77: A Final Goodbye

77: A Final Goodbye

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

A Final Goodbye

Maybe part of loving is learning to let go.

~From the television show The Wonder Years

“Is he okay?” I hear my mom ask. “Call me as soon as you know something.” My mom hangs up the phone.

“Mom,” I whimper. Only a tiny whisper escapes my mouth. I wait until she steps softly into my room to continue. “Is Paw-Paw going to be alright?”

She sighs and shakes her head “I don’t know Chelsea... I don’t know.” I scoot over and she climbs into bed with me. I think back on yesterday. I remember the white walls, the white floors. I smell the twisted smell of disease. I remember my grandpa’s face, tired but smiling. He was always smiling.

“He’ll be out in two weeks.” The doctor had reassured us. Doctors, I have learned, don’t always know the truth.

I snuggle into the blankets and force myself to think of something else. “He’s fine, he’s fine, he’s fine.” I repeat. “Two weeks, just two weeks and he’s home.”

I can’t control my thoughts; they swirl around my mind, around my room, around my desk to my journal. I think about what I wrote the night before.

I can’t help but think that was the last time I will ever see him.

“He’s fine, he’s fine, he’s fine.” I drill the thought into my head.

The phone rings.

“I’ll be right back honey,” my mom whispers, and gets up to pick up the phone.

I lie still, my thoughts racing faster than my heartbeat. Then I hear something downstairs and I know what it is. It is the worst sound I have ever heard. My mom is sobbing. My mind goes numb. It’s amazing how the body knows when there’s too much emotion and needs to turn off.

“Michael. Chelsea.” My mom barely chokes out. We cautiously step into the hallway.

“Oh God, oh God.” She can’t say it. She doesn’t have to. We understand. “Paw-Paw, he...” She takes a pause to remember to breathe. “He died ten minutes ago.” She lets out her sobs. I knew this was coming, but I don’t believe it. How could this happen? I don’t cry yet. My brother and I sit shaking our heads, staring at my mom.

Then it hits me. It hits me like a hammer in my gut. I think back on my life and how my grandfather was always there. There was never a recital or concert where I didn’t see him sitting in the audience smiling back at me. I think back on summer picnics together at the beach. I hear him beaming with pride, saying, “How did I get such a beautiful granddaughter?” I can’t take it any longer. I feel tears running down my cheeks.

I hold my mom on the couch, her head buried in my hair. When she sobs, I feel her whole body shake. I can feel the despair seeping into my skin. It’s like I am inside her, feeling all of her sorrow, remembering all of her memories. I feel it in my soul, and I feel it in the air. I have never known this complete despair. I’m scared.

It’s Thursday morning and I’m going to school. It’s too sunny for such a sad day. The birds are chirping. My grandpa loved birds.

“Don’t think about him, Chelsea.” I tell myself. I walk in to school and am bombarded with hugs and sympathetic smiles. My friend Caroline tells me, “Now, it makes you sad, but eventually you’ll look back on your grandpa and you’ll smile.” I cling to that with hope that it will come true. But none of them understand. How can they understand how much I have lost? They only think of my grandpa as an old man who they’ve never met. But he was so much more. Can’t they see that?

The day is a numb, gray, blur, except for lunch. The usual drama of the day piles up and I can’t handle it. I feel tears trickling down my face once more. I can’t believe I’m actually crying in school—I’m disgusted with myself. Everyone stares at me, but I don’t care. I don’t care about anything. I just want to crawl into my grandpa’s arms and fall asleep. I’m not sure how Caroline could be right. How could thinking about him make me smile? Whenever I think of him I remember how much I miss him. For the first time in my life, I feel lost.

•••

Today is the funeral. I see my cousins immediately when we arrive at the funeral home. We embrace each other to keep ourselves from falling apart. We don’t have to say a word; our eyes say it all. I decide not to go see my grandpa’s body. I don’t want to remember him as a cold, lifeless mass. Emma and Michey wait with me in the room next door. I notice there are tissue boxes everywhere. Thank God. I think we’ve already gone through three. As other people arrive, my heart warms to see how many people cared about my grandpa. I hug everyone, crying in their arms—even people I don’t know. I like this crying better. Everyone is full of sympathy and offers me a shoulder and a reassuring voice.

After the ceremony, we go to the cemetery. It’s torturous watching them lower the coffin into the ground. I can’t comprehend that my grandpa is in that wooden box. The Rabbi says we must help bury the casket, because it’s a sign of respect. I don’t want to be respectful if it means trapping a loved one in the cold ground forever. But I take a handful of dirt and raise it over the grave. It feels cold on my skin. I grip it tight. I think about my grandpa, and how lucky I was to know him.

He was such a wonderful person, a role model for all who knew him. I deeply believe he is somewhere—who knows where—watching over me. This thought comforts me. I hurt so much, but I know it’s the price that comes with loving someone. I don’t regret for a second loving him as much as I did. The reward of love is so great that it overshadows the loss. I slowly let go of the soil. It thuds on the coffin. I realize at the same time I’m letting go of Paw-Paw, letting him go on to whatever awaits him. With every grain of dirt that falls, a tear rolls down my eye. I know this is goodbye.

~Chelsea Watson

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