In 1988, I was a 17 year old young man with the whole world in front of him. I came from a loving family with lots of opportunities to achieve. At that time, working, dating, driving my car, hanging out with friends and a million other “critical” aspects of my life consumed me. Having children of my own now and one at that particular age, I see that it’s cyclical. Different generation, same mindset.
My grandfather was the most important person in my life from as early as I can remember. We were inseparable. Breakfast at the village diner every Saturday morning. Swimming at the park. Watching TV, hanging out. We were the best of friends. This man loved me, his grandson, more than anyone or anything else in the world and I loved him just as much!
As I grew older, I found myself gravitating away from those special times with him. Of course, he never complained. He would ask me, when I called him, how things were going. What I was up to. Always interested and always inspired by my latest accomplishment or adventure. As time passed, these calls, conversations and visits became more and more of an inconvenience to me. I had better things to do with my time than hang out with this old guy, just to appease him.
One afternoon, my mother, his daughter, informed me that he had had a heart attack and stroke and was in the hospital. We were going to visit him, meet with the doctors and begin the task of supporting his recovery. I went. I sat next to him and laughed and joked as we had always done, but I could tell he was uncomfortable with me seeing him in his current condition.
Days passed, then weeks, then a few months. Week after week my parents would suggest I join them in a visit. They suggested I drive myself to spend time with him. I ignored them. Time after time I found something better to do with my time. Then suddenly, my mom showed up at work.
My grandfather was not doing well and the MD’s felt it best if the family come to see him right away. What did I know. I asked my boss if I could leave and of course, he said no problem. We drove about fifteen minutes to the next town to pick up my grandmother. Although she and my grandfather had been divorced for well over thirty years, they were still friends and she wanted to be there with him. My mother went inside to get her while my dad and I waited in the car. After a few minutes, they still did not come out. My dad, getting frustrated went inside to get them. A few more minutes passed. Then they all appeared and by the expressions on their faces, I could tell he had passed.
I don’t remember much after that moment. I do recall rolling around on the ground, crying, yelling, grieving. Other than that, I really don’t remember feeling anything.
The following days were spent arranging his funeral and the clock seemed to tick onward. But this sick feeling of shame and pain would not subside within me. Certainly I put on a good show. But I felt empty. Truly empty. You hear it said often, but until you feel it yourself, it really is something to experience.
To have five minutes with my grandfather. To share five minutes more with him would be worth everything I have, except my children. To know that he is proud of me, that he forgives my selfishness, that he knew how much I loved him would bring such peace to my life. I carry this guilt, even after hours of therapy and prayer with me everyday!
So this morning, when talking with my now 17 year old daughter about how wonderful it would be, during this Easter break, if she drove to visit her grandparents who love her so much and have given so much of themselves to and for her, I see in her, as I recall in me, this look of selfishness and annoyance. I chose, in this case, not to harass or preach. I did, however, share with her as I have now shared with you what it means to me to long for five more minutes. I pray that she makes a selfless choice. That she holds close to her heart what she knows, deep down, would bring so much happiness to her grandparents. I pray for her five minutes to be in the now, rather than at death.