Recently I had two big life changes.
1. My four-year-old started a pre-k education program.
2. My 99-year-old grandfather passed away.
Both beginnings. Both endings. Both bittersweet. Both left me with feelings of emptiness and sadness. Both left me with feelings of relief and excitement as for what is to come.
Ever since my grandmother died my grandfather has been ready to go too. Every time I visited him I’d ask how he was and his response would be “I’m still here.”
At 99 he died of old age. There was nothing wrong with him. No cancer. No heart attack. No stroke. His organs just started failing. Testing showed there was nothing to be done. His body had reached its time limit. I guess that’s what we all hope for, right? To live out our body’s clocks?
I got to visit him in the hospital at the end while he was still lucid. I am so blessed to have the memory of his face lighting up as he watched his great-grandchildren. To have witnessed the joy as he high fived my son repeatedly. To have heard him tell me multiple times I love you Nikki. To hear him say with nothing but happiness and relief, I guess I’ve hung in there as long as I can and I’m all done. More importantly, I am also blessed to have had a lifetime of memories of him before this moment. Christmas, birthdays, games of pool he taught me to play and made me the “pool shark” I now am and model trains he let me play with. The time I got to spend with him was less frequent since having my children but still existent.
He passed away after less than a week in the hospital. He chose to be cremated. My dad sent me a picture of a box that contained his ashes. I don’t think this was done on purpose but the box was sitting on the kitchen table in “his spot”. The same spot I saw his physical body sit at all the 35 years of my life. It hit me so hard, like someone punched me in the stomach and smacked me over the head. One day you are here and the next you are a box of ashes on the table. Life is long and hard sometimes, but boy when it comes down to it it’s short. It’s so short.
About the same time, my grandfather was ending his time in this earthly realm. My four-year-old was beginning a pre-k program.
My four year. My baby girl who has been home with me since the day she was born. I was blessed to be with her from the beginning. For every milestone moment. The rolling, the crawling, the walking, the talking. The little girl who has only been away from me for a couple of hours here or there under the watchful eye of her father or a trusted grandparent. The little girl who had only spent one night away from me, the night I had her baby brother. My best buddy. She was going to be venturing out into the world by herself four days a week for three hours a day. Much more then I originally intended but this was the way this particular pre-k program worked. We liked it so much we decided to try it.
The day I dropped her off was hard. It was the day that I realized being a parent isn’t just about holding your child, it’s also about letting them go. I got a taste of it for the first time that day and I know the rest of her life is going to be more and more of this. It’s going to be a balancing act between keeping her safe and cuddled and letting her be free to grow.
I dropped her off and knew this couldn’t be about me. I needed to let her know that I would miss her, but show nothing but excitement for her and let her have her day. Her moment. This was a huge day for her. As we drove to school we discussed how I would drop her off at the school’s playground with her teacher and new friends. I would give her a hug and kiss and tell her I love her and be back to pick her up in a couple of hours. She said, “can I tell you I love you as much as I want?” I said “yes, can I tell you I love you as much as I want?” She giggled and said “yes”. She was excited. She told me she would miss mommy but she would have fun.
We got to the playground. Anika immediately seemed comfortable in the new environment. I told her I loved her, she gave me a hug and kiss and told me she loved me a few times. She found a small tricycle as I was beginning to get ready to leave. She got on and tried to push it out of the dirt onto the paved walkway. She couldn’t and looked at me with the sweetest look on her face and said “mommy will you give me a push?”
I looked at my baby and gave her a push. I felt like I was pushing her out of the nest, but she was ready and it was time. I snapped a picture of her as I walked out riding away on that tricycle.
Both of these events marked the end of something but also the beginning. My grandfather left this world but I do believe he got to move on and join my grandmother. My dad who has been helping to care for him for many years will now be able to move closer to his grandchildren and watch them grow.
My daughter will no longer spend every moment at my side. I will no longer know what goes on in every part of her day. For the first time, she has a life outside of me. The oneness that once was when she was growing inside of my belly, that has slowly slipped away as she moved through those early years of development is no more, and that’s ok. In fact, it’s great. She gets to make new friends and have adventures for three hours a day out of the watchful eye of mommy so she can grow. It’s made me appreciate the time that I have with her so much more because in a year she will be gone all day in kindergarten. Ugh. I can’t handle thinking about that yet. One thing at a time.
What these two events had in common and the underlying personal message and wakeup call that I got out of both was, to be there for the life, not the funeral.
As hard as it was to let my grandfather and my daughter go there was a sense of peace that I had knowing I had spent so much time and created so many memories during the previous seasons of our lives. I felt like I hadn’t missed a thing with my daughter. I felt no guilt that I hadn’t spent enough time with my grandfather. I know so often we see these funerals that are packed with people we haven’t seen for ages and all I can think is what’s the point? Why now? Spend time with the living. Hug your babies, hug your grandparents. Enjoy them while they are yours to enjoy. Nothing is forever.