When I was a child, my grandfather died and I didn’t understand. It was the first time I had to deal with someone close to me dying, and no answer is good enough for a 9-year old when the person they look up to the most suddenly goes away.
Learning about death as a kid is tough, but I had a lot of support. I still remember my mom breaking the news to me, and I still remember all the adults consoling me and telling me it was going to be OK.
I’ve seen plenty of death since then, whether it be family members, co-workers or people I went to school with, but never someone quite as close to me as grandpa was, at least not until a couple of weeks ago when my grandmother (his wife) suddenly passed away.
I got the call from my dad while I was covering a home tennis meet at East Lake Park. She was gone by the time I talked to him, and I was faced with a new dilemma; how to deal with death as an adult.
When you’re a kid, death is always a shock. My grandpa had cancer and pretty much everyone knew he was going soon, but 9-year old Andy thought there was still a chance. I thought maybe the cancer would reverse, and grandpa would go back to being healthy, so when he passed away, all I felt was sorrow and anger. I felt sorry for myself, because I wouldn’t get to spend any more time with him, and I felt angry because in my mind, he was taken too early.
When I got the call a couple of weeks ago, I felt something different. Instead of immediately being sad for myself because I lost a grandma, I felt worried for my mom and my two uncles, her children.
Despite the shock of it all, I had to be a grown-up. I had to notify the people at work that I wouldn’t be there the next day. I had to make sure my wife and my 1-year old had everything they needed for a sudden trip over to Chariton, and I had to prepare to be a shoulder to cry on when I got to my parents’ house.
Throughout the next couple of days, I didn’t get the chance to just sit down and feel sad, at least not for myself. I was extremely close to my grandma, but I felt like I needed to be strong for the family members who I knew would take it the hardest.
It wasn’t till a few days later, right before the funeral, that I really started to feel sad for myself. Rationally, I know grandparents die. Pretty much everybody has to deal with it, if they’re lucky enough to live long enough to remember them in the first place.
The thing that hit me the hardest was the realization that Addie is too young to remember playing with her great-grandma. Despite grandma’s trips to Mt. Pleasant and video-chatting with her every so-often, Addie isn’t going to retain any of those memories. The first time I thought of that, I started to feel a little cheated, like I did when I was just 9.
My grandma was 71 years old. That’s less than 8 years less than the average U.S. life expectancy, and plenty of people die before they reach 70. I’d certainly take 71 years myself, if someone offered it to me. (My goal is actually to make it to 115 so I can shove it in everyone’s face who ripped on my diet, but that’s for another time).
But some grandparents last a lot longer. I started to imagine what it would have been like if grandma made it to 100. If that would have happened, Addie would have been 30, older than I am now. She could have had just as many years knowing grandma as I did. And if grandma lived to 100, I would have had 29 more years with her. That’s over twice the entire life I’ve lived so far.
It feels greedy to not be satisfied with the time we had, but it’s hard not to when I think of how young Addie is. Although I’ll love telling stories about her when Addie gets older, I’ll always be a little disappointed that she won’t be able to get those memories firsthand.
Luckily, I did get to share one final memory with the two of them together. After sharing memories of grandma at the visitation, the funeral home played one last sad song as we all sat back and held back tears.
Addie had been running around like a typical 1-year old during the visitation, completely oblivious to what was going on. When the final song began, she once again broke free from her mom’s arms and began to walk around.
With everyone sitting quietly and looking toward the front, where grandma was lying, Addie hobbled over just in front of the stage. She began to dance to the music, clapping her hands and shaking her butt, and smiling at everyone who was watching her. A lot of tears of sadness turned into tears of laughter, and unbeknown to her, Addie got to make one last memory with her great- grandma.
About everyone I talked to after that told me how cute she was, dancing in front of the stage. They said she warmed their hearts, and that she kept them from bursting into tears.
I can’t imagine how many different people are going to tell that story to her when she’s old enough to understand. Watching her dance like a goofball right in front of grandma’s casket will be a visual I’ll never forget, and it made me feel at peace with a tough situation.
I still wish there was more time, and I’m still sad that grandma is gone, but I no longer feel cheated. Everyone has to go eventually, and most of the time it will feel like too soon. But I’m thankful for every memory my grandma gave me, as a child and as an adult. And while Addie is too young, her dad with always remember the time when she and great-grandma shared the stage together.