My Great Grandfather Sprague would have been 100 years old today. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2006, so today is bittersweet. While I think of the crazy awesome party we could have gathered for this year to celebrate with him, I know that he would much rather be in heaven than here. And that makes me happy.
I woke up this morning humming the hymn "I Know Whom I Have Believed" and immediately recalled the very last conversation I had with him. I documented the conversation, in detail, in a notebook the night after it took place, but alas, I can't find the notebook! Here's an excerpt of what I remember and what I refer to often in my life:
I went with my aunt to visit him in a nursing home. The family was told that he was in his final days or weeks. I have a hard time visiting people in nursing homes. I don't like the smell, I don't like seeing lonely people, I don't like yelling to be heard. I am a soft spoken person and feel self-conscious when I have to speak loudly in order for someone to hear me. I know, it's ridiculous. Anyway, my aunt convinced me to go by saying, "He will just appreciate that you are there."
Grandfather looked tiny and frail in his bed. I remembered, fondly and sadly, when I was little and I would run through a room with my 40,000 cousins and he would reach out and grab two or three of us at a time, mid-sprint, and bear hug us. Then, he'd "inspect" our ears and tell us we were so full of beans he could see them coming out our ears. Once, I asked him, "What kind of beans?" He said, "Oh....you're full of green beans!" I smiled, because green beans were my favorite!! To this day I can't eat green beans without thinking of him.
The visit at the nursing home was difficult for me. Grandfather was in and out of sleep and wasn't always coherent and because of that, I was dealing with a lot of emotions...namely guilt. I should have come sooner; I wonder if he knows who I am. I sat on one side of his bed, and held his hand. My aunt sat on the other side and spoke with him. Probably forty-five minutes into the visit, Grandfather said that his head hurt and he wanted some pain reliever. My aunt went to find a nurse. I saw an instant spark in Grandfather's eyes. He squeezed my hand and turned toward me a little, suddenly very alert.
"How are you, honey?" His tone was calm, but somehow urgent.
I leaned in, smiled, and said loudly, "I'm good."
He shook his head. "Don't let your past own you. You can be better than whatever you've been through."
What does he know about my past? I had never shared any of it with him or anyone else for that matter.
"And sometimes, things that we think are right, don't work out. That's okay; it doesn't mean you aren't good enough." I knew this statement was directly linked to my recently failed engagement. I sat silently, my face inches away from my Grandfather's with tears streaming down my face. There was a lot more to the conversation but that's all I want to share with the blogosphere right now.
Probably the most wonderful part about the visit, besides his incredible insight and advice, was that prior to that conversation he couldn't stay awake and could only hear what we said when we yelled. During my alone time with him, he was alert, lucid, and sort of. . .glowing. I was able to speak at a normal voume and he had no trouble hearing me. He recalled the day of my birth (he was my very first visitor), the first time he heard me sing, the moments that he was proud of me. At one point, he said, "You know, you would have really liked her. You would have really liked your Grandmother Jayne. And she would have loved you." That meant a lot to me. I grew up with a wonderful great Grandmother, but always wondered about my biological great-Grandmother. Was I anything like her? Would she be proud of me?
He became very tired again, and I realized my aunt had been gone for quite a while. "Grandfather, how is your head? Do you want me to see where the nurse is?"
He winked at me. "Oh honey, my head didn't hurt. I just wanted to talk to you." He squeezed my hand, then he fell asleep.
That's the last moment I had with my Grandfather. I truly feel that the day with him was divinely orchestrated.
Today, I'm celebrating the life of a man who is more than just a memory to me. His words and example are a part of my everyday life. He was devout, he was serious, he was funny, he was stubborn and he was gentle. And he loved me. The greatest example to me was that he openly and adamantly loved and served God and stood by his beliefs, no matter the adversity.
I wish he could see that I'm not broken anymore, that I don't let my past own me, that I know that I am more than good enough.
Before we left Grandfather that day, I leaned over and kissed his forehead. His eyes fluttered and he mouthed "Love you." Happy Birthday, Grandfather. I love you too!