Many say that your high school years are among the best years of your life. And certainly these four years are filled with many exciting events and fun times. For many, that includes getting a driver’s license and gaining some independence. Others may relish memories of Friday night football games and hanging out with friends. For some, high school is even a time to discover a passion for a career or another person.
Unfortunately, many of us also find our teen years marked by loss as grandparents age, become ill and die. I’m sure that somewhere in the back of my mind, I was aware of that possibility, but my world changed this spring when “Pap,” my mom’s father, died.
Oh, sure. I knew he’d had cancer for years. I saw that, on his bad days, my grandpa wouldn’t want to do anything but sleep. But on many other days, it seemed like he wasn’t sick at all … he looked fine. And I will admit that I caught myself a couple of times looking at him and saying that nothing was wrong with him.
But that was just wishful thinking. I think that I can no longer count March 2 as a day because that was the worst day of my life. I say that because when we took Grandpa into the hospital, I actually thought he was going to come home again. The doctors just said that he had to get hydrated and get rid of an infection.
We hung around his hospital room for days, mostly just watching him sleep. Some days, he would actually eat a little or stay awake long enough to watch some TV. The day he died we were watching the Kentucky Wildcats men’s team play their final home game of the season.
Bonding time with Pap
My grandpa and I spent a lot of time together over the years. During summer vacations, I’d visit his home in Portsmouth, Ohio, every chance I had, and I spent all my spring breaks at my grandparents’ home.
We also did a lot of things together. Some were specific events, like going over to Indianapolis for the NHRA Drag Racing Series every Labor Day weekend. Other things we did together may seem like a big waste of time to others, but not to me. For me, it was all bonding time with Pap.
We always worked together at the bowling alley on Friday nights. Things were usually slow, but we didn’t care; it gave us time to play cards or just talk.
I’ll also always remember how we “shopped” on the Internet for cars or trucks he wanted. He never bought any of them, but he always said he just wanted to see what was out there and what condition they were in. That may sound boring, but I always looked forward hearing Grandpa say, “Let’s go look at some trucks.”
Another thing I really liked was that we would always just get in the car and drive. It didn’t matter about where we went or what we were going to do. Pap always said, “We go the way the road takes us.” I think we traveled those back roads so much that I could drive them blind-folded (bad idea – too many turns). One thing that I always thought was suspicious was that we always ended up at the house that he and his dad had built.
Time runs out for adventures
Although Grandpa and I shared a lot of special times, I still feel cheated. Grandpa and I had discussed many more adventures we wanted to experience. He always said he wanted to do those things, and I just kept saying that we would do them someday.
For example, we talked about going to the NASCAR race in Sparta, Kentucky. Another thing we always said we were going to do was to go to the drag races down in Bristol, Tennessee. Grandpa always said he wanted to know what the cars sounded like there since the track was in the mountains. I’d still like to do that one for him.
The big trip we talked about making was to the Smokey Mountains in the RV that he had bought a couple of years ago. Grandpa had been to the Smokey Mountains before and always talked about how he’d like to go there again.
Now that Pap is no longer here, I feel bad that we never got around to doing those things.
Waiting for time to heal the wounds
I’m sure there are people who think losing a grandparent isn’t really a big deal, but those are the people who don’t have a close relationship with their grandparents. I was really close with my grandpa because I was always with him. And when my grandpa died, I didn’t just lose a grandpa, I also lost my best friend, a loved one and a partner.
And now that two months have passed, I look back and I still can’t believe he’s gone. The first time I went down to my grandparents’ house after he had died, I expected to see him sitting in his chair when I walked down their hallway or coming out of his bedroom after just waking up from his nap.
People say it gets easier over time, but that’s hard for me to believe right now. I feel like a big piece of me died the day he passed.
When my grief begins to fade, I’ll try to figure out a way to pick up the pieces and move on. Yeah, I lost an important part of my life when Pap died. But I recognize that the time and experiences I shared with my grandpa mean that I’ll actually have a little bit of him with me for the rest of my life.