Yesterday I had a debate with myself whether or not to call my grandfather and wish him a happy Father’s Day. In the end, I decided not to. He doesn’t hear phone conversations very well, and he probably wouldn’t understand who I was. I opted to ask my parents to say hello and give him my love when they visited yesterday afternoon. Every time I make the to-call-or-not-to-call decision, it takes me back to the last time I saw him, in November, and a conversation I wish I could do over.
When I visited for Thanksgiving, he was beginning to have some weakness and apprehension about his health, but it was before he fell, before his long stint in physical therapy, and before his dementia had really begun to manifest. I went over to the house with my mother, and sat and talked with both my grandparents. He sat next to me on the couch, leaning his weight against my shoulder and holding my hand, and after the usual small talk he suddenly said “Don’t go back so soon. I might not see you again.” I did not want to hear that. I couldn’t hear that. Before the visit, I’d known that it might be the last one, and I’d thought about what I might want to say to him. I’d planned to ask for some time alone with him so we could talk. But when the moment came I was afraid. I thought, he doesn’t really mean it. He doesn’t seem so weak. He’s always been so healthy. He’s uncomfortable talking about feelings. He’s just saying what he thinks I expect to hear. All the bullshit excuses to avoid having a conversation I’d been thinking about for weeks before visiting. And so again, again, I let fear take something from me.
I’d meant to tell him that I loved him, that he is so familiar to me that I would know him as my people even if we weren’t related. That the beautiful things he has built and created his whole life have made me proud my whole life. I planned to tell him some things that made me angry. I planned to say that I hoped it wasn’t goodbye, but if it was, these are the things I wanted to say. I planned to ask him if there was anything he wanted to say to me.
I didn’t say any of those things, except that I love him. I say that every time I see him or talk to him. It’s the only really important thing, but it wasn’t everything I wanted to say and the moment still feels unfinished to me. Worse, it feels as though I let him down by not acknowledging his fear. If I get to see him in the next few months, I may still get a lucid moment when I can say some of those things, but the harder and more complex ones are beyond his grasp now and I know I won’t get that chance again.
I have a hard time not playing my mistakes over and over again in my head. After talking it out with a friend several times, I stopped agonizing over it constantly, but it still comes back to me when I think about trying to visit. I’m hoping that writing it here will help me to let it go, and to not waste whatever time I might still get with him. Happy Father’s Day, Grandad.