Flowers at Wegerzyn Gardens in Dayton Ohio

goodbyes

Two days before my grandpa died, I got a call from my mom telling me he didn’t have much time left, and that if I wanted to see him I should come right away. I struggled with whether I should go and be with my family, or whether selfishly I should stay away and remember him as he was, before the hospital beds, before the lapses in lucidity. I wanted to be there, but I was afraid.

The next night I had a dream. I was in my grandparents’ living room, in the part of their house they haven’t used in years, but it was where as a child we would come together to celebrate the holidays. My mom was there, along with my aunts and uncles, and my grandma. My grandpa was lying in a hospital bed at the end of the couch, dozing. When I first walked in, my uncle gave me a hug and said, “It’s going to be all right.” I sat down and noticed that as my grandpa laid there, in and out of consciousness, his family sat around him, happily chatting about inconsequential things, just like it was any other day and there wasn’t this big thing looming over them, heavy and thick. And I thought this was a good thing- they were talking about their lives, and in his waking moments, he could hear the people he loved around him. Someone gave me some goldfish crackers to eat. Soon after that, I remembered that I hadn’t closed my store- I had just walked out in the middle of the day. I called my business partner and told her I had to leave- that my grandpa was dying, and asked her to go to the shop and close up for me. I started to cry, telling her that he was going to die.
It was then that I woke up, feeling as though my heart was going to sink right through my chest, right through the bed, onto the floor. And I started to cry. Despite the early hour, I called my mom, who was of course still by his side. I told her about my dream, in between sobs, and she started to cry too, telling me, “Honey, stop crying. If you can stop crying, I’ll put the phone up to his ear and you can tell him you love him.” And I was crying so hard, I couldn’t do it. It felt awful, not telling him I loved him.
Later that day, emotionally tired and still caught between wanting to be there, and needing to stay away, I took a nap on the couch. I had another dream, more vivid even than the last. And I want to remember every detail about it, which is why I’m writing about this innermost piece of myself. This dream was much shorter. I was walking out the front door of their house, down the front steps and out to my car. I had just been to visit, but my grandpa was asleep the whole time, and didn’t know I was there. I was leaving, feeling incomplete, feeling a little bit lost, like I wasn’t sure whether it had made a difference to come. Before I made it to my car, I heard the front door open, and I turned around. It was my grandpa, coming out to say goodbye. He was wearing blue pajama pants and a white t-shirt, and he was walking out onto the porch, toward the top step, coming toward me. I went back, slowly climbed the steps, and hugged him. I said, “I love you.” He said simply, “I know.”
I knew when I woke up that it had been real. It had been my goodbye. The goodbye I couldn’t give him in person. And yet it felt more real than I can even describe. The next afternoon he passed away. That was 19 days ago. His memorial service is tomorrow.
Last night I had one more dream. Again, I was in the front room of their house, and I was taking pictures. The dream took place as though we had already experienced his death, but we were taken back in time and given the gift of one more week with him. One more week to remember, to capture in our minds and hold onto. Grandpa was sitting on the left side of the couch, and next to him were my uncle, my aunt, and someone else- it wasn’t clear who. They were all healthy and happy, and chatting easily with each other, goofing around. They didn’t seem to be paying attention to me as I photographed them- the resulting photograph was so natural and comfortable. As I pulled the camera back and looked at the display to see the picture I had just taken, the photo slowly turned to black and white, and then froze as though going back in time. And everyone in the photo became younger, as though they too went back in time.
As I scrolled ahead to the next picture I had taken, all of sudden I was looking at pictures of someone’s wedding. I didn’t know whose wedding it was, and I knew someone had borrowed my camera and taken all these wedding pictures, which had replaced the pictures I’d taken of my family in the last days with my grandpa. It wasn’t clear who the people in the pictures were, but I knew they were younger, maybe closer to my cousins’ ages. I then somehow went to the wedding in the pictures, as though transported in time again, on a mission to get my camera back. I knew if I could just get the camera back, I could erase the wedding pictures and the photos I had taken of my grandpa and his family would magically come back.
I woke up confused about the meaning of the dream, and it wasn’t until I was talking it over with my mom that it started to make sense. The photos of Grandpa and our family are to remind us to always remember him how he was. To hold onto the memories we have of him, as the man we loved for so many years. The wedding pictures that replaced the old photographs represent new memories that are yet to come- cousins that will get married, experiences that haven’t happened yet. But we’ll all be there, and it will become familiar, as it becomes our present. Life moves forward, and we have to go on– but go on remembering the past and holding it close to our hearts like a favorite old photograph, capturing times never to be forgotten.

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