After 67 years, 8 children and 12 grandchildren, my beloved father in law passed on the 4th of July after a year long battle with emphysema and cancer.
Interesting how we have been expecting it but it still seems so sudden.
As a fairly new mother, my challenge was in what to tell the children. Grandpa was the only grandparent they were really close to. He would drive the four hour trip to come see them more often than their grandmother would drive across the street. A sad reality, but true.
So as I packed our bags, just having received the call from my Mother in law that the hospice nurse said the end was near, and wondered what to tell my 3 and 2 year old. They were attached to grandpa when we visited, talking his ear off and showing him all of their new “tricks”.
My husband had told them that grandpa was sick. So during our nightly prayers, Katie especially, would say “Grandpa’s sick. His body hurts.” And then she would ask “What did he eat?” I smiled at her innocence, kissed her and replied “He didn’t eat anything, honey, his body is just tired.”
To this she would respond “He’ll go to the Doctor Mommy.”
Yes, baby, if only it would help.
After canceling my husband’s surprise birthday party, packing for an unknown amount of time, and watching a torrential rainstorm fall from the tail of Hurricane Alex, I took a deep breath and readied for the four hour, long, rainy trip to see Grandpa. Possibly for the last time. My husband drove with determined sadness as we darted flood waters and stalled cars to get out of town.
It took a while longer to leave Houston for Louisiana, but we made it and took a collective sigh of relief. But after hitting emergency road repair half way there and being stuck on the freeway for an hour and 45 minutes, we were concerned that our three very little kids would be insane as our four hour trip turned into six and a half. I don’t know if the children sensed that this was a tough time, or if it was the Grace of God, but after all of that time strapped in a car seat, eating junk food and dozing in and out of sleep, we all got there with barely a peep from the kids.
As we entered the house, we asked the children if they wanted to go see Grandpa. Sarah did but Katie, to our surprise, did not. My husband took Sarah to see Grandpa and quickly returned. He said she kissed Grandpa and wanted to leave. She did not ask the rest of the 3 day trip where he was or if she could see him. Katie had no interest and played in her cousin’s room pretty much the whole time.
As a Mom I didn’t know what to do. Common knowledge told me to leave her alone and not push her to see Grandpa. But I felt for her. I felt she feared being there and wanted to fold her protectively in my arms and tell her how much we all loved her. But she seemed to find comfort in play and hiding.
At 1:20 am on the 4th, my Mother in law woke us and told us that he had left us. We all went rushing in to see him. He was gone and was finally, at peace. He was not struggling for breath, coughing or trying to get comfortable in bed. He was truly at peace.
Again God stepped in and kept our children asleep while everyone cried and prayed. How they slept through the funeral home arriving, relatives coming to the house at 3am and all of the activity, I’ll never know. But it was a blessing as they did not need to see it and we couldn’t have dealt with them anyway.
So as we all prayed Our Father around my husband’s father, watched the funeral home prepare him for departure and held each other tight, I thought of my children waking up tomorrow with no Grandpa. I thought they might feel the loss and that pain resonated through me. No one wants their children to hurt.
The next morning, after we all got about an hour of sleep, the kids woke happy and innocent as always.
Perplexedly, Katie came to me and asked where her Grandpa was for the first time the entire trip. I told her that he went to live in Heaven with Jesus. She said “OK” and ran off to go play in her cousin’s room. Sarah never asked. Not until we were all in the car for the ride home later that day.
We told her “Grandpa was in heaven with Jesus.”
She nodded and said “Oh.”
Katie said “I think I’ll color him a picture and send it to him.”
My husband and I met eyes both finally understanding that kids are more resilient than we are and that they don’t need to be know every detail as we do. Just the important ones.
Like no matter where someone is, they are always available to receive mail.
Rest in Peace Samuel David Pace, Sr. But check your mailbox… often…