I never thought a chair would be so important to me. In the guest bedroom of my tiny two bedroom apartment, there is a blue and cream floral patterned chair that I used to sit in and share afternoons with my grandfather. Grampy’s chair has seen me though and earned it’s place as a relic.
For the few years he lived down the street at Dogwood Forest assisted living, he was the most important person in my life. He was the one who taught me that if you invest in people, if you ask plenty of questions, and if you work to listen well, other people’s stories will take your life from black and white to technicolor.
If there’s anything I remember about the last three days, it’s the way time moved backwards. He slowly regressed.
He was eighty-eight, laying in a hospital bed, and then he was touching her hair. He woke up to tell us he could feel it.
My grandfather fell in love with my grandmother when he was a young doctor and she was a nurse who wore a ponytail high up on her head. It would swing back and forth, and he told us that’s why he fell for her, he liked watching her red ponytail as she walked.
He was a working man again, just for a moment. Then, he was back in the military.
He used to tell us America won World War II because he had just gotten out of basic training and Hitler was so scared he shot himself. Japan surrendered.
On his last day, he was eight years old again, I think. His younger brother passed away when he was eight years old.
I had just walked in, after leaving work early, when he grabbed my hand to tell me, in a soft and childlike voice, “I want to go home now.” I knew he didn’t just want to leave the hospital. I knew what he meant by home.
Nurses wrote numbers and figures on the blackboard behind where I stood. These were their goals. “His heart rate should read... We’d like his oxygen levels to be…”
I erased it all, found the chalk, and wrote under the word “today:” “be loved.” I put a checkmark in a box beside it.
We stood silently for a while. My father cried. We watched green digits change on all the machines he was connected to.
My body shook, the same way it does when I’m angry, but with jealousy instead. When the doctor came in to pronounce him, I knew he was somewhere better than with me.
You have to do a lot of things after a death. You have to figure out where the body goes and when the funeral is. You have to travel and see people who want to feel connected, people you haven’t seen in years or never even knew.
You have to grieve, and it has to be healthy. And I didn’t know what that looked like then. I never knew how to miss someone without letting it destroy me.
Holidays were hard for a while. I missed him at my wedding. I miss him when I drink root beer. His watch still ticks.
I hope I leave someone behind who loved me enough to listen to my watch tick, for at least a few years, in the dead of night after I’m gone. I don’t want them to ache; I just want them to think of my voice, it’s tambour, and know they are better because, at one point or another, I was around.
I’m sorry if this chapter hurt. I didn’t know where else to start. People say “write what you know,” and I know what built me.