82: When Grandpa Said Goodbye

82: When Grandpa Said Goodbye

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles and More

When Grandpa Said Goodbye

If the people we love are stolen from us, the way to have them live on is to never stop loving them.

~James O’Barr

When I was about four years old, my mom’s parents moved into our house. We lived in a nice little neighborhood in El Paso, Texas. Most of my large Mexican family — both sets of grandparents, cousins, and aunts and uncles — lived in this town. Every birthday was a big hoopla attended by at least thirty people, and that was just family.

I loved my grandparents and I was particularly close with my grandma because she would often sneak me cookies and Coca-Cola when my mom wasn’t around. I was very much looking forward to Grandma coming to live with us. Grandpa, on the other hand, not so much.

He was this lumbering man who towered over me. He never spoke to anyone. I was afraid of him. When attending family events, he sat on the couch without speaking and he stared into the distance. He walked with a slight limp and always had a slight smell about him because he wore adult diapers. His eyes always looked hollow and distant, like he was somewhere else. Whenever I asked my mom why Grandpa didn’t talk, she would answer, “He has depression” and that was the end of the conversation. At the age of four, I had no idea what that meant. As I grew up, I thought anyone with depression would be someone who just sat with a vacant stare not talking.

My grandparents lived with us for about three years. They were present for every Christmas, Easter, birthday party, ballet recital, first day of school, and sporting event that my sister and I ever had. They were also present for the mundane, day-to-day moments — every breakfast, lunch and dinner, and every fight my sister and I ever had about some stupid toy. They were there for every tear or happy face. My grandma was an active participant; my grandpa no more than a breathing houseplant whose roots went deep into the living room couch. Eventually, I stopped noticing he was even there.

One day, our happy El Paso bubble burst because my dad got a job in Ohio. At the age of seven, I was about to face the hardest thing I had faced in my life up to that point.

On a sunny day in the fall, we packed up our house and left our family behind, my grandparents included. They were moving into my uncle’s house because they didn’t want to leave the only city they had ever known as home. They had already lost their house and independence; they weren’t about to lose their city, too. So, we left and said we would call and visit when we could. This was way before video chatting or the Internet, so we knew a visit, or even a phone call, would be very expensive.

A few months went by, and our family of four adjusted to life in Ohio. My sister and I enrolled in a new school and made new friends. Then one day we got a very urgent phone call from my mom’s brother. Grandpa had suffered a stroke and was in the hospital. He would need to have open-heart surgery. We needed to come home. We flew back to El Paso in a hurry because we didn’t think Grandpa had long to live.

We stayed a few days, and in that time I got to see my extended family again. I didn’t quite understand the seriousness of the situation. I was just excited to play with all my cousins. My grandpa recovered and was on his way to going home. This meant that we, too, would be going home, back to Ohio.

About a month later, we received a miracle in the form of a phone call. Grandpa had been visiting one of my mom’s brothers and watching his favorite sports team — the Dallas Cowboys. At some point during the visit, he began to stand up and cheer. My uncle quickly got on the phone and exclaimed to my mom, “Dad is cured! He’s himself again!”

It was unbelievable. I watched my mom’s face as she spoke into the phone. I watched her utter shock as she spoke to her father for the first time in fifteen years. I watched her jump for joy when she handed the phone over to my dad to talk to Grandpa for the first time since he met my mom. I watched my sister’s bewilderment as my grandpa asked her about school and her sports teams. I knew it would soon be my turn.

My mom pushed the phone into my tiny seven-year-old hand. “Grandpa is on the phone. He wants to talk to you!”

“What?” I said in return. “Grandpa? He wants to talk? To me?”

What could he possibly want to say to me? He didn’t know anything about my life, or so I thought.

“Yes! Grandpa wants to talk to you,” she replied.

Hesitantly, I grabbed the phone and said, “Hello?”

“Hi, Roni!” It was a cheerful voice that was slightly gruff. It was also unfamiliar because, in my whole life, I had never actually heard my grandfather utter one word.

I don’t remember everything that was said in that conversation, but as soon as I got on the phone, my grandpa was at no loss for words. He knew everything about me, right down to my favorite stuffed bunny rabbit’s name. I couldn’t believe that the stoic houseplant on the couch could not only talk, but also had been paying attention all those years.

We all went to bed that night excited about what was to come with Grandpa. We couldn’t wait to talk to him more. After school the next day, my dad came to pick us up. I knew something was wrong since he usually wasn’t the one to pick us up. As soon as we got in the car, he told us that Grandpa was back in the hospital, and we had to go to El Paso again. This time, he said, Grandpa probably wasn’t going to make it.

I couldn’t understand what he was saying. I had just talked to him the night before, and he was fine. More than fine. I was sad and angry at the same time. It just didn’t make sense.

After he died, and we went back home to Ohio, I had a talk with my mom while she was tucking me in at night.

“Mom, why would God do that to us?” I asked her. “Why would God let us finally talk to Grandpa and then take him away?”

“Because God wanted us to talk to Grandpa one last time.”

“But why? Why now?” I asked.

“I don’t know why,” she answered with tears in her eyes. “No one knows why miracles happen. We are just lucky that we got to talk to him one last time. God let Grandpa say goodbye to all of us.”

~Veronica DeSantos Ryan

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