My mother's father, Joe Bob, was a quick-witted, bright, kind and charming person. He was loved dearly by everyone who knew him. It will be three years since we lost him as we near Christmas. I remember him being a bit stern when I was a child, but in his old age he had mellowed into a big cuddly teddy bear of a man; sweet enough to cry when things touched his heart. He still doted on my grandmother, the woman he had loved his entire life. He was still fiercely independent, though his driving had started getting a bit scary in his early 80s. He was a well informed and fiery Republican. He was sharp as a tack and seemingly healthy as horse. Thus we were all caught off guard, and wholly unprepared when he died so suddenly.
My grandfather had suffered some kind of bleed in his brain, which took him quickly but left his body lingering for a few days afterwards. It was terribly sad. He would have hated that and we hated it for him. I wasn't able to travel to Texas to be with the family as they stood vigil by him in his final days. At the time I lived in New Jersey, Katie was only 5 months old and still nursing, the boys were a handful, and Jamie was preparing to deploy in a few weeks. My mother encouraged me not to go, as Grandpa hadn't wanted a funeral and it would just be too much, financially and otherwise. She had my dad and brother to support her, as well as my grandmother, aunt and her family. I felt very separate from the entire thing, only hearing through occasional texts and phone calls about what was going on. Here I was, grocery shopping, changing diapers, carrying about my normal life, waiting for a phone call to tell me he was gone. I felt so torn, guilty, and full of regret. I was missing my chance to say "goodbye." But it turns out Grandpa found a way to say "goodbye" to me anyway.
The night before he finally passed, I woke up to the sound of Katie crying for her nightly feeding. I groggily sat up in bed, preparing to trudge to the nursery. But out of the corner of my eye, at the foot of the bed, I saw the figure of a person. I gasped in fear, thinking it was an intruder. But then it was gone. It had only lasted an instant. I brushed it off as my sleepy imagination and went to nurse the baby. But while I was sitting there quietly in the dark holding Katie, I thought about it. And I knew. If I hadn't literally gasped when I saw it, I probably wouldn't have believed that it had really happened. But I did. It wasn't a figment of my imagination. I can still remember it clearly today. It was a person wearing a hospital gown. I believe in my heart that it was Grandpa looking in on me one last time.
The next morning I called my mom. I was scared to tell her that I had seen him, thinking that she wouldn't believe me and worried that she might think I was somehow being silly and dramatic and trying to get attention during this awful moment. I'm really a grounded person and I knew this made me sound crazy. I worked up the nerve to tell her, crying all the while. She believed me immediately though. Because two other people had seen Grandpa that day too. My aunt thinks that he was telling us "Goodbye."
I'm not sure why he chose to appear to me. We loved one another but didn't have a particularly close relationship. It's a memory that I cherish, though. And it sure did make me feel loved. I'm grateful to have felt that he was with me one last time, even if it was just for a moment. And to know that he made me a part of his passing. Because I didn't get to be there and I would never get to see him again. Or at least that's what I thought. But it turns out I was wrong.
Nearly 2 years later, right after I got home from the hospital after giving birth to Joshua, I was sitting in my room holding him, taking pictures of my adorable new baby on my iPhone (as any mother does.) I had taken a few photos of my sleepy boy when suddenly he stopped, looked at the camera, and smiled. Intentionally. A newborn! I was shocked! He immediately went back to sleepy newborn obliviousness. But then I looked at the photo and literally gasped. Because there he was. Grandpa. Josh is the spitting image of Joe Bob McClain.
Grandpa had a hand in that. I just know it. I hadn't recognized the resemblance before that point. And I think Grandpa helped newborn baby Josh to smile that knowing little smile so that I would see it. My whole body tingled with the realization that Grandpa really is still with us. It was a moment I will never forget. And it just makes me so grateful. Because I know that he's alright. I know that there's life beyond this. I know that we don't have to be afraid of what's to come. And I know that, though he took Grandpa before we were ready, God gave us Josh so that we could see his wonderful face and remember the sweet man that is waiting to welcome us home someday. God is so good.