each other, or making messes, I can see how important they are to him. I know how important he is to them. And I am reminded of how important you are, and always will be, to me.
You are also here in me. I hope you would be proud to see me all grown-up, especially when you recognize the parts of you that rubbed off on me. You'd laugh if you heard me ask my kids, "Are you going to live?" when one of them has an invisible boo boo or splinter. Then, just like you did all those years ago, I add, "I think you'll be OK. It's pretty far from your heart."
You lived to be 92 years-old, which encapsulated such a long, beautiful life. But our years together still seem too short. No one really knows when their life will end, or which moment shared with someone they love will be their last. Our last moment together was on my wedding day. I had no idea that you were coming until you walked through the door. You told me that I looked beautiful, and that you were proud of me — just like you always did. It was one of the happiest days of my life, and I never told you how important it was to me that you were there.
I didn't understand what people meant when they said that nothing lasts forever... until I lost you. I regret my life getting busy, and I wish I had called more, or made that last trip to your bedside nine years ago. I wish you could have seen the woman and mom you helped raise. I wish you could've hugged your great-grandchildren.
If I listen closely, I can still hear your voice saying, "Are you going to live? I think you'll be OK. It's pretty far from your heart." It didn't feel that way when you left this world, but knowing that you'll always be a part of me proves that, once again, you were right. The pain is far from my heart, and you are living inside it.
Love and miss you always,