I went on a lovely family vacation this past weekend. Lakehouse, swimming, tubing, laughing.
But the most memorable moment came when I walked down to the boathouse to find my Grandpa standing at the bottom of the walkway. It looked like he was mentally preparing himself to ascend a mountain.
He had just gotten a pacemaker put in days before. I asked him what was up.
He told me he gets out of breath easily and so I held out my hand to help him up the steps. Once we made it up the first section, he thanked me and assured me he could take it from there.
“All good Gramps,” I responded. “We’ll go up together.”
We got to the deck and he took it from there since he had the handrails to balance himself. I walked back down to the dock to grab the beer I wanted and I noticed I was crying.
It wasn’t a sob. My mouth wasn’t moving. But tears streamed out of both eyes.
This was the first time I got a ‘slap in the face’ reminder of the universal truth: Our time is limited here.
A new lens
After that happened, I saw my Grandpa in a different light. I already love talking to him. He’s hilarious and one of the cleverest men I’ve ever known.
But for the rest of the weekend, I didn’t just enjoy my talks with him…I cherished them.
Every joke and story he told, I found myself uncontrollably beaming. I also looked at my calendar to find the best weekends in the coming months to drive down and visit him and my Grandma.
On top of that, I did some math.
My Grandpa turned 80 this year. Assuming he lives to be 90 years old, I have 10 more years left with him. But that’s incorrect.
On average, I see my Grandparents three times per year. Maintaining that trajectory, I don’t have 10 years left with my Grandfather…I have 30 more visits.
After this weekend, I can check off one of those boxes. 29 to go.
Is this depressing?
No. Not to me.
Talking about this shit is sad, yes. But I much prefer to be open and candid about the inevitable, rather than bury my head in the sand and pretend like death doesn’t exist.
I know people who do the latter and they tend to be the ones who shut down when the worst occurs. Not productive.
Understanding that we’re all approaching death isn’t morbid. It’s empowering.
It forces us to desire more presentness, listening, and compassion.
It invites us to say “Yes” to the things that matter more often: trips with friends, phone calls with family, playtime with kids or pets.
We can obsess over the number of checkboxes we have left with the people we love…or we can focus on the quality of each of those boxes before we check them off.
Having people we love who are alive is a gift. We get to call them, laugh with them, disagree with them, hug them, learn from them…
Even with someone we don’t particularly like—if we found out they had a month to live, we’d forgive their faults and forget our grievances with them. We’d hear what they had to say and make sure they were comfortable and cared for.
What if we did that more often with more people?
It’s up to us to enjoy the box we’re currently checking.
I’m not dreading the number of boxes I have left with my Grandpa. I’m ecstatic for the next box I get with him in a few months.