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Saturday, September 19, 2015

moments of impact

It's funny how certain moments can become so engrained in your memory; how time can pass, yet you can still remember where you were, what you were doing, what you were wearing when something happened.... in fact it's almost scary how moments of impact can become apart of your psyche. Some memories just stick.  

I remember everything when I first cried. We were living in Fredericksburg and I was four, wearing a pink silk nightgown; my favorite one with little roses at the neck. It was 3am, I was painfully sick and couldn't sleep so mom stayed up with me and put on Beauty and the Beast. I cried when the Beast died because I remember something hurting inside. 

I remember everything when I heard I was an aunt for the first time. We were living in Lexington and I was 13, wearing plaid shorts and a brown shirt. My hair was red from henna. It was raining and we got the phone call that Liam was born. Such exuberance ignited in my heart in that moment. I could hardly breathe from excitement.

I remember the day I got my first job.

I remember my first day in France. 

I remember everything when I heard my grandfather had died.

I don't want to remember that so well.... I don't want to remember it at all. 

I was staying in Staunton with my parents and I was 21, wearing pajamas and watching TV, but I wasn't paying attention. My makeup was still on... I was putting off going to sleep. Mom came home from the assisted living home to pack a night bag because she thought this was it. I asked if she wanted me to go, half desperate to be there with her, half dreading the thought and wanting to resist the reality by staying home and watching TV. She said no... she knew. She understood. And with packed bags she left. 

A movie was playing, I don't remember what because I was staring. Staring through the screen. Was
 trying so frantically to think about anything but him. Yet no matter how hard I tried, every image on the screen morphed into my Pop-Pop. Then my phone buzzed. 

He's gone... 

Nothing prepares you for that. No matter how many times you tell yourself the reality.. the truth of what's coming.. it never hits until it happens. It's never truth until...it's true. And no amount of words or preparation can protect your heart from the throb that ensues... your ribs from the tightness that clenches... your lungs from the lack of oxygen... your eyes from the excess of fluid... your throat from the foreign sound of anguish slowly escaping in erratic tremors. 

It's been four months since Dr. William Elgin Harman passed away. I haven't written about it because I haven't wanted to revisit this. I thought perhaps my mourning had just passed by quickly.. that I had processed everything already and was fine. But I didn't process anything, I just shoved it down, swallowed it. I didn't realize it was still there until I saw a video of him. Christmas morning, everyone opening presents. I was traipsing around in a red Christmas dress, wild hair tumbling behind me. I was crazy - loud, boisterous, giggling and hanging on everyones arms.

And he just sat there. And he just watched. He was silent... and he saw everything - unlike me and my flailing arms. I don't even really remember that morning, probably because of my obnoxious ebullience. I saw myself opening a present from my brother Matt; a white Beanie Babies cat named Crystal. I still have her, and loved her from the moment my hands grazed her soft, white fur. Oh I was all thrill, running to and fro showing everyone my cat. Everyone laughed.. of course I liked the stuffed animal, of course I was acting like a 5 year old would. They would glance at the cat, "Oh that's so nice. That's so cute Sarah." But Pop-Pop.

Oh Pop-Pop. How could I not remember the way he looked at me?
"Look, Pop-Pop, look."
When I showed him that cat, when I watched him as a 21 year old woman through a screen of family videos... he really looked at that cat. And he really looked at me. Like it mattered.  Like it really mattered. Not that this was a game, but something so special, and so precious... and he really saw me. And yet I whisked off, youth that I was with avid buoyancy. What I wouldn't give to go back to that moment and wrap my arms around that neck just for his one look at me and my cat. What I wouldn't give.

I know that it is customary for people to be remembered for their accomplishments after passing. So while my grandfather has many praises to be said about him, as duly and respectably noted in his obituary, perhaps it sounds odd that I will not mention any of those. But they don't necessarily come to mind when I think of him.

I remember kind eyes. You've seen those before, haven't you? Not the kind that pierce your soul or grip you with intensity. They're the kind that cascade over you with gentle warmth. Like smooth velvet they drape you in unassuming compassion and put you at ease. I see them now, faded grey-blue, wreathed by winkled skin. I remember soft, almost hesitant hands. Ones that gripped you with strength upon first meeting, but that held or patted you with silent reassurance.  I remember his tender chuckling that was never abasing. I remember morning, the smell of blueberry pancakes, hot coffee and the sound of his hushed slippers shuffling into the kitchen. I remember story-telling, animated faces, side-splitting voices and distant, misty gazes when speaking of the war. I remember the love of nature, the smell of lake water, love of fish, love of simple. I remember chewy gingersnap cookies, Virginia peanuts and green peas. I remember flannel shirts and an old floppy hat. I remember binoculars looking at a TV. I remember a corner chair in room with orange carpet.

That chair is empty now.

Somehow these memories all created this wonderful grandfather I knew. I miss him, yes. I realize I won't ever hear his laugh again, hold those hesitant hands, see those kind eyes. But I think what hurts the most is being afraid that I'll forget all those little details. You see, those details would flood my mind every time I was with Pop-Pop. They were like the caulking of an old brick house that held it together, that made it known. But they don't come to mind anymore... because he's not here to bring them to mind. And forgetting those little details feels like forgetting him, forgetting the way he looked at me on Christmas morning. They're moments of impact, and ironically I didn't want to remember all of them because they hurt.

All I can say is I appreciate them now... I appreciate the hurt, because regardless of missing him, I remember it all... and remembering it actually heals. I learned many things from Pop-Pop, but he saved his best lesson until after he passed away.

He taught me what it meant to miss somebody. And I will always remember that.



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