Today is Pops’ birthday.
A year ago, I met my mom and him at Chili’s for his birthday. He had his usual order of Chicken Crispers, and I’m pretty sure he also had a salad with mayo. He loved salad with mayo. I could barely watch him eat it. We had dessert. We chatted about his recent visit to see his brother in California, and what was going on with us. At the end of the night, I forced the three of us to take a selfie outside the restaurant.
I am so glad I did.
I had no idea it would be his last birthday.
How could I? Pops was healthy! He was more active than me most days. He was a regular at the gym, kept up with his six-year-old great-granddaughter, and was still doing light construction when he could.
It makes no sense that he’s not with us anymore. All I want is to meet up with him at Chili’s, tease him about putting mayo on salad, and listen to him talk about Grandma.
Last weekend, I drove past the cemetery where now both my grandparents have been laid to rest. It’s a weird feeling, knowing both of them are there and not puttering around in their home.
It still feels surreal that he’s gone forever, that I can’t visit him or see his smile or hear that thick Boston accent of his. I still can’t get his last few days out of my head; they play in flashbacks as I try to fall asleep at night. The hospital room, the cardiac monitors, the look in his eyes right before everything happened. I remember all the discussions we had with his medical team and how we had no idea what was waiting for us at the end of his hospital stay. I remember crying so hard my ribs hurt at his funeral.
I badly wish I could forgot those last few weeks. I’d like them wiped from my memory. I want to stop the loop that plays over and over again in my head.
But I can’t forget and I can’t wipe my memory clean. And I wouldn’t have changed anything other than the final outcome. I wouldn’t have changed every last moment I got with Pops. I wouldn’t have changed being there for my mom as she had to process what was happening in real time.
I take a lot of comfort in heaven when death happens. Maybe you don’t believe in it, and that’s okay, but I need to believe in heaven. I need to believe I will see Pops again, and he will be whole and healthy and alive and happy. I need to believe that when Pops left us on earth, he was reunited with Grandma and the two of them are living a life beyond compare in heaven.
Because as deep as my grief is, I feel nothing but peace and joy when I think about Grandma and Pops being united again. They were always meant to be together, and for 50 years, they were. They were each other’s companion. They were fiercely devoted to each other and no one else.
When Pops was originally admitted to the hospital, I found out that he has carried Grandma’s license in his wallet since her death. I’m not sure how I found this out; maybe we were rummaging through his wallet to find his insurance info or an appointment card. But it melted my heart. It’s the silliest thing, a license, yet to him, it was a treasure because it was hers. He didn’t want to let anything of hers go, not even this.
Not to mention, anybody who met Pops after Grandma passed away knew all about her. It was even on the white board in his hospital room, underneath the important notes section. “Barbara was the love of his life.” He talked about Grandma constantly, and everyone who knew him knew how important she was to him.
Just typing the words “Pops’ death” makes my heart catch in my throat. I still can’t believe those two words go together. They don’t belong next to each other. And yet, there they are.
Sometimes, my grief feels insurmountable. Like, I can’t catch my breath because the ache inside me is so vast that my lungs can’t fill to capacity. It feels as if there’s this yawning chasm of pain that is always on my periphery, and it’s so big and so dense that it has the ability to bring me to my knees on a daily basis. I try to forget it’s there, but then it pushes its way into my thoughts and I can’t do anything but cry and remember how deep this loss is. In three short years, my family lost both our matriarch and our patriarch, and it doesn’t feel like the world should keep spinning after that.
Last weekend, I had a dream that Pops visited the family to check in with us. In my dream, I knew he was dead but he wanted to see how we were doing. It’s such a Pops thing to do, honestly, and I was so happy to see him and talk to him. It’s the first dream I’ve had of him since his death where we were able to interact; in all other dreams, I would talk to him and he wouldn’t answer me, and it was completely devastating. I woke up from that dream sad but also delighted. I’ll miss Pops desperately forever, but I’m glad he can visit me in my dreams when I need him.