Dying, chess, and grapes

My cousin, shortly before I checkmated him.

I spent this weekend at the lake house. My grandparents were supposed to be there, but my grandpa was in the hospital.

He had a mini-stroke two weekends ago, got let out the next afternoon, then had to go back the following day because something was wrong with his liver.

Him being 81, none of this was shocking. But it was deeply troubling.

Since they couldn’t come to the lake, I left early Sunday morning to stop by Norfolk and see them on my way home. I’m so glad I did.

How many visits left?

Lake Gaston, 2020.

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a blog about the finite amount of time we have with people. The example I used was my grandfather.

Assuming someone lives to be 90, and assuming we maintain a relationship with them, how much time left do we have left with that person?

Well, we simply subtract their age from 90. Then, we multiply that by the average number of times we see them a year.

I see my mom once or twice each week. She’s 58. So that’s about 2496 more dinners and walks with her.

My family in Wisconsin and I see each other once a year or so. They’re in their late forties. So that’s roughly 42 more weekends at the lake with them.

I see my gramps about three times a year. He’s 81. So I have about 26 visits left.

Grapes and tuna fish sandwiches

A plate of grapes sitting on a dining table

When I got to my grandparents’ place yesterday, my grandpa was in the shower after just getting home from the hospital. Grandma made me lunch and we sat chatting at their dining table.

When my grandpa came out, he sat down next to me and held out his left hand. The stroke made him unable to use his right. I focused intently on him. He was visibly frustrated. Who wouldn’t be after losing their functionality?

“Dotty, he signaled to my grandma. “Help me put in my hearing aids, just in case Dillan says anything worth listening to.”

We all burst into laughter.

It was a gorgeous day outside, so we set up the balcony chairs and sat overlooking the bay next to their apartment. Grandma made tuna fish sandwiches and got us a big bowl of grapes.

For 30 minutes, it was just me and grandpa out there talking about business, travel, and science. I always try to ask him questions about his past, his experiences around the world, and his fondest memories. It’s always a hoot to hear him tell stories about my dad and aunts when they were growing up.

Grandma eventually joined us and we just sat out there talking. I don’t even remember what we were discussing. It didn’t matter.

The only thing that mattered was I was there and we were happy.

Memento mori

That’s Latin for “remember that you’ll die one day.” It’s a reminder we could all use on a daily basis.

Many people shy away from any conversation about death and dying. Depending on peoples’ experiences, this can be a rigorous topic. It can come off as morbid and depressing.

But I think burying our heads in the sand when it comes to death is one of the most damaging and unhealthy things we could do. Meanwhile, shedding light on it and speaking about it openly brings with it so much opportunity.

Here are two reasons why.

1) It softens the blow.

My grandpa will pass one day. It’s possible that that happens before I get all 26 of my remaining visits with him. When that happens, I’ll be devastated.

But I won’t be crippled by it. I won’t collapse. I’ll look back with gratitude that I got to have conversations with him about Brooklyn on his balcony while eating grapes.

2) It makes it easier to be present and grateful.

When someone truly understands the simple fact that none of this will last forever…the only option is to be mindful and appreciative of all that they have.

How can I get into a comment war with someone…How can I get pissed at a server…How can I ghost a friend who’s texting me…when I know that I and everyone I’ve ever known will be dead one day?

It’s things like my grandpa being in the hospital that really wake me up. They remind me. Hey, don’t forget.

I’ve returned from this trip with renewed energy. I feel so lucky that I’m young and that all my friends and family members are alive and healthy. I get to do work that fulfills me. I get to meet beautiful women. I get to travel. I get to.

Every phone call. Every bit of quality time with people I love. They feel ten times as impactful.

I’m paying attention. I’ve been reminded. Thanks, gramps.

Son, father, grandfather—2013.