Yesterday evening, my seven-year-old said, "Mommy, I am having trouble understanding what makes people die." I try to take this sort of thing in stride, and we had what I thought was an honest and age-appropriate conversation about old age, illness, and accidents. He still seemed troubled, though I thought I was being the perfect combination of honesty, calmness, and reassurance.
A few minutes later, he approached me again, saying, "Mommy, I'm worried about Grandaddy...when is the last time I hugged him?"
Oh, that's what this is about....
My Dad was diagnosed with Post Cortical Atrophy more than ten years ago. First his visual processing deteriorated, and then, sadly, his disease progressed to the memory loss and other aspects of dementia or Alzheimer's.
All of which can be challenging to explain to kids.
So, Ben knows that Grandaddy is "sick" and has trouble remembering things. And being the kid that Ben is, he adores his Grandaddy and has spent countless hours thinking up stories to tell him, jokes to share with him, hand-drawn pictures to send to him, and other great ideas for how to help Grandaddy feel better.
Have I mentioned how much I love this kiddo?
All of it is made more challenging by the fact that we live more than 800 miles from my folks, so Ben doesn't get to see them anywhere near as often as he would prefer.
Anyway, I need to change my technique and try to give my little guy some better information about his Grandaddy. He is declining, but physically he's not in bad shape, and Ben should have plenty more opportunities for hugs.
And for all my kids, it's so important that they understand that Grandaddy is so much more than just this hideous disease that steals him from us bit by agonizing bit.
He is the man so eloquently described in an honor he received from the Cathedral Choral Society: "Hospitable mentor, generous long-term donor of his time and many talents, decisive yet ever diplomatic, he is that rarest of all creatures--an officer and a gentleman."
He is every terrible pun you have ever groaned over, every song you've ever loved, and all the bikes you've ever ridden. He's every old clock that ticks too loud. He's the smell of wood shavings.
He is Jack: the Boy Scout; the ROTC cadet; the handsome, funny, smart, kind young man.
He is Sam's mischievous grin and brilliant brain.
He is Ben's uncommon sweetness and deep sense of responsibility for others.
The good news is, every time I laugh and smile and say, "You know who that reminds me of?" my kids know the answer..."Grandaddy!"
I had hoped they would have the chance to learn so many things directly from him, but I truly think they are getting the picture anyway.
Most days...they are the picture.