From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2

The Sweater

It was too late when I realized I’d made a mistake. I’d been so blinded by my own grief at the rapid decline and death of my father that I hadn’t thought through how his death would affect my daughter.

For months, Dad had been complaining of pain in his shoulder, “a pinched nerve”—or so we thought. When he fell ill on vacation and was diagnosed with progressive, primary prostate cancer, we were all shocked.

My dad was one of those special people who was born with a twinkle in his eye. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t think the world of him. Little children, especially, were drawn to him like candy. He would clasp his hands together and grin with such joy that kids would come running. During a visit with my sister in Ireland, he taught the village children how to play American football. The Irish children would often come by in the evenings to ask, “Can Grandpa come out and play?”

So it was no surprise that he was especially close to my five-year-old daughter, Jodi, the last of his grandchildren to reside near him in the United States. They would giggle and laugh together for hours, making up stories and feeding pretend animals in the backyard.

By the time they found Dad’s cancer, it had spread to his bones and things went quickly. When we went to visit him, Jodi sat quietly next to the bed, pretending to read from a book to him—there were no more boisterous games. I had explained to her that Grandpa was very sick and that he couldn’t play like he used to, but it was hard for her five-year-old mind to comprehend.

Toward the end, I didn’t take Jodi along, because I didn’t want her to be frightened by Dad’s gaunt frame and the look of pain and suffering on the face of the vital man we all adored.

After he died, I didn’t know if Jodi understood the finality of death, or if she just thought that Grandpa was out of town, “on vacation.” But as the weeks went by, she became very quiet and withdrawn, crying frequently at things I thought odd.

One evening, I sat with her on my lap and gently stroked her hair.

“You seem very sad, Pumpkin,” I said. “Can you tell me what’s wrong?”

She was silent for a few moments and then broke into sobs.

“I didn’t get to say good-bye to Grandpa,” she said.

That’s when I realized that in my well-meaning way, I’d made a mistake.

Through a haze of mutual tears, we sat and rocked, and talked about Grandpa and all the wonderful times we’d had with him.

“Would you like to say good-bye to Grandpa now?” I asked.

She looked at me as if I were a little strange.

“Close your eyes. Now picture Grandpa’s face right in front of you. When he smiles, you can talk to him.”

Suddenly she got a huge grin on her face. “He’s smiling so big at me!”

“Then tell him whatever you want to tell him.”

“Grandpa,” she said, “I love you and I miss you so much. I want to say good-bye for now. Good-bye, Grandpa.”

Then I remembered the gifts I’d taken for myself when my mother packed my father’s clothes away. I had asked her for a couple of his old cozy sweaters that he loved to hang around in on the weekends. I went and got the two blue sweaters and offered one to Jodi.

“These are special sweaters of Grandpa’s. If we are sad or missing him, we can put them on and feel as though he is hugging us.”

We both wept again as we each pulled one over our heads. Then I held her as she gently drifted off to sleep. For the first time in weeks, she seemed at peace, a slight smile on her face.

Both sweaters were well used over the years. Frequently if Jodi was having a hard time, she retreated to her room. When I checked on her later, usually I’d find her stretched out on her bed with Grandpa’s old blue sweater wrapped around her—sleeping peacefully with just the slightest hint of a smile on her face.

Jodi is eighteen now and still loves to wear Grandpa’s sweater. Somehow, it always fits perfectly. You see, it’s the size of a hug.

Pamela Albee

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