I was at your house today, but you weren’t there. The house you grew up in, moved back to in retirement and cared for with all your heart. The beautiful old house with the garden you carefully tended and the workshop you built my daughter’s doll bed in and the small woods you cleared for walking through and building a fort in for the littles who came to visit, the field behind it where you let the small boys “drive” your truck, and the countless photographs of all of us throughout the years placed in every last room of the house.
And you weren’t there.
I hugged my dear struggling but striving sister more tightly than she’d ever let me before, and she hugged me just as tightly back, and we cried for you.
I looked upon the lovely bathroom that was remodeled just for you, the great and long ramp that was built just for you by your own son’s hands, the hospital bed that had been brought in just for you and set up in front of the windows overlooking the backyard. But you weren’t there to use them.
I didn’t get to say any of the things I wanted to say. I didn’t get to do any of the things I wanted to do. I thought we had more time. And now you’re gone.
I let this blown-up photo on wood sit on my table for one whole week. I sat on these words I wanted to say. I let them mull over in my mind, I waited, I hesitated. Afraid of how they’d be taken, afraid it was too soon, too much of my heart. It wasn’t too soon. Maybe it’s never too soon.
Life, being the complex, intricate, crazy design that it is, has recently placed me with six little people under my care, all your great-grandchildren. So on these words I waited, I got busy. Legitimately busy, shuffling these six to appointments, visits, school. Dealing with tantrums, meals and baths. And that night was busy…your last night. We tried. Oh, we tried. But we were too late.
The call came around breakfast time, when neighbors were out walking their dogs and sipping coffee, and I sobbed in a ball on my back porch. I dropped everything. I should have dropped it all when you were still with us.
I’ll never be sure of why life robbed my little sister of those last few moments with the one true and good man she’s ever known. But I’ll forever be thankful for the moments she spent with you in your last weeks. And I’ll forever pray that she honors you with her life. You were there for her when no one else was. You loved her like no other man ever has. Thank you so much for that.
My childhood was incredibly richer because of you. Some things I forget easily these days, but some things are etched in my memory so clearly and forever…the countless hours I spent playing with Barbies from the 70’s in your Greenville attic, the old Tomcat and the smell of his cat food, the Atari in the back bedroom, the little shadow box in the kitchen and all its tiny little pieces I can’t believe Grandma Britt let me play with, roaming your neighborhood and getting hurt on a construction site, exploring the small bit of woods behind your house, having lemonade stands with the neighborhood friends I made, attending beauty pageants for the girl across the street, being fed loads of sweet potato casserole every Thanksgiving (which is my one Thanksgiving contribution today), reading books in the hammock on the screened-in porch of the cottage at the river, taking sink baths at that river cottage, getting stung by five wasps while exploring a wooded hillside, catching fireflies and keeping them for our nightlight in a jar.
During that short union between your son and my mom, you were the silver lining. The true blessing. You let me in like I was one of you. And I was never anything but.
One month ago, on August 9 I wrote these words. I meant to share them with you. But one month later, I didn’t get the chance.
“We grew apart for a time. I got older and drifted. I probably thought I’d lost you, as I’d lost all the others. I hadn’t. Not really. Not for one second in our hearts. I just know it. I can feel it. If only I’d known then. If only I’d known what family meant, and who that family was. Family isn’t built in the blood. Family is crafted in the heart. You were, you are, a part of that family. I’m so sorry for not knowing that, for not staying in the picture, for not holding you so tight that you couldn’t go away from me even if you tried. It’s hard to know when to do that…and when to just walk. But to you, I’m sorry, because I love you. You rare epitome of love.
But I did get lost for awhile and when I came back you let me right back in, like we’d never missed a beat, like I’d never done anything I shouldn’t have, like we were real family, like you loved me. For me. And I know you did. And for that, I thank you, because that is everything. Not everyone does, even those who probably should. You did.
So I can’t imagine a world, my world, without you. I don’t want to. My sister, who needs you, doesn’t want to, shouldn’t have to. You see, it’s strong, kind-hearted, caring, genuine men like you who make this world worth living in. It’s men like you who care about people, are kind to other people, who accept people just as they are, who love them the very same no matter if they’re making all the right decisions in life or all the wrong ones. You’re the kind of man I look up to and hope my sons and nephew will one day be…and if only they had more time with you.
I have never, never known tragedy as I have this past year and a half. With each blow I say, “Ok, God, that’s too much now.” Then another comes. And that’s life, I suppose. It sometimes just does what it will. I get angry. I want to undo it and I can’t. I. Just. Can’t. With most things in life there is something you can do, some move to make even if its effect is minor. But this, but death…I can’t do anything. None of us can do anything. It’s difficult for a heart to grasp.
Like you, I will also have my time to go. Please don’t feel like you got the short end of the stick while the rest of us are to remain here, living it up. There will forever be a void. And I am only an ex-step-granddaughter. There will always be a void. I’m going to blink and it’s going to be me. Please don’t feel like you are alone. I’m no longer ignorant to the fact that one day, which will feel like much too soon, it will be me also. It will be all of us. We will go with you. Will be with you.
You. You are….stability. You are a rock. You are love. You are a foundation upon which one can build on even after being torn down. You are steady. You are never changing. You are kind. Oh so kind. You are hospitable. You are standing there with open arms. All the time. No matter what. You are golf and summers by the river and Spill the Beans and Greenville and the perfect reading hammock and Richmond with Uncle Leon and a picnic table on the porch and that hill by the river where Becky had to use her cigarette tobacco on my stings and blueberry muffins and a winding country road and Thanksgiving and slow Christmases and an old country museum.
I have six of your six great-grandchildren, like you said. I have no idea what the road ahead looks like. I pray to God everyday that He works out the right one. But I can tell you that where it concerns me, no matter what the path looks like, your loving spirit will shine through and guide us. We will make you proud. Have no fear of that.
I know where you’re headed. I’ve read about it, I’ve dreamt about it, prayed about it, thought about it, questioned it. But if you’re going, well, that’s where I’m going. No more questions. Please tell Jesus that I appreciate His example. Unquestionable love for everyone, anywhere, anytime. I appreciate His sending us the few, like yourself, to remind us of His heart.”
Heaven, universe, people, please get the message to him for me. I just didn’t get the chance to tell him.