How do you miss a hand you never held to cross a street? How do you remember a voice you never heard? How do you recall a memory you never made?
“Boys, this is a song Grandpa Carl really liked,” I say to my three and a half year old and my 21-month-old sons as I turn up the radio. The older one simply says “I like this song too” after listening to it for a few minutes. The song was Paul McCartney's “Simply having a wonderful Christmas time” and it is a song my dad had put on a loop on a mixed tape he made in the late eighties. It didn't matter what song it was, if I said Grandpa Carl loved it they would say they loved it too.
My father died six days after my sixteenth birthday which meant he never met my husband or my children. When my children were born I didn't know how I was going to bring my father to life for them. I struggled with how I was going to connect my kids to someone who had left this world 15 years before they entered it.
The words “death” and “heaven” have been a part of my children's vocabulary from the time they learned how to speak. I never sugar coated it for them because I wanted to weave my father into their lives somehow and how could I do it without broaching the subject of death? When my oldest was barely four we saw a cemetery and we talked about our belief that when you die you leave your body behind and your spirit goes to heaven. I wasn't sure how that would go over, but he seemed to get it. We talked about how our love and good memories move on while the rest stays behind. So Grandpa Carl is still connected to us through his love, because he is still holding on to it. He easily accepted this explanation while most adults would question it. If Grandpa Carl was going to be in their lives, all of this had to be discussed sooner rather than later. They knew about death before they ever buried a pet fish.
They already know so much about him. They know he liked playing the piano, baseball, college football, cooking, The Beatles, traveling, boating, skiing, parties, and fast convertibles. They have learned this through my memories and not through their experiences with him. They knew that he lived every day to the fullest and enjoyed being around people.
I feel like the stories that I am handing down to them are creating a sort of legend of Grandpa Carl. He is someone they can imagine, but cannot hug. They can still sit in the driver's seat of his 1972 red MGB, but they won't be able to watch him drive it with his hair blowing in the wind and a smile on his face as he presses the accelerator. They can see pictures of him, but they will never be in a picture with him.
Creating a connection between a grandfather and his grandchildren where death can be considered an impasse has been a true work of art. It has taken alot of creative energy and emotion but in the end I can stand back and see that they are all painted together. I know he is more than just a legend to them. He's Grandpa Carl.