I’ve always enjoyed drives and driving. As a kid I was always excited for road trips and can remember fondly the drives my family took from Washington state down to California, or to Utah to visit family. I remember us driving up the East coast on a vacation at one time. Once I was able to drive I quickly found I enjoyed drives even more. It’s relaxing. A way to clear my head. Just focus on the drive and put on some tunes and let the miles flow by.
I can’t remember when I first had this thought, but I distinctly remember it happened while I was in the backseat, with my family in the car, and we were on the freeway. And I remember looking out at the cars around us, seeing families, people who were alone, pets, just all sorts of different vehicles and having this thought that all of us, all of us completely different in every way possible, were at that very moment in the same place, going the same direction. I’m sure almost none of us were going to the same place, but that didn’t matter. Some of us were going faster than others, some were going slower. Some of us would be on that highway for a long time and for other the destination was the next exit. But for a brief period, we were there together. All of us having some small influences on the other, both positive and negative.
I’ve thought a lot about that since then. And while it is by no means a perfect analogy, I think that life is a lot like that. We are all on this adventure. Moving forward at different speeds, all towards different places. We meet people and for a period we go the same way. Sometimes we decide to let those people into our lives for an extended length of time and sometimes the meeting is brief. Sometimes it seems like people are just near us for a time, no real interaction, nothing more than a friendly face on the road for awhile until one or the other turns away or slows down/speeds up. And sometimes, like a car accident, those brief moments are brutal impacts that derail us and change our very lives.
I’ve had some recent experiences lately that had me thinking about this analogy. The biggest one has been the return of Kent- my grandfather. Kent has been in the Philippines for the last decade or so. He went there while I was still in high school and I honestly never expected to hear from him or even see him again. I didn’t have much of a relationship with him to begin with. In part because my family has always lived away from extended family. My last clear recollection of him visiting my family was while we lived in Washington when I was a lot younger and I can recall spending time with him when my family visited Utah. But suddenly he was gone. And there was really no chance of ever reconnecting after that.
Honestly, it didn’t bother me much. I had one brief period where I lamented the fact that I didn’t have a living grandfather at all, as my dad’s father had died while I was really young, and for all intents and purposes Kent was now dead as well- I never thought that he would come back at all. I don’t know how everyone else looked at his choices, but in my mind, Kent ran off to Philippines to meet some lady he met online. In my mind he chose that family over his own family back here. And that was that. I never really looked back.
I can count on one hand the number of times I spoke/wrote/emailed Kent in the last 10 years. I didn’t really want to. Saw no need to. And so, I never did. His family over there added me on Facebook and after some time I eventually added them back but never reached out to talk to them. They never felt like my family. I didn’t know them. I’m not even sure why I added them in the first place.
And life goes on. Graduate high school. Move to Utah. University. A mission. Get diagnosed with MS. Work. Life goes on. And suddenly, out of the blue, I learn that Kent is coming back. He’s not doing so hot and is seeking medical treatment in the states and by the sounds of it, he needs it. He gets here and I find myself going to the hospital to see him. There are no words to describe what I expected to feel and no words to describe how it felt to be there. I spoke with him. For the first time in my adult life. I visited him several times over the coming weeks. Seeing him in various stages of health. Briefly he was at my aunt’s house and I saw him there. More often he was in the hospital. Recovering from surgery, fighting cancer. Fighting other health issues.
I struggled through this time. I was distracted from working a new job that I’ve done my best to put my heart and soul into (and I love this job, for what that is worth) and didn’t want to pull any focus away from that. I was torn because Kent was family, technically speaking, though I honestly didn’t feel a connection. Even the many times I visited him, sat with him, watched him go through procedures, watched movies and TV shows with him I never felt that connection really start. And I was bothered by that on a personal level. Shouldn’t I feel something? I mean. This guy is supposed to be my grandfather. Shouldn’t that mean something? Over this period of time I got to talk to his wife, back in the Philippines, and her daughter and learn about them. I learned more about Kent’s life back in the Philippines. The things he did day to day. His callings in the church and his service there. With me, he only ever lit up when talking about the Philippines. I told him of my new job and how it was going, but it felt empty. His other family was what seemed to make him the liveliest.
Still, I went back. I checked in on him through my mom. I realized early on that the main reason to care was for her. She cared. And for her I would do anything. It’s my mom. And I kept making the effort to be there. Maybe not as much as I could have, but especially when my mom was there, because I could do it for her.
Last week, on Thursday, Kent said it was time and he let go of this life and found peace, at least from his disease wracked body. I was there, right at the end. If I’m honest, I never intended to be around when he died. I woke up the morning of and had this feeling I should go. And I did. I ended up there about an hour before he passed away and found myself standing next to him, holding his hand as he faded away. I watched as pain medications allowed him some small measure of physical respite from what I would call a tortured body and counted the seconds between his last breaths because I wasn’t sure what else to focus on.
I’m not an overly emotional person, but that experience was hard. I think standing next to anyone, feeling the life leave their body in such a person way would be hard no matter who it was. But for me, it was hard because when I first walked into that room, I’m not sure I could say that I loved him. It almost didn’t seem fair that I found myself there, just to watch the final moments of someone I had such mixed feelings about. But the biggest thing was that I didn’t really want to be there at first for someone I only thought of as selfish. So selfish to come back into the life of people who loved him despite everything he put them though. So selfish to open old wounds and salt them with the knowledge that he was here just to die. Selfish because he left another family behind, repeated the same thing he had done a decade earlier to us here in the States and never looked back. Selfish because he has this long line of people who just loved him and accepted him as much as they could despite everything they knew and he never seemed to care. Selfish that I felt he didn’t know me any better after hours and hours spent around him in the hospital, and he didn’t seem to want to know me at all. Selfish because he was my only shot at having a living grandpa and he ran away, just to come back into my life so I could watch him die. Selfish because the truth of who he hurt and how died with him, never to be known in this life.
And somehow, despite that, I found myself next to him as he died. I found myself holding his hand, something I couldn’t bring myself to do just days before. I found myself praying for him to pass quickly and to find relief from his physical pain. I will forever be grateful that in that final hour I had the chance to be there for him in a way that he will never be there for me. To be able to hold his hand and silently offer strength and prayers. I’m grateful that for that brief period of time I was granted the strength I needed from the Spirit to be able to put aside my own feelings and feel nothing but love for who he was at the base of everything else: a child of Heavenly Father. No matter what or who he chose in this life, he was a child of God. Just like we all are. We all have moments of weakness, where we struggle. Moments where we are not the person we are completely capable of being. And I hope that when I’m struggling there is someone willing to look past my flaws and just seem me as a child of God and offer their hand, even if only for a moment.
For a moment we collided and now that moment is over. I don’t have many memories of what he was like. Yet I’m willing to let go of the negative. To let go of the pain and heartache he caused and let it flow away. I’ll hold onto the little good memories I do have and thank God that it will be enough. I can’t say that I love him as any grandchild should love a grandpa, because there was never the chance. I can’t say that I love him for the example he set or the choices he made. But I can say that I love him as a child of God. And that is enough for me.
I hope that for everyone who loved Kent, for everyone who came to the celebration of life held in his honor and for those that didn’t come, for whatever reason, that they find whatever peace they are looking for or believe in.