“I love my granddaddy; he flew airplanes in the army!” B would exclaim on the hour drive we made to and from my grandparents’ house an hour from our own every week. My grandfather, was in fact my step-grandfather, though that had never occurred to me growing up, and it really hadn’t dawned on me until my mid-twenties. All the same there was no man who loved me as deeply, or as full as he. In his eyes, even when I made an err, he saw the good in my intentions. At Christmas Eve dinners as a young girl I sat between my two halves of my heart, my daddy to my right and my granddaddy to my left. When dad suddenly passed just days before I turned eleven, I sat next to granddaddy, he had enough boundless and unconditional love to fill my whole heart, at least for a while.
When I first found out I was pregnant with Aislyn, I was not married, to be honest I was barely divorced. I sat on the sofa in the breakfast room beside him early one morning when the confession just poured out of me, “I’m pregnant.” He smiled so sweetly, detecting the fear, and patted my leg, “That’s so great.”
It started one typical boring Thursday in January of 2010. My grandparents and I traveled together to a favorite grub spot of ours for dinner. We climbed out of the car and made our way up the sidewalk and into the restaurant. Grandmother led the way opening the door, my grandfather following, and I stood close behind him. Close enough that as it happened, as he was there, I caught him. It just seemed to me like a simple little stumble, one foot had caught over the other and he had collapsed into my outstretched arms. I don’t remember the movement, I don’t remember his weight, I only remember his standing back up and carrying himself into the restaurant. I remember being annoyed at my grandmother as she started yelling for an ambulance as I looked at him, “do you need an ambulance?”
“No I am fine.”
I tried to call over her frantic cries, “He’s fine, he just stumbled.” But my cries went unheard. The paramedics arrived at the scene in less than five minutes, they took his blood pressure there next to us on the bench, it was so incredibly low. I noticed suddenly how pale his color was, how small his frame had become, how the end was coming someday.
It was years of hospital visits, surgeries, and ambulance calls. But in those years he was able to see me become and stepmom and then mother. He loved my husband and both children with all his heart. B held so much love for Granddaddy, I do not believe there was one person he loved more in “our” world aside from his own daddy. I would ponder with Josh, “I love him, and he is the most amazing man I know, but B doesn’t know the man I knew, he sees only a frail sick body in a bed, why do you think he is so taken with him?” My husband would just look at me and smile, “Because he can see the love in him.”
It happened this June, we went to visit him for Father’s Day and he looked better than he had in nearly five years. He was sitting up and talking, his color was coming back. I was optimistic, though the doctor gave him only six months. I gave him a kiss, and told him ‘Happy Father’s Day’ and we left to swim with the kids.
A few days later B and I decided that we would build airplanes out of popsicle sticks and paint them like the model Granddaddy had displayed of the airplane he flew in Vietnam. The sun shown through the window on our craft zone as we worked with our glue and paintbrushes. My husband Josh interrupted, and asked to see me in the bedroom, his face was grim. “He’s not going to make it much longer.”
“What do you mean, do I have time to go, or should I stay and wait?”
“You do what you feel you need to do, I have the kids under control.”
I decided to head back into the craft area and put finishing touches on our craft so I could take the airplane B painted to show granddaddy. But in another five minutes Josh returned with the phone, grandmother was on the line. “He’s asleep now.” She kept repeating it just like that. I knew death was hard for her to cope with, considering I had witnessed her through the loss of two of her own children. I wondered if she meant dead, or if she meant sleeping, but I didn’t want to ask. What else could she mean? Josh gave me a tight hug and then I knew. I told him I wanted to tell B (after all I was the one that grew up as a child going to grief counseling). I stood next to B and said, “I’m so sorry, we did not finish the airplanes in time, granddaddy just passed away.”
B didn’t falter in his painting, he just smiled and in his 4 year old wisdom said, “That’s okay, we will just keep this airplane for ourselves so we can always remember what a great guy he was!”
I went that night to stay with my grandmother, and then the next day Josh followed with the kids. We went swimming, tried to keep things light, all the while the undertaker took all the details at the dining room table as the family slowly trickled to fill the home.
The funeral was short…too short.
On the way home B had somehow procured an illustrated book of Angels. I’m unsure of really where it came from, or how he came to obtain it. Some of the images made my uncomfortable, but I decided that I would wait until he put it down and then hide it. As we drove home he obsessively browsed the pages, flipping through it over and over again. I pondered what the obsession could be until he finally said, “I’m trying to find my granddaddy.” My heart lifted a moment, what a beautiful coping mechanism he had created. I took the book and flipped through the pages and found an image of a captain of some generic battalion with wings. I handed it back to B and said, “there he is!” B accepted it with loving arms and gazed at it with the largest of smiles the rest of the long drive home. “Granddaddy’s flying airplanes in heaven,” he would repeat.
Days had gone by before I heard B weeping in his room late one night. I rushed in expecting a nightmare, “what’s wrong, are you okay?”
“I miss my granddaddy.” Tears filled our eyes as I sat beside him to hold him. Now he had lost half his heart, and holding him I knew mine would now and forever remain whole.