He Kept Telling Me, “Enjoy Every Moment”

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I got a text from my dad two weeks ago today that said my grandpa had gone to be with Jesus. He said he passed peacefully, moments after my grandma told him that his family was all okay and they were all there with him. She kissed him and walked out, and when she came back in, he was gone.

I didn’t cry. We had been expecting it. In August, he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer that had seeped into his bones and spread to other major organs. I happened to be in Chicago (where they live) visiting my mom when he was initially rushed to the hospital. At that time, he was not coherent, but I still said my goodbyes, not knowing if I’d get the chance again — and I didn’t. But still, my reaction was strange to me. Grief is weird like that. It just didn’t really hit me, you know?

The day after receiving that text from my dad, I was in my bed nursing my son after a particularly difficult day with him… he was just in one of those moods where he needed my constant attention. I was exhausted, but as he was nursing, I looked down at him and just couldn’t help but smile past the tiredness and adore his big blue eyes looking up at me. He was so content and peaceful in his mom’s arms. That’s when I felt it.

Some of you will probably think I’m crazy, and maybe I am (lol), but I know without a doubt my Grandpa Cleger was right there with me. I haven’t even told my husband or my dad this, mostly on account that I just don’t want to cry again, so they can just read along with you.

He told me that he loved me and to keep staring at that nursing boy with the look I was giving him. To never forget how I felt in that moment, staring with simultaneously tired and admiring eyes at my son. It’s funny to me how easy it is to take moments like that for granted, but in that moment, my grandfather reminded me to slow down and soak it in.

I wished I had had more time with him. He told me he knows he was grumpy and impatient for moments in the last years, and that he wishes he would have just let some things roll off his back and enjoy every moment.

The next morning, as I was journaling about this exchange, I felt his presence there again.

He told me, “I loved Grandma so much.” And in that moment, tears involuntarily started streaming down my face and I wrote down what I heard him telling me. “I loved watching her dance in the kitchen and I loved dancing with her.” I recalled a specific moment when visiting our family friends in Miami one summer, in their backyard, by the pool, dancing to salsa late one night after martinis and beers (of course not consumed by my Grandpa — he was a red wine only kind of guy… you know, the Jesus-approved alcohol lol). My grandpa wasn’t exactly a let-your-hair-down-and-blow-in-the-wind kind of guy, but when that salsa music came on, it transformed him into this care-free dude who would scoop my grandma for a swirl, every time.

He kept telling me, “Enjoy every moment.”

He said he finally won the lotto — that it is so beautiful where is he and he wishes I could see it. I just laughed at that. This man would play the lotto every time. And he would sit at the table in the morning as my grandma made his Cuban coffee and meticulously calculate his number choices based on gosh knows what. The first summer Chris and I were dating and he came to Boca with us, I remember he would sit with my grandpa every morning at that table, as the morning Floridian light beamed in, with their Cuban coffee, and Chris would just listen to my grandpa’s rationalizations on his lotto number calculations. “You take this day, minus this year, times how many kids you have…” I’m kidding. But it was seriously some craziness like that! I don’t think he ever actually won lol. But he told me he finally did, and that there was no pain where he was. How beautiful is that?

He told me he misses us of course, but he will be there, waiting for us.

I wished he could have met Summit. But he told me he has, and now he gets to watch him grow every single day, which is so much better than being in a completely different state.

The last thing he told me was that he felt “peace like I’ve never known.” With tears smudging the ink on my journal, my heart found contentment in knowing that.

I wish I would have had more time with him. I wish I would have asked him more questions, like… How did you and Grandma meet? What drew you to her? Who made the first move? What was your favorite place in Cuba? What do you do for fun as a kid there?

I will no doubt be asking Grandma. Our stories are all we have, and I wish I would have done a better job of listening to his. The language barrier didn’t help us, but he never let that get in the way of showing how much he loved us.

Grandpa, I will miss holding my breath and praying for my life every time you get behind the wheel. I will miss waking up early in Boca with you and Grandma, drinking Cuban coffee while everyone else is still asleep. I will miss your freight-train snoring and trying like hell not to crack up and wake you up. I will miss seeing you walk along the shore, looking for the perfect shells.

But I will love squishing my toes deep into the wet sand, staring out into endless sea, one of the places I’ve always felt closest to God, knowing that you will be right there, too.

I love you.

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