Two days before my grandfather passed away, he asked me a question.
I was sitting next to his bed in the room at the rehabilitation facility where he’d been for the past two weeks; he’d taken a bad turn while fending for himself while my grandmother was recovering from hip replacement surgery.
The room was a nice one; somehow he’d lucked into the king’s suite at the end of the hall, wrapped around the corner of the building with large windows looking out over a tree-lined lawn that ran up to the road several yards away. You could sit in that room and watch people drive, bike, run, and walk by all day long, and if you shut the door to block out the noise of the nurse’s station with all its’ alarms and ringing phones, you’d almost forget where you were.
That’s precisely what we were doing, he in his bed and I in a chair with my feet propped up on the sill of the window. A nurse had asked ten minutes earlier if he would like some ice cream, and his eyes had lit up as he replied “Oh yeah…”, so now he was happily digging into a cup of vanilla; his favorite flavor.
I felt myself drifting off to sleep in my chair (it had been an incredibly long couple of weeks), totally at peace beside one of my favorite men in the world, when he asked me the question I’ll never forget. Over my shoulder I heard: “Are you going to be okay, Meggy?”
He didn’t always call me by that nickname, but when he did, my heart would always melt. I hated hearing it out of the mouth of just about anyone else, because most people made it sound patronizing – “Megeeeee” – like they were talking to a little child who was a bit slow. But that’s not how he said it, so he was the only one in the world who I didn’t correct.
“Okay?” I replied, both startled by the question and more than just a little unclear about what he meant. Turning around, I was somewhat startled by the look in his eyes as I found him staring back at me. It was an all-knowing look, as though he were looking at me and right through me all at the same time, and for reasons I didn’t understand I felt goosebumps prickle over my skin in response.
“Yeah…are you going to be okay?”
Somehow, abruptly, I realized what he was asking me; the meaning spreading through me the way a wave spreads over a patch of sand on the beach. And it filled me with sadness to understand he was asking if I would be alright after he was gone. Sadness…and guilt, knowing I was the one of all his children and grandchildren who’d given the most cause for worry on that account.
In the blink of an eye I recalled how he’d come immediately to my side after I’d entered the Hazelden-Springbrook rehab facility for my thirty days of in-patient detox and treatment from opioid pill addiction. Every Sunday, when visitors were allowed, he’d been there, dressed in his best with his hat matching his jacket and his jacket matching his tie and his tie matching his shoes, commenting on how good the food was in the dining hall. And the one Sunday he’d not been well enough for the drive, he’d sent a letter with my grandmother to let me know how sorry he was to have missed it.
I recalled how he’d welcomed me into his home when the courts had briefly forbidden me from going home as they tried to determine whether or not my mother needed to be protected as my ‘victim’ as the prescriptions I’d been abusing had been written in her name. It had taken ten days, several appeals by my mother, one long letter by my father to the judge ruling in the matter, and a court appearance to clear things up and let me go home, and until then, grandpa had made me bologna sandwiches every day for lunch and offered to make french toast every night (I only accepted that offer once, as I could tell grandma understandably wasn’t thrilled by the idea of French Toast ten nights in a row).
I’d struggled in ways no other member of our family had ever struggled, handed a felonious criminal record that I wouldn’t be able to shake for many years to come. And I was embarrassed by it all, and horrifically ashamed too. But he never made me feel unloved.
All of that flashed through my mind as I looked at him, in the blink of an eye, and then I nodded my head slowly up and down. “Yes, grandpa…I’m going to be okay.” I spoke slowly…carefully…with reverence, knowing I was in a sense making a promise as much as I was reassuring him.
And my answer seemed to be all he needed, because the look faded from his eyes and he returned to his ice cream with a nod and a simple “Good”.
He died two days later, on a Thursday morning in May.
