I still think of you all the time.
When we were all there with you, those last few days, I remember thinking we should have another family reunion later, when we’re not waiting for something so sad to happen.
I sat next to your hospital bed for hours and read as you slept. Your consciousness drifted back and forth between the place we both were and the place you were going next, without me.
You opened your eyes, once, and asked if I remembered my little yellow raincoat, the one I had when I was three. Some time later, you asked if I remembered the time we boiled a clam I found in the lake.
Later still, you said we made a nice family, and I agreed.
I don’t often think of those last days, though. Mostly, I think of things you said (“My stars and bars!”) and did. Things you knitted. Things you cooked and baked. The way you laughed, the way you walked; your snowy hair. The stories you told me as we played cards on lazy Sunday afternoons. The way we worked the crosswords with the help of the big paperback cheat books, as you called them. How I listened to you name the flowers and the birds as we strolled to the lake. The way some of your teeth came out at night and were left to sleep alone in a water glass on the counter.
I think of the time you found a snake in our basement and killed it with a hockey stick you found leaning against a wall.
I think of how I wrote you eight-page letters as a lonely freshman in college, and how you wrote long letters back. Tucked inside there were always Marmaduke cartoons to make me laugh, and crisp dollar bills with instructions to buy myself a Coke.
I think of the time we were lost in rural Wisconsin after a cousin’s wedding reception. You hadn’t been in that area for years, and yet you guided us home through the inky black night, using only your voice and a map that lived somewhere in the far reaches of your mind.
I think of how thankful I am that I have that cherished picture of us hugging after my wedding.
I think of all these things, and so much more.
I think of how much I wish I could see you walking with my own two little ones, stopping to show them the Queen Anne’s lace and the devil’s paintbrush, or pointing a long finger skyward at the chickadees and the goldfinches.
I’m left to find ways I can keep you present in your absence. I can snuggle their little bodies up in afghans that you knitted with your two capable hands. I can feed them your baked apples and your schaum tortes and your brown bread. I can teach them the card games we played, and when they beat me, I’ll exclaim, “Son of a GUN!”
A few days before you died, I heard my mother ask you if you were scared, and you said no. I could tell that you really meant it. Your faith had made you sure of things.
When I came to say goodbye before flying back to Michigan, the special words I’d planned to say to you turned into rivers of tears. You finally took my hand and said, “I know you love me, and that makes me happy.”
I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but I picture you laughing and knitting and drinking happy hour Manhattans with Grandpa. I hope it’s fun, there. I hope you’re happy.