The week we’re just finishing brings up an odd load of emotions every year. I know I’m not the only one who feels it – it’s obvious my parents and brothers feel it too. I can tell by the way we ritualistically sit around the table and tell the same familiar stories – but laugh as though it’s the first time we’ve heard them. My baby brother will randomly whistle in a twangy, sweet vibrato and an unacknowledged silence will occasionally fill the room as we swallow down the sadness that somehow creeped into our throats.
Five years ago my husband and I were waiting for the phone to ring. We had been matched with a birth mother who was due to have her baby any day. She had anticipated the baby would come early, which hadn’t happened, so every twenty-four hours that passed felt like an eternity. Try as I might to find words to explain the anticipation, fear and excitement that fills your heart while waiting for the possibility of being a parent again – totally elude me. Our future was being held in the hands of a stranger – a woman who was working to find the strength to sacrifice her own happiness and ultimately contribute to ours. It is the most bizarre feeling; a constant bitter-sweet tang on the heart.
One morning as I was getting ready for the work, the phone rang. I sucked in a rush of air, had an intense, silent conversation with my husband, and answered the receiver. The voice that met me was not of our social worker, but rather my mother, who told me my grandfather had left the world in his sleep the evening before.
My grandpa was one of those men everyone felt they had a special relationship with – and probably because they did. He had a gift of letting you know you had a place in his life different from those around you and while I have a bucket full of cherished memories of being the eldest (and very spoiled) grandchild on my grandparent’s magical farmyard – it’s the years I spent with him in my twenties that have left the mark on my heart.
When my husband and I embarked on our grown-up life, we were living in a place a long ways from anywhere. The closest family to us were my grandparents. Alzheimers was claiming my grandmother, and the effects of it were also claiming what was left of my grandpa’s spirit, so I would drive the three hours to my grandparent’s home every other weekend to give him a break, plan my wedding and to visit. And visit, we did. Sitting on the couch, the news blaring on the tv and the smell of fried potatoes wrapping around me, I became great friends with my grandfather. We talked about everything – from the war to politics to professions to family. It was during this time I realized my grandpa was the most truly Christian man I would ever know. He was well aware God gave him a life He didn’t grant to most of the men he knew in his youth and he lived a life that truly reflected the respect he had for His decision. He had three basic rules he expected all of us to follow: Love God, work hard, and always put family first. The first time I ever heard the line, ‘God doesn’t make mistakes’, was when it came from my grandfather’s lips in reference to a subject most 80 year old men would refuse to even discuss. Those words never left me.
One year I was sitting beside him on the couch, swallowing down the tears, trying to tell him I had ‘lost the baby’ the night before. He reached over, held my hand, and matter-of-factly told me of the losses my grandmother and him had had in their years. He said to me, “there are other ways to for babies to come into your life, you know.” And I did know. My grandparents had two children biologically and two children through adoption. Not only were they pioneers in the oil and gas industry in a muddy, little town in the middle of no where, but also pioneers in the way of multiracial families – which in their time, was a big friggin’ deal. (I should make it clear that it may have been a big deal in their time – but not in their home. I grew up listening to my grandparents speak openly about adoption and was completely unaware of biases, race issues and ignorance – because it simply did not exist in our family.) We were taught souls come into your home, your life and your family because God wants them to be there and the differences between you only add sugar to this life. Even though my heart was dripping with tears that day on the couch over the loss of the baby I never got to have, I knew my grandpa was reminding me God doesn’t make mistakes.
So when my mother’s phone call came that morning, I wasn’t only devastated over the loss of my grandpa, but fully aware I would likely miss the goodbyes. I was going to miss the funeral of one of my best friends because the the baby was going to come any moment. I questioned God. I asked Him ‘Why? Why now? Why today?’ Not only was I consumed by the feeling of sadness – but of anger at the lack of control we had in our lives. Didn’t He understand I needed that man right now? Didn’t He know my grandpa was part of the club of people who knew what it was like to be in our position? I wasn’t supposed to be saying goodbye to him – but celebrating the life coming into our home with him. This had to be a mistake.
But the week went on. The phone never rang, the funeral was planned, the family arrived, the laughter, the tears and stories poured out. The sun shined, the birds sang (in a twangy, sweet vibrato) and we said our goodbyes.
On this day five years ago, the day following my grandpa’s funeral, we all sat around on the family farm in the warmth of the sun and the comfort of ‘home’ and experienced the kind of moment that would make my grandpa’s heart smile. I remember sitting there, with my feet up and family around me, thinking for the first time since we jumped on the adoption train, I felt peace.
And wouldn’t you know it, the phone rang.
No mistake about it.
Happy birthday, my Captain.
Miss you, my Grandpa.