This January, my grandfather passed away. It didn’t happen suddenly: my family had plenty of time to prepare to say goodbye. My grandpa’s health had been deteriorating for years, his vision and hearing were almost gone, his body fighting cancer and other diseases.
I grew up 15 minutes from my grandparents’ house, and they were a constant presence throughout my childhood and teen years. Grandpa had always been my role model: Ivy League-educated, deeply invested in his community, a Scripture scholar, longtime Bible study leader, and dedicated to his family — to me, the pinnacle of success. I’d never lost someone so close before, and I wasn’t sure what to expect.
For me, and probably because I had the immense gift of months to process and prepare for his death, losing my grandfather hasn’t been as sad as it could have been. I miss him, of course, but the grief was never all-consuming. The sadness always passed. Grief came and went over those first couple months, but it never took control or stole my life.
More recently, the loss has been less about sadness and more about a need to be surrounded by reminders of his presence. I want to carry him with me. I want to see pictures of him, to be around the things he loved, and to spend time with other people who cared about him.
My grandma has pictures of him all over her house. I have a photo set as my phone’s home screen, and a picture of us from my childhood set as the lock screen. There’s a photo of Oscar the Grouch — his favorite Sesame Street character, with many memories from my childhood — taped to my desk at work. Grandma hasn’t changed her answering machine since he died, so I still hear his voice if I call when she’s not around.
Every time I see a dandelion, I’m reminded of how Grandpa would stop to pick every single dandelion for me during my toddler era walks in the stroller. He loved eating at Denny’s more than any other restaurant, so I’ll sometimes go alone, drink coffee (his was black, I always get cream and sugar) and eat a stack of pancakes in contemplative silence.
The other day, I stopped to take a picture of Chex (his favorite cereal) at the grocery store — just so I could pull up the photo on my phone throughout the day and think of him. Strange? It probably seems so. But capturing simple, everyday reminders of him has been my #1 response during the 10 months since he finished his race and left us to claim the crown of righteousness that was finally in sight.
What’s odd, though, is that none of this is accompanied by feelings of deep sadness. I’m not heartbroken. I just want to be around things that remind me of him.
We’re still two months away from my first Christmas without Grandpa. I expect that will be a time when the sadness will creep back in: when the loss will feel like a loss again, not just a pull to surround myself with happy memories.
But pain is a part of this process. Loss will feel more real — palpable, present, piercing — at some times than others. I can’t guess how I’ll react, just try to experience each feeling as honestly as I can, knowing that the pain won’t last forever, but ignoring/stuffing/refusing to deal with it will only come back and bite me in the end.
In the times when we know the hurt may feel stronger, when the memories may be hard to set aside, my family has made a point of spending time together, and I hope we’ll continue to do that this Christmas season.
For now, I am in my room — clinging tight to an Oscar the Grouch pillow I sewed for his birthday last year.
I know the kind of life he lived. I know where his hope came from. I know how I want to spend my life in the years to come: informed by, but not replicating, his strength, goals, and life’s calling.
He is gone, but he will always be a part of me. Now it’s up to me to decide how I will continue to live my life, as a result.