“When I was your age, my grandfather was in the hospital and my grandmother called me. She said he wanted to see me. But I was young and selfish and stubborn, and I only went a couple of times. I could’ve gone every weekend.” My boss paused and took a breath. It was the last week of February, and I was sitting in his office, torn between staying and resigning. “I barely got to say goodbye to him before he died.”
At twenty-four years old, I had just graduated with my masters and was helping my sister plan her wedding. I lived in Tennessee, had a job I enjoyed, a new volunteer position at my church, and lots of friends nearby.
And my grandfather was dying of stomach cancer.
Except for his stint in the army (and subsequent year in the hospital), my grandpa lived his entire life in New York State. Although I was born in the same town, my family moved when I was five, and so I lived most of my life a 1,240 miles away.
Every year, my family would drive the twenty-two hours to visit our extended family. We stayed at his house during those two weeks, and that was the only time my siblings and I had to get to know him. Of my surviving grandparents (my grandma, his wife, died when I was four), he was the one I knew the least.
For a long time, my grandfather needed twenty-four hour care. He was adamant that he would not leave his home; the house which he bought over fifty years earlier, where he and my grandma raised their four children. So that left the option of having someone live with him. However, none of his children could leave their jobs and put their lives on hold indefinitely to live with him.
At the time my grandpa’s tumor was first diagnosed in 2010, I was still in college. I never thought he would make it until I graduated. I forgot to take into account his stubbornness. Five years later, he was still holding on. But as his situation became more and more precarious, my dad called and asked me, would I go?
And so it was that I found myself in my boss’s office that morning in February with a decision to make.
“You should absolutely go,” my boss said. “I wish I had spent more time with my grandfather while he was alive. It’s one of my greatest regrets.”
Everyone; my church, my friends, and my coworkers agreed. Go.
So the first week of March found me on a plane back to my birth state.
I got to spend those weeks with my grandfather — talking with him, making his dinner, taking him to doctor’s appointments, and just sitting with him while he napped. I took him to the casino (that’s a post in itself), played together cards after dinner, and I washed his laundry. On rare occasions, I even got him to tell me stories about my grandma.
It wasn’t glamorous, or exciting, or adventurous. But I got to know him, and he got to know me.
Yes, I lost eight weeks of paychecks. I missed out on time with my friends and my church family. I had to deal with the snow for six long, freezing-cold weeks (why do humans live that far north, anyway?). But looking back, those things were miniscule in comparison to what I gained.
I got to show him that I loved him.
Not everyone can drop everything and take care of their grandparent. But when I hear about 20-somethings who feel like they are working dead-end jobs, or can’t find a job, or are struggling to get their footing after college, I wonder if they’ve thought about giving some of this time to just being with their grandparents. It sounds crazy. Impractical, I know. Put your life on hold, in the prime of life, to live with an elderly person?
Yet so many people I talked to kept saying the same thing: “I wish I had done that. I was too worried about my own interests in my twenties.” “Life is short. Those things can wait.”
When he passed away, I knew I had done everything I could. I was able to remember him without guilt, no “if-onlys.” I was at peace.
“You won’t regret it,” they said. They were right.