I’ve often thought about that moment since then. I thought about it when life came crashing down and I ended up facing the courts a second time. I thought about it during the brief period of time I was in jail; sobbing as I pictured his face and felt I’d let him down. I thought about it every single time Randall would treat me badly and I’d allow it; seeing his kind blue eyes and hearing his voice – “I love you, Meggy…please be okay” – and feeling deep shame.
Ultimately as I sit here today, on the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend reflecting, I have to admit I honestly have no idea what he would think of me now, knowing what’s happened and the turns my life has taken since I made him that promise.
On my bad days, I imagine him absolutely hating me for the stress and worry and financial strain I’ve put on the family because of the fallout of everything that happened due to my mistakes, vices, weaknesses, and poor choices. I imagine him telling me how disappointed he is that I caused so much stress and worry for my grandmother in these last years of her life; the woman he adored and called his wife for over fifty years.
On my better days, I like to imagine it isn’t quite so bad. I like to think perhaps from his position above us all he can see into my heart, and see I never meant to cause so much pain, and therefore at the worst feels incredible sorrow and compassion for what’s happened.
But I don’t know.
Some nights he comes to me in my dreams. On my first night in jail, laying on a hard slab of a bed, shut away in a tiny little box and fighting back feelings of claustrophobia, when I thought surely I couldn’t keep going any more, I had a dream where he walked up and stood before me even as I was feeling pressed flat into the floor. I remember looking up at him, sobbing and telling him I couldn’t do it any more, even as he extended me his hand and said, simply: “Get up, Meghann.” And I remember other dreams, when I was in the middle of my relationship with Randall and things had become extremely ugly, where I’d be crying and calling out in the dark, and he’d come to me and hold me tight in his arms, rocking me back and forth and whispering in my ear how much he loved me.
I’d like to think that means he doesn’t hate me, but who knows? It could also just be the delusions of a desperate subconscious. I suppose that’s a question I simply won’t have an answer to until the day comes to meet my maker.
Until then, all I’m left with are memories. Hundreds of beautiful memories…and one memory that brings me sorrow.
I’m sorry, grandpa; I’m so, so sorry for letting you down thus far with my choices. I’m sorry things took such an awful turn. But I hope it’s not too late for me to turn things around, and ultimately end up okay.
He died on a Thursday in May, and ultimately we had our service for him on the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend; so I have extra reasons to think about him beyond the usual on this particular holiday weekend. And it isn’t just him I’m thinking of today either; I’m
also unsurprisingly thinking a lot about the concept of regret, but also about unconditional love and the unique bonds that exist between ourselves and certain people in our lives.
I’d like to think that those who love us in that special, unique way also understand that we are fallible human beings, and that even as we are pretty much guaranteed to make mistakes, we are also redeemable on the other side of our mistakes too. That’s certainly how I view many of the people in my life……so it’s not impossible to imagine that there are others who view me that way too.
I’m hoping I haven’t let him down yet. I’m hoping that – God willing – I have many, many years left to make everything right. And the same is true for anyone else out there who has been struggling and feelings like the odds are stacked against them ever succeeding. Barring some unforeseen event, generally speaking the sun will come up tomorrow, and for many tomorrows after that; so it’s not too late. It’s never too late. Not for me, and not for anyone else. It’ll be alright. You’ve got this, you really do. And so do I. It’s taken me a while…but at last, finally, things are looking up, and while I have absolutely no doubt I’ll make mistakes again – I haven’t stopped being human – overall I feel how strong I am, and how capable I am of absorbing mistakes now; learning from them, and continuing to move forward. That is the gift life offers us at the end of a long line of bad decisions and devastating mistakes, if we’re open to receiving it.
So for the first time in several years, I again feel like I can say this with confidence: Yes, grandpa…I’ll be okay.
Meghann Andreassen is a businesswoman, investor, author, and personal success coach who contributes to this and other blogs on a regular basis. All people with inquiries, questions, and feedback can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: Names and other personal identifying information of some individuals referenced throughout this blog have been changed to protect their identities.