(This letter is shared here per family request. Written for the family reunion 7.15.12)
Dear Grandpa and Grandma,
It’s been so very long since we’ve seen each other. I miss you.
As you know, Jo asked me to write about you and present it at the family reunion today. And, I’ve spent the past few weeks trying to do just that. Each time I tried, the words wouldn’t come out right and I’d find myself talking to youinstead. So today what I brought to read is not a composition written about you in the past tense, as much as a letter written to you acknowledging your presence both here with us today and forever.
Grandma and Grandpa, it is your legacy of love that brings us here together. Seeing your reflection in everyone makes me want to see you again more than ever. Today's reunion reunites us not only with each other but brings back our memories of you.
I remember the Saturday nights when we’d all pile into whatever Chrysler my Dad was driving at the time and come over to your house to play Yahtzee and Kings in the Corner. Grandma, you would make this wonderful rich dark chocolate cake topped with a thick layer of silky white 7-minute frosting. We’d wash it down with 7-Up you’d pour over ice into chunky olive green glasses. Straight from the green glass bottle the 7up was extraordinarily effervescent. I remember the super carbonated fizz tickling up my nose and splattering onto my glasses when I took the first sips.
Riding back home in the dark, smooshed in the backseat between siblings, I felt wrapped in the sweetness of the night – heart and tummy filled by the conversations and laughter, the games, and all the deliciousness you had prepared for us.
Grandpa, I can still see you winking at me and signaling “quiet” on your lips while sneakily taking the top off the royal blue pressed glass candy dish that sat atop the long buffet. You’d snag a pink peppermint for me because you knew I disliked the anise candy. It seemed like Grandma always caught us snitching. She could hear the sound of that candy dish lid from wherever she was in the house and scold, “Frank!” You’d call back, “Ma -- It was Bobby!” Your belly would jiggle with the laughter you were stifling. Such a great tease you were. Not only were YOU were a crazy poopaloola but YOU were the one who was full of prunes.
Grandpa, I remember how you’d nap on the couch after lunch every day. You snored like a freight train, with your right forearm draped over your eyes and your left hand tucked into the waist band of your stretchy polyester Sansabelt slacks. They were really ugly.
Thinking of the two of you reminds me of the peculiarities of the old farm house. All those little rooms and doors to pass through just to get to the basement. And the narrow – stepped staircase leading upstairs, awkwardly steep with a closet at the top landing.
I remember when Mom, Dad and I moved into that house in 1976. It was thoughtful of you Grandma to leave the white enamel chamber pot in the upstairs closet just for me. I know you were worried that I’d fall down the steep stairs at night. I didn't have the heart to tell you I'd NEVER dream of using it. Memories of the chamber pot in the closet reminds me of the funny story about Uncle Francis when he was a little boy, sleep walking into the upstairs closet, apparently looking for the potty. I can still see your eyes twinkling and hear you giggling as you told the story.
Grandma, there are a few things I wished I had asked you about before you died. I wish I’d asked you why there was a mirror hanging above the kitchen sink. It looked out of place. But as I’ve thought about it, I’m guessing it was put there so when you were busy at the sink and counter you could easily glance up and look through the south window behind you and see whenever someone was coming to the house.
You were always so hospitable and gracious to everyone. I bet that mirror explains how treats were on the table and the coffee pot was magically started before the front door ever opened to guests. Everything about you and your kitchen said, “Come in. Sit down. I’ve been expecting you. I have good things for you. Enjoy.” Whether it was Grandpa coming in from the barn or other company you were always prepared for a reunion.
Grandma and Grandpa, I think that today’s reunion is a good time to share what happened that night when you gave me the gift. Admittedly, at the time I didn’t understand that it was just that – a gift – one that I now treasure. I’ve decided that this is the fitting occasion for you and I to pass it on.
I’m sure you remember that night a few years ago when you brought me the gift. The moment we had together was so profound that even today your voice and touch are stored in a vivid memory. We were together in that amazing dream, surrounded with indescribable love, peace and joy deeper than I’d ever experienced. Although I’d not seen you for years, I recognized your kind eyes and Grandma’s gentle voice speaking those few words,
“We are very close and ready for him.”
Those words, the dream, our dream, were so real that I thought I had died in my sleep and crossed over to join you without experiencing any earthly pain or illness. Lucky me.
But then I woke up. I wasn’t dead. There I sat in bed completely dumbfounded and overwhelmed, filled with emotion that still defies description. We had been together in my dream. You had touched me and clearly spoken.
“We are very close and ready for him.”
Days went by. I told no one about our dream but spent time every day reliving the incredible experience we shared. When the words spoken went through my mind, I didn’t want to believe what my heart said it meant. It felt safer to tell myself that surely my interpretation of the words was wrong. Anyhow, it was just a dream.
Life went on. As it was our routine at the time, that next weekend the kids and I went to the farm to spend the day with Mom & Dad. I was in the kitchen when Dad came in from outside and sat down on the porch bench to take his boots off, something I’d seen him do a thousand times before.
There was the familiar sound of the hard tips of his boot laces snapping as he whipped each of the laces out of the eyelets, one by one. His next stop was likely the living room recliner. Dad tired easily, although he didn’t admit it.
I was drying dishes when, out of the blue, he said,
“I miss my parents and I want to be with them.”
Well. That got my full attention. Dish towel and plate still in hand, I walked over to the screen door between the kitchen and porch. He looked up at me and said,
“I wonder what it will be like to die.”
My heart started to beat hard as we stared at each other. I had never heard my Dad talk about dying or how he missed you. He was a loving man, but a private man, one who demonstrated his feelings. He didn’t talk about them.
My mind raced, trying to chase the details of our dream far away. But it just came into clearer focus. In that moment I completely understood. There was no other interpretation for those words other than the literal.
“We are very close and are ready for him.”
Through the transparency of the moment, I looked into his blue eyes. I believe my Dad knew. There was nothing to disclose to him that he didn’t already know. With that realization, my heart beat quieted as the peace from our dream settled around me.
Courage found my voice and helped me speak.
“I can’t imagine what it will be like to die. You know, as a nurse I have been a guest of death many times. But I don’t think that has prepared me for your death. I can’t possibly know what it will be like for me until the moment comes.
I think when a child of any age loses a parent, their only longing which remains is to return to the love from which they came. I’ll want to be with you, just as you want to be with your parents.”
I can still see the nod of his head as he dropped his loosened boots onto the hard plastic mat under the bench. That was the end of the conversation. Forever.
Many times in the days to follow I mulled our dream and that conversation with my Dad over and over in my mind. I kept these things tucked away, keeping them to myself.
Three weeks later Dad died. Through my grief I embraced our dream and clung to my private comfort that you knew he was coming, and you were ready and waiting for that reunion. As his dying heart desired, Dad had returned to the love from which he came. He was back in your arms.
Grandma and Grandpa, it has been an immeasurable comfort for me to know that you watch over us. When the time comes to pass, you will be our escort. Thank you for our dream, and the knowing that the love of family crosses dimensions both seen and unseen. If you could have come back to join us this afternoon, I believe that is the reassuring gift you would have brought to share.
Thank you for the gift of reunion.