Dad and his granddaughter, Dana, November 2009. That is something very close to a smile on my father's face.
My sister's middle daughter is moving to Monterey to marry a naval aviator attending the Naval Postgraduate School there. It gave her a chance to stop by and visit her grandfather. She hasn't seen him since he entered the skilled nursing center.
He really brightened up when he saw her and the two of them kidded about the Navy (in which she served) versus the Army (my father's branch.)
She has been very close to her grandfather over the years. When she was about five years old, she and her older sister, Devon, and her mother (my sister) and her father visited the grandparents in Los Altos from their home in Colorado. When it was time for the family to return home, my father asked Devon, who was eight, if she wanted to stay for a while longer, without her parents, and Devon said she sure would. Dana, younger and shyer, hung back, holding onto her mother's leg, and it was decided she was too young to stay. So Devon stayed behind and spent about four days being pampered by her doting grandfather.
The story goes, that when Devon returned to Colorado, she regaled her sister with tales of the fun she had had, and poor Dana burst into tears. Every year after that, until they were in college, the girls spent a week or so sans parents with their grandparents, swimming in the nearby pool, barbecuing hamburger dinners, flying kites and generally having fun with the grandfather they called Pa.
I took this picture of Dana with Dad when we were all in Spokane, Washington several decades ago for my grandmother's funeral. These rites, both happy and sad, bring families together.
My father, who has never been really sure of himself with grown-ups, has always loved children, and thus, he has a special bond with his granddaughters.
Now, one of them is planning a wedding for December, and we're not sure when we will also be planning a funeral.
So it isn't any wonder that Dana got tears in her eyes when she departed from her visit with her grandfather. She said she would be coming back soon, but I saw my father watch her as she walked away.
Later that day, after I had sat and helped him eat his dinner, I wheeled him in his chair back to his room.
"Robin," he said. "I'm a mess. I'm really sick."
I nodded my head that I knew.
"I mean not sick to my stomach sick, but really sick."
I nodded my head again. This is the first time my father has said this to me. Until that moment, every time I had asked him how he was feeling he said, "I'm fine."
But, even though his mind isn't clear these days he does have moments of clarity like this one. I knew he was thinking about Dana and my sister and me and he was letting me know he was going to be leaving us.
I have accepted this, because that is all you can do. But when I kissed him goodnight I wondered, as I often do these days, if I would see him again.
And now, I know that he wonders too.