Tuesday, September 2, 2014

To My Poppy

What will you leave behind?

At only 21 years old, the impermanence of life doesn't often cross my mind. It takes a big moment, a life-changing one, to serve as a reminder that now does not mean the same thing as forever.

My grandfather passed away this weekend. With him living in Florida, I was far away from the situation. As a result, the reality of his declining health didn't quite hit me until I heard the news of his passing on Monday.

Now, thinking back on my Poppy, the only grandfather I've truly known due to the absence of my maternal grandfather for most of my life, I feel this great mixture of feelings. Sorrow for his loss, pride in his achievements, happiness at the beautiful life he led, plus something that is harder to put into words - the closest description being "cheated."

My grandfather lived a long and fruitful life. At 92, he saw the birth of six grandchildren and even two great-grandchildren (one of whom, my firecracker of a niece, was named after him). But in all the years I knew him, I still felt like there was so much more to know.

This morning I read a beautiful eulogy written by my dad for my Poppy's funeral. I offered to do what I could to enable its dissemination, copying it down into my computer so that it could be printed, saving it so that it would never become lost with the passing of time.

There are things about my Poppy that I know backwards and forwards. His sense of humor being the main one. His jokes became ingrained in my personal phrasebook. One of his oft-repeated quips, "my nose runs and my feet smell," has occurred to me multiple times in the past 24 hours.

But today, as I read through the eulogy and contemplated on the loss of such a compassionate, silly and wonderful man, what I kept thinking about was how much more I wish I'd known him.

There are so many questions that occur to you when it's too late to ask them. Questions about the past, about his past specifically. I wonder about his life, things that only he knew that he'll never be able to answer now that he's gone. I wish, at the very least, that I'd been able to tell him more how much I loved him. Living far away, it was hard not to feel detached from him for most of the year. But despite the distance, his impact was enormous. He's one of the few influential men in my life, and one of the main reasons that I believe (despite many experiences to the contrary) that there are good men in the world.

At this point, knowing that there's nothing more I can do but feel love for him and remember the beautiful things that my Poppy left for me, a broader question comes to me. What can I do to keep his memory alive? What can any of us do to keep our memory alive?

One day, we will all pass. Hopefully most of us in a peaceful state, unburdened by the knowledge that our loss will sadden those we love. But while we are all still here, we should charge ourselves with something more than just living.

We should do what we can to keep our memories alive. To share them with others and to let others share theirs with us. Never miss an opportunity to ask questions or give answers. Never hold back the stories that someone, somewhere would love to hear. Tell your loved ones exactly how you feel about them.

I don't plan to leave this world behind any time soon. But when I do, I hope someone will love me with enough of his or her heart to express feelings as affectionate as what my dad wrote for my Poppy.

All we really need in life is the love of others. More than fame, money, power, material goods. We thrive in life through the connections we make. My Poppy, even in the limited time I was able to spend with him, impacted me with his joy and his unflinching bravery. He lived a life that many can only dream to live - one of simple, unadulterated love. He loved his family, he loved his life. And for that, he was loved.

I can only hope that I will leave behind love as well.