One of the things that you never quite get used to is when your family members start getting older. As a kid death is something that is harsh and something you just don’t understand. You see the tears and the funerals, but as a child it’s not something that you quite understand. You feel the pain, you see the grown ups cry but it’s all still a mystery.
As you get older, you begin to understand death a little bit more, but do you ever really get used to it? As loved ones grow older, you might see it “coming”, but that doesn’t always mean that you are “ready” for it.
I have been really blessed in my life as far as that goes, but right now I am going through one of the hardest things in my life. My granddaddy, that has always been like a second dad for me, is getting ready to die. It’s something I have known has been coming for years now, but even though I have been expecting it for years I am still not quite ready to let go. Even writing this post, tears start to well up. It just can’t be that time yet.
My grandfather was always someone that I looked up to. He was a superior court judge in Savannah, Georgia, and I was always so proud of what my granddaddy did for a living. As a child, how many kids could say that their grandfather was a judge. For years, I professed that I wanted to follow along in his footsteps. I wanted to be just like him!
For several summers, I would fly down to Savannah and spend the summer with him and my grandmother. He would take me to work with him, and I would play law clerk for the day. My days would be spent typing on the typewriter with his legal secretary, Kay, and I would tail along with his law clerk and help him file legal dockets in the file room. In the mind of a 10 year old, this was the big time!
Seeing my grandfather wasn’t just about seeing him don his judge’s robes, but it was knowing that he stood for what was right, and for that he had my admiration. He was the “law” in his courtroom. He made sure the bad guys went away, and that made things all right in the world. I guess you could say from a young age he was kind of my hero.
It wasn’t just his job that made him my hero. My granddaddy was the first person to teach me about so many things, including my love for the arts. When I lived in North Carolina, my grandmother and him would come to visit. Every time they would come they would take me to the North Carolina museum of Art. I don’t remember too much about living in North Carolina (we moved when I was 10), but I remember those trips vividly. I loved these excursions to NCMOA so much that I remember going even though I had a stomach flu. (Let’s just say that trip ended kind of badly) I still to this day have an art book that he gave me to tell me about the different aspects of art. It was these memories that have stayed with me and fostered my love of art to this day.
My grandaddy was also a world traveler. My grandparents loved to travel and would send gifts from all over the world. As a child, I began collecting foreign currency. Every time they went on a trip they would send photos, post cards, and of course currency to add to my collection. He would share his stories with me and I would listen with wide eyed amazement. Through his journeys I was still able to expand my horizons.
He taught me about unconditional love. No matter what mistakes I have made in my life, my granddaddy has always loved me. He has taught me that family is so important, but it also doesn’t mean that you get to treat each other poorly. Family is to be cherished and respected. No matter what, you help family out. My grandfather has helped me out so many times in my life and with complete love and without judgement. He is the one that taught me that when you help it’s with no strings attached. It’s done with love and compassion.
Two of my grandparents have passed away in the last 10 years, and both of them I never got to get in that “last” phone call with before they passed. It’s something to this day that haunts me. That’s not something that I wanted to happen with my Granddaddy Jim. Speaking with him today was great. It was so great to hear his voice on the phone. At the same time it was hard, I could tell in his voice that he was really struggling to have the conversation. His voice was weak and I could tell that he was saying his goodbyes. He told me how proud he was of me, and how that he wishes we had been closer over the years because we have been so far apart geographically.
Hearing this really meant so much to me, but it was also bittersweet. I know he was, in his own way, telling me goodbye. He was telling me how he felt just in case this was the last time we should talk. He was telling me that he loved me.
Even though I am an “adult” it is still so hard to know that you are going to be saying goodbye forever to someone that has been such an important part of your life. How do you say goodbye to someone that has had so much impact on the woman that you have become? How do you say goodbye to your hero?
No matter how long that you “know” the inevitable is near, it’s impossible to prepare your heart to lose someone that held a piece of your heart for so long. It’s not possible to tell a piece of your heart goodbye. It’s only possible to find comfort in the fact that you know you made him proud and to pass the lessons he taught you onto your kids so a little bit of him can live on.
This post is dedicated to my grandfather, friend, and hero: James Head