I love stories of grandfathers. They instantly take me back to being small, waking up sleeping-eyed just to crawl into my grandfather’s lap while he sipped on morning coffee in the eight o’clock sunlight. I remember the smell of the newspaper as he would flip the pages and always asking to see the comics.
And then I remember 8th grade & my decision not to be baptized. The family gathered in the dining room, and I sat silently in the next room, listening intently on the conversation that passed. My mother and grandmother voiced their concerns about hell. My grandfather piped in: “Well if it wasn’t for Corky [my grandmother], I wouldn’t be religious. It doesn’t matter to be that she’s not baptized into the church, as long as she’s a good person.”
As I grew older, I hated returning. Seeing my grandfather’s dementia take over, the once buoyant extrovert starting to hide himself away. I hated hearing about his angry bouts, or his paranoia. But I did tell him in the year before his death about sitting on the sofa, hearing the debate on my fate, the question of who I would become without God. I told him that it meant so much to me that he stood up for my character in the face of godlessness and judgement. We shed small tears. It was something he’d nearly forgotten.
On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving he passed. I walked down to the basement for this or that and he was hunched in the corner, tinkering with the water pipe.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the noise, the gasp of fear straining to get out against a body that was giving up. Somehow I managed to catch him and lower us to the ground. Holding him over my lap and in my arms, I screamed for help, but heard no one coming. So as I watched the final breath leave a man that breathed so much love into this world, my family and my life, I repeated the words “You are loved. You are so loved.”
Is that what love is? Holding someone as they come into life or as they enter into death.