Shortly after Hugh and I got engaged, I received an email from my Grandpa Snooky — a mastermind of Mr. Fix-it solutions who was very excited for our upcoming wedding. The subject, “Steps for the Hitching,” made me nervous. Had Grandpa laid out a series of steps Hugh had to complete in order to marry into the family?, I wondered.
Grandpa and I had talked a few days earlier about the height difference between Hugh and me and how I would have no choice but to wear uncomfortable high heels in order to bridge the gap during our wedding ceremony. I had joked that he could fashion me some sort of device so I wouldn’t have to wear heels. Never one to back down from a challenge he followed up with a plan, and was probably only half kidding.
My alarm hadn’t gone off yet, but I was awake and sitting in bed when my dad called last Wednesday morning. I already knew what he was going to say. My Grandpa Snooky had died the night before.
I had been preparing for that call since May when we all gathered in the hospital for Grandpa’s birthday as he awaited test results to determine what ailed him. What followed were months of ups and downs — weeks at a time when he needed no help at all followed by weeks when it seemed like he deteriorated so quickly. Somehow despite that I knew it was coming, despite what we all know about cancer, the fact that he is gone has left me so, so sad.
While I stood in the snow clutching my mom in the Mt. Holly cemetery on Saturday, I kept imagining how he used to greet me with a grin and a hug and a shoulder squeeze. And how my heart sank when I saw him on his back on the dance floor at our wedding, until I realized that “Shout” was playing and he was doing the gator. And how earlier that evening I danced with him to a Black Eyed Peas song when the dance floor was still empty because he was too excited to wait any longer to start the party.
I am not sad that he is gone — after seeing him over Thanksgiving and clutching his hand at his bedside, it is comforting that he’s not battling sickness anymore. There will always be a distinct lack of grinning and chuckling and shoulder squeezing in the future, but I see pieces of him in my dad and brother and uncles and cousins all the time. And I hope that I have at least a fraction of his spirit and zest for life. And if I do then he can never actually be gone.
I’m just sad because I don’t want to ever forget any of that. I want to always remember him saying grace before a big family meal, preparing for months for the annual family reunion, and eating corn on the cob so enthusiastically he bruised his upper lip. I want to remember how excited he was to see pictures of our new house, and how he asked for a picture of the backyard “so I can see what Hugh will have to deal with in the Spring.” I never want to forget how proud he always looked on Christmas wearing his Santa suspenders and white beard, and how Grandma would roll her eyes and laugh.
And I never want to forget how lucky I was to have him for 27 years.