There’s an Indigo Girls song I used to listen to over and over that started, “Each time I pull down the driveway, I wasn’t sure when I would see you again….” Sure, they’re singing about a romantic relationship, but….
I often think of that song when we prepare to head back to Nigeria. I think of it, especially, when we leave our grandparents. It doesn’t matter where you live, of course, or how frequently you see someone – each day is a gift that doesn’t come with a guarantee.
…So when we’re pulling out of the driveway or hugging our grandparents good-bye, in the back of my mind I can’t help but wonder if this time will be the last time we get to do it. Whenever we say good-bye to someone when we’re in the States, always lingering is the question of when we will get to see them again, if we will get to see them again.
I was thinking of this when my father called to tell me that my grandpa passed away this week. I was thinking of that last hug I squeezed in when Grandma and Grandpa were loading up the van and pulling out of the driveway, when I grabbed the camera that time, though I had never done so before.
My grandpa was quite a character; I used to joke that he would’ve fit in with the cast of Grumpy Old Men quite well. He had been battling dementia for quite a while, and my grandma was his full-time caregiver. Though his memory failed him, there were times when we would see glimpses of him shining through, times when he would come up with the wittiest comments that would have us all rolling on the ground laughing. Often he would remember things from some time ago, like when he worked as an airline mechanic for many, many years. Judah still talks about “Papa Jack” working on the airplanes. (Okay, so he sometimes gets confused and thinks he flew rockets, but still….)
…And despite his memory, I think he lit up when the great-grandkids were around. He usually had to ask several times who they were, but I remember when Judah was just a few months old and we went to visit them. He kept looking at Judah and saying, “That is one little peanut! How old is he?” We would tell him, and he would exclaim that he himself was WAY older than that. After Jovelle was born, he was staring at her and asked what her name was. When my grandma told him, he looked puzzled, then asked her to spell it. She did, and he declared that that was a really strange name and he had never heard of THAT name before.
I laughed and said he wasn’t alone in that sentiment.
My dad e-mailed us mid-December (after several failed Skype attempts. Darn internet!) to tell us that Grandpa’s health seemed to be going downhill. Interestingly, just days before that, Judah randomly began talking about “Papa Jack.” We saw a model of a rocket and Judah declared, “Papa Jack fly rocket.”
Me: “What?” I thought I had heard him incorrectly, as he had never talked much about Papa Jack when he wasn’t around.
Judah: “Papa Jack fly rocket.” My next thought was that JUDAH was confused. Usually when he sees a rocket he talks about my parents because we saw a shuttle launch with them. When I asked if he meant that, he was insistent that, no, Papa Jack was who he meant. I finally figured out that he was talking about when Papa Jack worked on airplanes.
That wasn’t such an unusual conversation, but two days later, Judah said, “Me see Papa Jack” and repeated it several times. I couldn’t get much more out of him – a dream, maybe? – but I began to think it strange after that and even get concerned. After all, he rarely talked about him, and then he suddenly brings him up several times in a couple days.
The next day my dad told me that Grandpa’s health was failing.
It’s strange to not be with our loved ones to share this loss with them, and in some ways, I suspect that I am processing this loss much more differently than they are right now, they who are having to take care of phone calls and arrangements, they who will mourn with a memorial service and burial, they who are together and sharing memories and stories…. I suspect that the next Christmas that we are all together, it will really hit me that my Grandpa isn’t there with us.
I’m glad that the last time my grandparents pulled out of the driveway, I savored that time with them. (Even if it did cause them to pull out 45 minutes later than they started pulling out!)
Please pray for our family during this time, and especially for my grandma.