You may recognize the title of this week’s blog from Ecclesiastes 3: 4. The first eight verses of this chapter are my favorites in the Bible. They remind us that life will give us joy and happiness, but it will also give us sadness, loss, and grief. The Reade family experienced both ends of the spectrum this week.
On Wednesday, June 15th, at 4:00 p.m. our eldest child graduated from high school. On Wednesday evening we held a party at home to celebrate Carolyn’s graduation. It was a time to dance, you might say. Family from many hours away and from right down the road came to celebrate, along with close friends and loved ones. We celebrated the beautiful day, the ceremony, Carolyn’s accomplishments, and her future- a bright beginning to a new phase of her life. The house was filled with laughter, jokes, photos, well wishes, and lots of good food. It was all exhausting, but in the best possible way.
It was almost exactly twenty-four hours after our first guests arrived for Carolyn’s party when I got a phone call that my grandfather, who has been living in a nursing home for the past five years, was being placed on palliative care. His time was growing short. Though the nurses felt he would probably survive at least another day or two, I made the decision to travel up to central New York that night with my daughters. Our plan was to get to my sister’s house by 1 a.m. Friday, get some sleep, and visit him to say good-bye in the morning. It was important to me because 8 1/2 years previously, I had been making my way up the Pennsylvania Turnpike to say good-bye to my grandmother when she passed away. I never got to say good-bye to her in person and I didn’t want to have the same regret again.
As tired as I was, I didn’t sleep that night. My stomach was in knots and I couldn’t relax because I was rehearsing the things I wanted to say to my grandfather. I didn’t know if he would be able to hear me or understand, but I wanted to say those things just in case he could. I let my daughters sleep in the next morning because they’d done such a great job keeping me awake during the long drive the night before.
The phone call from my mother came as my daughters were getting up. My grandfather had just passed away peacefully in his bed (“he went just like a whisper,” the nurse told us). It was now time to mourn. All I could think was that I had missed saying good-bye to him, too. Mom had asked the nursing home to hold his body for just a little while so that we could see him one last time.
I went in to see him by myself, and I held his hand in mine and told him all the things I had rehearsed, and more. There was something strangely comforting about it- he was no longer in pain and I knew he was listening from heaven. If I had told him those things while he still lived, I would never know whether he heard my words or not. My girls talked to him, too, and my husband and my son said their final words to him over the phone.
For those of you who have read Secrets of Hallstead House, you may have noticed the dedication page, which reads For Papa. That’s him. He was the one who made it his mission when I was little to show me the St. Lawrence River. He would take our family out in his boat and we would spend long days in the sunshine, swimming in the river, fishing off the side of the boat, and picnicking. He taught me to water ski. And to this day Fresca is my favorite soda because of him. He and my grandmother taught me what grandparenting is all about from the time I was born (and up until my own parents became grandparents), and I am forever grateful to both of them for all their love and support. I will miss him, as I miss my grandmother.
The picture at the top of this post was taken almost a year ago, when he had a chance to visit the farm where he grew up.