Every Sunday morning I sat on an ugly floral couch in the living room of my great-grandparents’ house. Seated in the armchair next to me was my great-grandfather – once a strong man, he was now weakened by age, forced to rely on a cane to help him walk, but his mind was still as bright and witty as it had always been. It was his mind that made me.
We sat there in the corner singing songs, making up stories, reading poems. His favorite poem was Eugene Field’s “The Duel” and I, like my father before me, was made to memorize it. This continued for a number of years until gradually, illness and old age began to overtake his mind. Barely able to remember my name, he could no longer read and write with me, but still I sat there. Every Sunday morning, right up until the end.
The day he died, we were all there. When it came time to say the final goodbye, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t hold his already cooling hand, witness the stillness of eyes that had once been bright, blue, and twinkling with humor, couldn’t accept that he was gone, so I ran away.
I did not speak to anyone for 4 days. I sat in my bedroom, cried, and wrote. He had always told me that “No matter where you are, no matter who you’re with, the problems in your life can be solved if you just write,” but this problem wasn’t going away. The pain in my chest wasn’t easing, the tears in my eyes weren’t drying.
It wasn’t until his funeral that I spoke my first words. I was meant to eulogize him, in front of my family and his friends, but all of my carefully planned out words about his life fled my mind as I began to speak. The only thing I could say was,
“The gingham dog and the calico cat,
side by side on the table they sat…”
and as the congregation recited the poem with me, I began to fully understand just how many people whose lives he had touched.