It feels strange for me to write about Jon’s father’s illness and death. I'm afraid sometimes that it’s not mine to share; it belongs to Jon and his mother and sister and his aunts and his uncles and their children, but not to me.
Intellectually, I know that’s not true. Mike’s absence is felt by everyone who knew him and that void is valid for all of us in whatever way we experience it. Though the past few weeks have been sad, I find it comforting, when faced with the loss of Mike in our daily lives, to know that he is with Jon always in everything Jon is, and that somehow makes the present for me more bearable.
It’s the future that’s unimaginable.
When Mike’s health started declining exponentially, three months after he was diagnosed and three months before he died, and it was clear that his cancer wouldn't be manageable, all I could think about was what a wonderful grandfather he would have been.
We’re still years away from having children, but that’s what consumed me: a fantasy in which Mike reads The Night Before Christmas to the whole family as he did every December 24, with our toddler perched on his knee in the yellow armchair by the fire; in which we ship our elementary-schoolers to Suffolk for the summer so they can learn to sail with their grandparents, coming home with t-shirt tans and an expanded lexicon of curse words; in which our pre-teen is set to work peeling potatoes for Ged while Mike sneaks our teenager pints of Adnam’s; in which transatlantic communications are brusque because Mike’s not the demonstrative type but in which our children always know how much their grandfather loves them.
I can’t speak for Jon, of course, nor for anyone else in his family, but having that future taken away from us – not having it for our family – is what makes this especially heartbreaking for me.
But, even as I type that, I think of Mike’s mother, Peggy, who passed away in August 2008, two months before Jon and I met. Peggy’s still a larger-than-life figure in Jon’s family, almost as much as she was when she lived. I know dozens of stories that feature her humor, her faith, and her pragmatism so well that it practically feels like I was there when they happened, and I nearly cried from the compliment when Jon’s mum told me that Peggy and I would have gotten on like a house on fire.
Being alive, I’m beginning to fully realize, isn’t what makes you a part of a family.
I always understood the truth of the cliché that our loved ones are never gone as long as we remember them, but I’m coming to understand that it might work forward as well. They don’t only need to live in the past through our memories; they can live with us in the future, too. Maybe the future I imagined, the future in which Mike is a gruff and doting grandfather to our children, isn’t impossible. Just because he’s not here doesn’t mean that he won’t be part of the family we create and part of our children’s lives.
He can be. He will be. Life everlasting on earth is not something over which death has power. The power is ours. The memories are ours, the stories are ours, the love is ours. And that means that Mike will always be Jon’s dad and, despite never meeting them, our children’s grandfather – as long as we keep that future alive, he will be with us there, too.
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