In June of 1998, we celebrated my Grandfather’s eighty-fifth Birthday. The party was held in the common room of the hospital’s palliative care unit.
He was losing a long battle with emphysema and other smoking-related problems. He had fought them for so many years, I don’t recall a time in my life when he was healthy.
I imagine he must have been in considerable pain that day, because he was heavily dosed with Morphine. There were some other visitors in the common room during the party, and Grandpa kept asking what they were doing in our campsite. Opiates must be something special.
He tired quickly after the cake was served and had to be taken to his room to lay down. At this point each of us were allowed a few minutes to “wish Grandpa a Happy Birthday” alone. The grand children went first, and I was sent in with my thirteen year old sister.
In retrospect, I knew full-well that we weren’t supposed to be saying “Happy Birthday”, we were supposed to be saying “goodbye”. But on that day I didn’t want to believe it. My sister and I wished him a Happy Birthday, gave him a hug, and turned to leave. He was suddenly lucid.
“You’re leaving already?” To me, specifically. Not my sister.
We told him we had to get back to the party. He paused, looked me in the eyes, smiled and nodded.
He had gone into palliative care, rallied, and been released before. He could do it again. Why would this time be any different?
This time was different. He passed away two days later.
I wish I had listened to my gut and taken my sister out of the room and then gone back in on my own. I wish I had told him how much he had meant to me, how he had taught me what true strength and integrity were. How he showed me what it meant to be a good man. But I didn’t. I just left.
This is in my thoughts as I sit on my bedroom floor and hold his World War II medals in my hands. I keep them in a box in my bedside drawer, mixed with various other trinkets from my past. Most of this stuff is just that: stuff. I pause, reflect on what memory it holds for me, and then, for most items, I place them onto a pile to be thrown away.
I’m at the tail end of a major year-end purge. We’ve donated or thrown away a dozen or so large garbage bags of “stuff” since Christmas. Kids toys, books, clothes, junk.
These medals are staying in my drawer, though. I will likely give them to my son when he is old enough to appreciate them.
However, I will let go of my regrets today. They don’t belong with Medals of Honour. Instead, they will be the company of good memories of a great man, as they are intended to be.
As we move forward into a new year, it is a good time to take stock of both our possessions and our thoughts. To pause, to reflect, to let go and to move on.
Happy New Year,