|Mia, Grandpa Chard and Gabriel on Grandpa's 76th birthday|
I was in fifth grade when my brother Gabriel came into my room in the early morning with a panicked look on his face, "Mia, mom and dad are both gone." My heart instantly sank and fear was my main emotion. We were quiet as we wandered the house looking for them so as not to wake our younger brothers and inflict on them the same torture we were feeling. It's interesting how memory works to pull you back in and even now, as I type this, my chest tightens because I know where this memory leads and I'm sad all over again for those two little kids in my mind and what they will soon feel. In our wanderings and at the same moment we both heard steps on the porch; freezing on the stairs, we both were hit with the same realization: Grandpa.
Growing up next door to my Grandparents was a blessing I will count as treasured, forever. Grandma had passed away a few years earlier and Grandpa had become an even bigger part of our lives. I can still see him sitting on the porch in his rocking chair; giving us money to run to Hind's Quick Stop to get coke and snowballs; and watching me mow his lawn and then laugh as he finally realized I was pushing so hard because I never held down the bar that would make it self propel. I want to think those were the thoughts that were running through my mind as I waited for my mom to walk into the house but mostly I think my mind was blank. One look was all it took, she didn't need to speak because Gabriel and I already knew, Grandpa had died.
Almost instantly I wanted to see my dad. Was he okay? Was he with Grandpa? What do you do without a dad in the world? My mind couldn't grasp that last concept and maybe seeing him would help. My mom walked Gabriel and me over to the house so that we could be with Dad and his sister Norma. I will never forget walking into Grandpa's house and hearing the radio playing softly in the background - the song was, "The Living Years" by Mike and the Mechanics. I could see my dad and his sister Norma in Grandpa's room; Gabriel walked to them but I moved into the living room and sat alone, listening to the music and not knowing what to do.
I heard that song the other day and instantly was brought back to that moment, day and time when Grandpa passed to finally rest with Grandma. That song is the clarion call to all who listen to not live with regret – to speak the things of our hearts because, for this life, there will come a time that it will be too late. I know that my dad and his father didn't share the tortured relationship that the song talks about but I have often had conversations with him about his memories and his life growing up and when he talks about his mom or dad there is a longing in his eyes. Why do we wait? Why do we not let people know what they really mean to us – now – immediately – right away?
So today, in my living year, I want to let people know that I love them, that they have influenced me, that I have seen their kindness and one day only hope to match a small portion of it. I guess tonight it's also my challenge to whoever might read this – don't wait, say what you always hold back and do it now, in the living years . . .