I was in 8th grade getting ready for lights out at Fork Union Military Academy. The snow was falling ever so gently that night. After brushing my teeth I remember the officer on my hall calling me to officer’s station in the middle of the barracks that separated Alpha Company for Bravo Company. There my Commandant was, just there in his green faculty uniform.
“Son, you’re grandfather has passed. You’re parents are on their way.” He said it with a sort of hardness but with an unusual mix of compassion. I remember him getting a blanket for me. After that I couldn’t help myself but shed tears. I cried because there was unfinished business, I cried because there was so much about the man I would never know, I cried because his last words to me were that he never wanted to see me again.
My experience with him as a young boy was one of changing times. As children of the 1990’s we were blessed with rapidly changing times and technology. My grandfather wasn’t very open about who he was, and what his past was. I do remember a time when my grandfather answered all my questions as a kid on the car ride up to their house one summer, but that’s as close as I remember getting to him. But as I grew up: I was left alone and to my own devices. Of course, it was no fault of my parents being in separate states and the one parent at home working nights, and sleeping mornings. Unfortunately that being the case I was left to my own devices… I got into trouble. My form of trouble: staying up as long as I wanted and doing what I wanted. I was very tame in my amusement at age 9, but who was to tell me no? I occasionally pretended my flamethrower soldier could actually melt the other one, which was just me with a lighter. Unfortunately, late night television lent itself to the more adult form of entertainment, and I was mesmerized. To this day I can’t fathom what my life would be like today if I hadn’t been exposed to such mature content. From horror movies, late night cartoons, Adult rated movies I watched it all. This, of course, leads me to the next segment of where this story will lead us.
This is the summer that will forever be burned into my memory. My parents were sending me to go visit my grandparents for the summer. I had to have been 10 or 11 at the time. My aunt and uncle were living with my grandparents until their house could be built, and my aunt needed a lot of attention. The adults, grandparents and relatives, lived upstairs and my brother and I were downstairs. There was a TV and a computer (back in the days of dial up). Everything had been fine between my grandparents, but that would soon change after that summer.
Over the course of time our grandparents would have us do chores around the house, and of course being obedient children we would do them, and for the most part we were left to our own devices. I just remember staying down in that dark basement for hours just watching TV and going to adult places. Day and night there I would be exploring things one so young shouldn’t be. I am ashamed to write these words, but they are God’s own truth. One instance in particular; my aunt came downstairs because she needed to use the phone (because dial up disabled home phone use), and I hid because of shame I suppose, but even at that age I knew what I was doing wasn’t right, but I couldn’t help myself. I was addicted.
After a while my grandparents didn’t really know what to do with me. I wasn’t being wild and crazy, I wasn’t setting things on fire, I was just in the basement doing god knows what. I don’t really remember too much about how the fight with my grandfather started but I do remember clearly how it finished. There was a chore that needed to be done, specifically weeding around the tree, but I was fighting doing the task. In my mind I’m sure it made perfect sense, but now I wish I could take it all back. My grandfather was the type of man to say something and mean it, and only asked once. But, I fought him and I remember my words very clearly.
“I hope I never have to come back here again.”
In response to my callous words found a sharp rebuttal
“Good. Because, I hope I never have to see you again.”
After that summer the two weeks we were there for the summers were cut down to a few days. I knew and know that I was the cause for the change. From then on out my relationship with my grandparents had been strained and I could never recover the innocence I had lost in their eyes. The traditional side to them would not forgive me and my sins against them. Unfortunately, the word might have spread to my extended family, and that of course is the conspiracy theorist in me, but sometimes I felt as if they could see right through me and see all my mistakes.
I saw my grandfather very sparingly after that summer, and he spoke with me little if at all. My grandmother I knew was affected by my poor behavior as well. She was less fond of me after that summer as well. But, the past is the past, and as much as I would take back every second… I cannot.
We got the news he was sick a few years later. He had non-alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver, and quickly found himself bed ridden in the hospital. Unfortunately, to his detriment, the hospital made a mistake and gave him tainted medical equipment and fell further into illness. I had the chance to see him with my family in the hospital, and it was shocking. I had never seen him so pale, so flat, and so helpless in his fight… His dark hair matted with sweat, his olive oil skin pale and clammy, and his eyes were depressed and closed up almost like a decrepit home. When it came to finally giving my grandfather my last words: I needed to be alone with him to say what I needed to say, but my father was in the room with me and I just couldn’t. Still to this day I don’t think I could have brought myself to say what I needed to say in there. Fittingly he could not speak to me either because of the medication. What would have changed if I had said what I needed to say…? Would this regret in my heart have passed with him? Not even the world’s greatest minds could solve that riddle…
After I had received the news my grandfather had passed I was whisked away to the land of Benjamin Franklin and the Philadelphia Eagles. I remember how bitterly my grandmother and family wept at the wake and the funeral. I was dressed in my Class A military uniform and I shook the hands of men and women I had never met, and will never meet again. I just remember the priest saying “he is in a better place”. It certainly made me think of eternity after he passed, and certainly where he would end up. I pray for his soul even now. I almost wish that he would look down on me and smile at the man I have become, but I have only my imagination to comfort me. I wasn’t the person that he needed me to be back then, but I will love for a higher purpose now, and I hope that will be enough to make him proud.
This post is an admission of a few things: the mistakes I have made, and my struggle with the passing of a loved one. I have made mistakes and I have tried to hide them, but I want people to know that I am flawed just like them, and that I hope this story gives them strength in knowing that they are not alone in that. I could only be so lucky that one day I will have the chance at redemption. If you are suffering the pain of loss: you are not alone, if you are suffering from the rejection by family members: you are not alone, if you are ashamed of your mistakes or sin: you are not alone. If you are suffering from severe depression and anxiety please seek medical attention, but know that you are never alone.
God has blessed me to bring you this story and I know he will bless you to overcome your struggles as well.