Every week my grandma sends every member of her family an email update on her weekly events and the happenings of the entire family’s whereabouts. She’s been providing these factual outlines on everyone’s comings and goings for close to a decade now—skipping only when her computer acts up or a family gathering provides opportunity to catch up in person. In many ways, it is these weekly emails that keep our family connected despite our vast distance of locations, ages, and interests.
This past week, she started her email with a quiet reminder that it was nine years to the day that my grandpa, her husband, my mom’s father, had passed away. He was the first grandparent I lost. The first family member I ever lost. Even though he had been sick for a while, his passing caught us all off guard. Death is unpredictable and unplannable, despite being inevitable, and losing him was difficult. Death is always hard. It doesn’t get easier the more you experience it. I know that now.
I remember the night I got the call that he had died. I remember where I was and what I was doing. I remember the strength and calm and sadness in my mother’s voice.
I remember the conversation I had had with my then-boyfriend (now husband) earlier that day while trying to figure out our plans for the evening. “We could visit your grandpa in the hospital,” he had suggested. I said no, we’d go some other time. The visits were difficult because my grandpa could no longer speak with words, just with his eyes and hands.
I remember picking up my relatives from the airport as they flew in from around the world for his funeral. I remember awkward hugs, swollen red eyes, and laughter from memories shared. I remember looking at his dead body and thinking that it did not really look like him. I remember wishing I had visited him one last time. I remember wishing I had told him that I loved him. Because I did. Because, like all my grandparents, he was awesome.
That was nine years ago, and I realized, as I read the email, that lately my memories have been fading. Nine years of life—school, employment, marriage, children—have filled me with new memories and new experiences. That’s life.
But I want my past, and the people from my past, to play a more active role in my present. I know they will affect me subconsciously no matter what, but I want them to be consciously present, for my sake, because there are so many good memories to cherish. But more so I want them to be present for the people that don’t have any memories to call their own. I want my children to know the great-grandfather they never met. I want them to know where many of my values come from and why. I want them to know the man in the dusty photographs who helped shape my family, including them.