On January 21, 2014, my grandfather died. I don’t say “went to heaven,” “passed on,” or “went to be with his Lord,” even though those things may be true. But I don’t say them because, for me, words like “he’s in a better place” cheapen the reality that he is not here. He is dead. He died.
Nothing is as monstrous as death. Belief in life after death, in the resurrection of the dead and a new creation, does not, cannot, and should not negate this monstrosity. People die. And we don’t know if we’ll ever see them again. That’s it. We don’t know. We may believe. But we cannot possibly know.
This is what I know. My grandpa lingered for almost a week in a hospital bed, having suffered multiple strokes. He was unable to speak; he was suffering. And yet, through all of that, my selfish prayer, my refrain was, “Please don’t let him die.” Death is inescapable.
As physical beings, we are driven by our senses. We want to touch each other, to hear one another’s voices, and to see each other’s faces.
My grandpa had long, curly, red hair on his arms. Like Esau or something. I miss being able to stroke his arm, the sensation of the rough curls against the palm of my hand.
My grandpa had a sense of humor. He was always telling stories, jokes. I miss listening to those stories and am grateful for the ones that he wrote down. Still, I will never again hear him begin a tale with, “Did I ever tell you about…?” Yes, Grandpa, you did. But tell me again.
Once, my brother asked our mother, “How does Grandpa drive?”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“I mean, why doesn’t he just fall asleep?”
My grandpa always slept in the living room with the TV blaring. He was mostly deaf and he could sleep through anything. Towards the end, as his dementia worsened, he didn’t sleep as well, getting up in the night bewildered and disoriented. Towards the end, I wasn’t there. I saw him at Christmas. I told him I loved him and he said he loved me. I told myself that this might be the last time I said those words. I didn’t believe it, though. And then it was.
This is what I know. My grandfather was a musician in a barbershop quartet, “The Four Flushers.” He loved music. He worked hard as a soda deliveryman. He had two children, Brenda (my mother) and Mark. He was married to Ilagene “Genie” McCammon for almost 65 years. He was a husband, father, and grandfather to my sister, my brother and me. He is missed.
I hope that he is in a better place. I hope that he and my grandmother are sitting together at a park or in a nice restaurant holding hands. I hope these things, but I don’t know. I won’t know until I myself die. I hope these things, not to cheapen death, but to deal with death. Death is so big, so unknowable and horrible. How can I not hope in the face of death?
Edward “Bud” McCammon died on January 21, 2014. He was 89 years old. He lived a good life, but now he is gone. And I miss him.
Bethany Tap (’12) received her MFA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where she also worked as the managing editor of Chautauqua: the literary journal of the Chautauqua Institution. She is currently working on her first novel. She lives in Wilmington, North Carolina, with her wife, Clarissa, and son, Alexander.