I’ll never forget staying at my grandparents’ house for a few days after the derecho.
It was an unplanned visit and with my crew of three kids under five at the time, we were like a human derecho in their house. Toys everywhere, sticky hands touching everything, endless snack requests… I was pretty confident we would overstay our welcome within a few days.
It wasn’t until my grandpa died a few weeks ago that I’ve gotten the chance to really reflect on those few days and their significance.
My grandma keeps a very clean house and is the kind of woman who apologizes for how messy her house is when there’s not a mess anywhere. She runs a tight ship! So when my kids ate her homemade chocolate chip cookies and proceeded to smudge their chocolatey hands all over the glass-paned door, I apologized and promised her I would clean it up before we left. I’ll never forget her response to me:
“Don’t worry about the mess, Lee. Sometimes after the little ones leave, I leave the fingerprints on the door for a while so I can see them every day and think about when the kids were here.”
I could’ve cried on the spot. She said it so nonchalantly, but the impact of her words was immediate.
At the time, my grandpa’s health was failing and we understood he might not have much time left with us. My grandpa was the strong and silent type when it came to little kids. He never wore his emotions on his sleeve as long as I had known him. But when he saw my 3-year-old son walk into the door for that unexpected visit, my grandpa’s face lit up in a way never seen before. A cheek-to-cheek smile revealed his genuine excitement.
That expression is etched into my memory.
There was more than one point during those few days where my grandpa told me to stop spending so much time looking at my phone. I won’t lie; at the time, I was a little annoyed. “He doesn’t think I’m helping out enough”, the insecure voice in my head told me. “I deserve to be able to take a break and look at my phone if I want to,” my pride and defiance continued on inside my head.
But now I see Grandpa’s intent was not to shame me or criticize me. Maybe it’s just that when you understand your time on earth is limited, your sense of what’s important becomes heightened.
Later that night, I put my phone away and just watched TV with my grandpa. Of all things, there was a Dateline Special about Princess Diana. I was shocked he didn’t change the channel. Now I wonder if he kept it on because he thought maybe I would like it enough to stay up and watch it with him.
We watched the whole two hours, conversing during commercials, and just sitting in each other’s presence without social media or a phone to distract from the moment. I will never forget that two hours. Nothing profound was said. Nothing monumental happened. Just two people making a conscious choice to spend time with each other, undistracted.
Now that my grandpa is gone, it surprises me what’s drawn emotion out of me.
I didn’t cry at the funeral. I thought it was a beautiful celebration of his life and of where he is now. Rather, what brought tears to my eyes a few days later was thinking about taking his birthday off the calendar, a celebration I had never really thought twice about before his death.
So often, I find myself wishing the hard stuff away and praying the time before bedtime would pass a little quicker.
I think about how at the end of his life, my grandpa was more than ready for the radiation and the other hard stuff he had to endure if it meant just a few more precious moments with us. I think about how each night he probably prayed that those hours before bedtime would last just a little longer.
I’m only human. I probably won’t always appreciate the moments enough. I will probably lose sight of what’s important at times. But maybe I’ll put my phone away more often. Maybe I won’t fast forward through the commercials.
Maybe I’ll leave the fingerprints on the door just a little bit longer.
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