Grandparents are the foundation of our foundation, yet we don’t often have the opportunity to get to know them. They watch us grow, sometimes from a distance and they give us little nuggets of wisdom from time to time, but as a child or even an adolescent, we don’t take full advantage of this experience. At a young age, we don’t have enough experiences to understand what we’ve missed out on until they have passed and we are no longer able to reach out.
Over the past five years, I have had the rare opportunity to not only spend time with my aging grandfather but to really get to know him. I have had the opportunity to ask him questions about his upbringing, our family line and how he sees the world. I have been able to observe his interactions with other – his kind and gentle nature. The way he befriended every animal he encountered from the squirrel who made my grandfather’s porch his home to the little dog that remained at his side for the better part of the last 12 years.
I learned of his regrets, his shortcomings and his hopes for the future. I learned that he turned a blind eye towards my father’s actions which led to some of the worst years of my life. There were tears and moments of anger; confusion and disappointment. A contemplation of what life could have been and a realization of how these moments shaped my life, for better or worse.
But as with any experience, as with life itself, an end is inevitable. No matter how much time you have, there are still things left undone and things left unsaid. Life moves on and there is only an illusion of a pause when you stop to reflect. And after 101 years on this earth, my grandfather drew his final breath in peace and is now at rest.
Saying goodbye is painful, grief is selfish for we mourn what could have been, what we were never able to say and for the forgiveness we never gave. Over the past five years, I was a granddaughter, a caregiver and an advocate; I often chose his needs over my own. I would be remised to say that I always did these things with joy – at times I felt completely overwhelmed, at times I felt that the responsibility was too great, my sleep suffered, my marriage was put on the back burner and my life was put on hold. But I would do it all over again, gladly.
I consider myself to have been blessed by this experience, fortunate to have the extra time to spend with my grandfather and grateful for the many things I have learned about myself in the process.
And it is with this sense of gratitude that I say goodbye.
“To this sacred place, we come, drawn by the eternal ties that bind our souls to yours. Death has separated us. You are no longer at our side to share the beauty of the passing moment. We cannot look to you to lighten our burdens, to lend us your strength, your counsel, your faith. And yet what you mean to us neither withers nor fades. For a time we touched hands and hearts; still your voice abides within us, still, your tender glance remains a joy to us. For you are part of us forever; something of you has become a breathless song upon our lips. And so beyond the ache that tells how much we miss you, a deeper thought compels: we were together. We hold you still in mind and give thanks for your life and love. The happiness that was, the memories that do not fade, are a gift that cannot be lost. You continue to bless our days and years. We will always give thanks for you.”
Stern, C., & Moore, M. (2004). On the doorpost of your house: prayers and ceremonies for the Jewish home. New York: Central Conference of American Rabbis.