I remember the first time I saw my grandpa in the hospital bed. He looked so small and frail and weak, and I remember holding back tears as I thought to myself, “This isn’t my Opi.” This man on the bed, with the tubes coming out of his nose, couldn’t be the strong man who used to let me ride on his back and who took me to the park and who bought me ice cream. I remember I almost couldn’t look at him because if I did, I would start to tear up. It was though a stranger had replaced my Opi. He’s in a care home now, but he’s still so small and weak; I can feel his bones underneath his clothes.
I know he’s not going to live forever – in the back of my head, I always knew that. That’s part of the reason I made a point of visiting weekly for the past two years. In a way though, that almost makes it worse because it just gives me more reasons to miss him. I miss seeing him sitting in his favourite grey chair. I miss seeing him playing chess on the computer or standing behind the bar or teaching me how to play pool. I miss seeing him in his blue morning coat at breakfast and I miss him walking me to the bus stop, even when it was raining. I miss hearing his footsteps going up the stairs to bed and I miss him rolling his eyes at me about my grandma from across the dinner table.
Back in December when he was really sick, I kept thinking about him in a fancy suit, changing from his shoes to his slippers at a family celebration. He wore the hat he loved so much. One time at dinner, he told me the story of how when I was small, I wouldn’t go away when he was working until he gave me a hug. I was fighting back tears the whole time.
When I think about everything he’s been through in life – how brave he was to come from Germany to Canada to start a new life, the sacrifices he had to make, and all the hard work he had to put in – it astonishes me.
It’s certain memories about him that make me feel really sad. The way his writing looks and how it looked to see him writing. The way he looked all bundled up in his winter coat when we took him to the Christmas market. How he began walking slower and slower and eventually had to start using a cane.
It’s little memories like that. And the more memories you have of a person, the more you have to miss.