I visited my Opa in the hospital for the last time tonight. He’s expected to pass away in the next day or two, and I was worried that if I waited any longer, I’d miss the chance to say goodbye.
He’s almost completely deaf now and can’t speak because his mouth is so dry; he hasn’t had a sip of water in a week, just liquid through an IV. I held his hand and went through a few tissues from a little pack my mother brought back with her from Japan. I couldn’t tell if he even felt me there.
When I left, I leaned over him, placing my hand on his chest. His eyes opened enough for us to make eye contact. I knew he couldn’t hear, but I said it anyways.
I love you.
I saw something soften in his eyes, a subtle recognition of the words.
My Opa has always been a distant grandfather; he doesn’t seem to like people and spends most of his time holed up in his office, reading books and exploring faraway places on his computer. He can speak six languages (English, Estonian, German, Russian, Spanish, Finnish) and has the talent to paint beautiful landscapes, but never chose to share his gifts with the world.
He was afraid of connection.
My Opa has never told me he loves me. He’s avoided the important events in my life, and his daughter’s life. I remember the first time he hugged me; his embrace felt rusted over, as if he hadn’t moved his arms in that formation for years.
When my Oma’s dementia set in a couple of years ago, something in my Opa changed. He would call my mother, just to ask her about her day. His hugs came from well-oiled hinges, they lingered and meant more than social expectation. He didn’t change completely, but he did change.
There are three things I’ve learned most from my Opa’s life.
1. You need connection, and to share you talents with others. I often imagine what my Opa could have done with his paintings and his multilingual skills. He could have touched so many lives.
2. It’s never too late to change, no matter how old and stubborn a lifestyle or habit may be. You just have to want it enough.
3. You cannot control who will tell you they love you and who will keep silent. It is not in your hands who will come see you perform in a musical or show up to the wedding. But you can control who you will say those three words to, and you should say them when you feel them and while you can. You can only invite, with no expectations of the person showing up.
Maybe it was just me, in a kind of naive hopefulness, but I swear I saw a look in my Opa’s eyes that showed me he knew what I’d said. I love you. And maybe, just maybe, he was saying it back the only way he could.
- Julia, Synonyms for Optimism, 4/16/14.
Thank you, Lauren! You are the loveliest. zimmyzim and her blog are amazing & hilarious.
Actually 100% in friend-like and girl-crush-like with Julia.
And she’s going on a crazy and exciting adventure. And I’m so excited for her and you should all go give her a hug.