Around this hour four years ago to this very date, I held my Granddaddy’s hand as he took his final breath in this world. My Aunt Rain had his other hand and we sent him off to heaven with “I love yous” and “You go. It’s ok. We love you. He’s waiting for you.” My family – including my mother and her siblings, cousins, my grandmother, and granddaddy’s friends – were with him literally around the clock for a week in the hospital, taking turns being at his bedside. I was about to go and grab something to eat downstairs with family when my Aunt turned around and said she wasn’t hungry and wanted to wait with Granddaddy. I told her I could eat later and returned to the room with her.
I had never seen anyone die before, let alone someone I loved. I can still hear the final exhale of the breath leaving his body and then… nothing. Only silence and our sobs. In that moment though, there was something more than sadness, however – there was beauty and honor and freedom. An acknowledgment of the gift of life that God has given each and every one of us and a realization that that life returns to Him in Heaven at the end of our journey.
Three months before my Grandfather passed, my new husband and I visited him and my Grandmother in Alabama where they lived. My Grandmother had been ailing and I worried that she would pass (thankfully, she is still alive today as God would have it). Her health had been an issue for years and there were a couple episodes that made me feel like I should come and see her now or regret it, so I did. My Granddaddy, on the other hand, was always as strong as an ox and always on the go, hanging out with friends MY age. No joke! He hunted. He fished. He roadtripped. He was just on the move!
He was looking forward to taking me and my husband fishing since it was going to be my husband’s first time, but had to cancel because he ‘had a headache.’ I told him not to worry about it, as he and my husband took naps on their separate couches for the afternoon and watched CNN between snoozes, but he apologized so many times, I knew he really felt bad. I had no idea how much pain he must have been in. That headache was a slow brain bleed. That visit was the last time I saw him alive.
Of course, I still have a lot of regret about that. I wish I had spent more time with him instead of only focusing on Grandma that visit. I wish I had napped on the couch and caught up between snoozes as well, milking all the time I had with him. But I do recall a very pointed conversation we had that trip in which he praised my father, his son-in-law, for raising two smart daughters like me and my sister. “You have a good daddy,” he said. “A really good daddy. Your momma did well.” I can still hear his voice saying that clear as a bell. The other thing he told me. “You have a good husband. You married a good man. I am so happy.” He smiled when he said it. At the time, I just thought he was being complimentary, so I said ‘thank you’ bashfully and kept it moving, but I see now that the thought of the men in my life being so exemplary gave HIM comfort. I think he knew the end was coming and he was pleased knowing that the men in my life loved me and honored and supported my well-being as much he did.
A little more than a week before he passed, my cousin Eboné called me to let me know that he was in the hospital and that she would keep me posted. She worked at the hospital he was taken to, so I was in good hands with getting information. She was amazing, calling me and the rest of the family a couple times a day with updates.
After a couple of days, I went to bed and I had a dream. In the dream, my mom and her siblings were in the other room laughing and having a great time and my Granddaddy and I were in a nearby room. He had on dress slacks and a pair of shoes so shiny, they could blind a man! lol! He was always super-well dressed. That’s the truth! Anyway, he was buttoning up his dress shirt and adjusting his tie in the mirror and we were talking. He jokingly complained about how loud his adult children were laughing in the next room saying ‘They play too much,’ but I could tell he enjoyed their laughter. He then play-fussed about his son Calvin, my uncle, taking too long because they had to get to Mayville. To this day, I still don’t know who or what was in Mayville, but he said that city’s name plain as day. I have never been there myself and when I looked it up on google, it was some small little town in the middle of Alabama, so maybe I need to investigate that more. Anyway, he was in a rush to get there and his son Calvin was taking too long laughing with his siblings and Granddaddy was pretending to be mad when he wasn’t. That’s all that I remember. I remember us smiling at each other through the mirror as he got dressed as well. Then he said, “I’m ready to go.”
The next morning, Eboné called me and told me it was time for me to fly down there and that he had taken a turn. She said if I wanted to see him alive, I better come now, but I knew. When I arrived, I could see he was already really gone. The man I saw before me was just the beautiful, yet silent vessel that was my grandfather. A week later, it was today four years ago and he took his last breath.
So – if this blog is all about positivity, why am I sharing something that has me crying as I even type? Well, for one, the ability to BE positive is only achieved by processing all emotions and two, my Granddaddy is the epitome of a life lived. He was not a saint. He lived rough at times. He could hold grudges and cuss people out and fight and whatever else. But you know what, he learned from each and every part of his life. He grew into a man with an unrivaled moral code and character and infused that in his grandchildren in such a way that we are forever shaped and molded by his love and example. He made every day better than the last and found new ways to stay young and vibrant and learn new skills. And when my Grandmother got sick, he became her caregiver, putting his own health to the wayside. In fact, when he passed, there was little we as the family had to do because he had already gone to the funeral home, paid for the plots he wanted for himself and Grandma one day, and picked out the casket. Everything. THAT is the type of provider and man he was. He took care of us even after he passed.
Thirdly, I know my Granddaddy watches over me every single day and I am pretty sure that he and my daughter have been having secret conversations about me in baby babble since she was born. There have been too many times that I have eavesdropped on her babbling with inflection – voice rising and falling, giggling, questioning, laughing – with NO ONE in the room and for a good hour or more in the morning. I have no doubt that it’s Granddaddy’s spirit in there making her happy. And that makes me happy!
Finally, I can still hear his voice in my head and it is crazy beautiful to think I have been able to hold on to that. I had two of his voicemails on my phone too long without taking them off and they were erased. I was devastated. One of the voicemails was him fussing at me because he had called me twice within a 24-hour period and I hadn’t called him back (I was out of the country). It made me giggle. I was so mad when it was erased. But just like that, I could call upon his voice in my head and it was better than the real thing even. There are times when I am driving or reading something or confused about something and I can not only hear his voice, but I can hear his voice telling me what I should do or how I need to let it go or encouraging me. It is AMAZING!
So, yes – I miss him. God, I miss him! There are random days still when the tears just come from no where, but man am I blessed that he is always all around me… that I know my Guardian Angel by name and by life experience… that when a friend of mine suffers a loss of their own or if there is a headline that I read that touches me, I can call upon my Granddaddy to give that person a special welcome in Heaven and know that he will do it.
One of my Granddaddy’s repeated requests when he was living was to have all of his kids and all of his grandkids home at the same time. With five children and six grandkids all over the nation – and, at one point, the world – we didn’t make that happen… not until he passed and we were at his funeral. We should have. If you are reading this and you have heard this request from someone in your life, young or elderly, make it happen for them and for you. Time is guaranteed for no one. We truly have to live each moment like it’s our last.
Willie Frank Vann, Sr.: You were a FORCE! You were and ARE sooooo very loved. We miss you this day and everyday and we THANK YOU for the patriarch you were. You live in us and your great-grandchildren too. Oh! The stories we will share 🙂
Love you, Granddaddy –