Home > Death, Family, Love, Relationships > The grace and grief of small moments

The grace and grief of small moments

Moments after scheduling what will be our first date night since our second son‘s arrival last month, I quipped to my husband, “You know I’m going to be sneaking peeks at my phone every five minutes, right?”

I’d started the statement smiling, but felt a veil of sadness falling over me as I finished it. I’ve gotten bad news in a movie theater once before, in a moment since become connected to so many others.


I originally disliked the surly, cantakerous man who lived next door to my childhood home.

Once, when someone tossed their litter on our lawn, he knocked on the door and fumed at me, “Why can’t you people keep your lawn clean?”

“Why can’t ‘you people’ shut the fuck up?” I asked before slamming the door in his face.

I was such a sweet and gentle child.

Over the years that followed, I think this neighbor resigned himself to living next to four loud, unruly kids of a tired single mom. He started inviting us to sit on his porch with him on summer evenings. Together we’d eat watermelon or drink root beer floats as we watched cars pass.

After many years, I started giving him awkward hugs. For years, he said he didn’t really like hugs, but accepted them as part of being part of us.

He softened as he neared eighty years of age, and would quietly ask, “Don’t I get a hug?” if I tried to leave without one.

In his final years, I took to calling him “Grampa G.”

grampa g

Grampa G


My mom cared for Grampa G in his final months.

When he finally decided to stop taking medicine, I told my sisters I’d drive up for his memorial.

“Is that what you really want?” my youngest sister asked me. “To get here after he dies?”

Startled by her words, I realized that wasn’t what I wanted. I packed my dog and a couple of bags into my car before beginning the 900-mile drive home, but only after getting on the phone with Grampa G and telling him he had to, absolutely had to, hold on till I got there.

He promised he would.


I sat on Grampa G’s bed and took his hand when I arrived. I told him about the drive, and about how very much my nervous Collie mix hated every minute of it. As I spoke, the pain on his face eased. No longer resolved to hold on, it looked like he was moving away from us and toward heavenly choirs.

Thinking we’d have some time left to ease Grampa G out of this world, I suggested we all go see a movie that had moved me deeply. And so that’s what we did: went to see WALL-E.

We were most of the way through the movie when my phone caused my purse to vibrate at my feet. My heart sank; I knew what the call was before I even answered it.

“I think he’s gone!” my mom cried frantically. “I think he’s gone and I was asleep and he didn’t want to be alone–”

“Hold on, Mom. Hold on. We’ll be right there.”

I didn’t even need to say anything when I got back inside the theater. Wordlessly, my siblings and I fled the theater to join our mom.

“I wasn’t there for him!” Mom sobbed as we waited for officials to arrive. “He didn’t want to be alone, and I was asleep when he died. I was asleep.”

“Mom, it’s OK,” I told her. “He just didn’t want to be alone. He didn’t say, ‘I want someone stroking my cheek with one hand, holding my other hand with their other hand and singing me my favorite songs as I die.’ He said he didn’t want to be alone. That’s all. Thanks to you, he wasn’t alone.”

One last seat on his porch

My sisters and I taking one last seat on his porch

I didn’t know then how soon it would be before I said goodbye to my mom. A year after Grampa G died, my just-younger sister told me Mom had late-stage cancer.

Mom died eight months later.

Thanks to my sisters, she, too, left this world unalone.

Back in today, I heard my husband speak.

“Grampa G?” he asked. I nodded, tearfully, as memories continued to wash over me.

My husband reached over and took my hand in his own. I squeezed his hand and thought about the odd little moments that remind me of loved ones lost.

There’s heartbreak in these time-machine moments. Oh, is there heartbreak. But in them, I also find gratitude for having had opportunity to love and be loved.

I will never again hug Grampa G or my mom, but I carry them with me through moments large and small. And when it is my time to go, those I love will hold little bits of my love in their own, and hopefully feel then as I do now that

‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

— Alfred Lord Tennyson



  1. May 20, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    What an emotional story 🙂 Beautiful and sad at the same time.

    • May 20, 2014 at 3:43 pm

      Thank you. It was just an innocuous drive home from an appointment and then … all of this, for which I am grateful, even despite the tears.

      • May 20, 2014 at 3:52 pm

        You’re welcome although you don’t need to be thanking me 🙂

      • May 20, 2014 at 4:02 pm

        Well it is great to remember these moments as the happiness in them amidst the sadness must never be forgotten 🙂

  2. May 20, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    My father wanted us with him – but slipped away, quickly, on one of the very few times we were out of the room. A private man. He knew he was loved, he knew he wasn’t alone – but he set off on that last journey at his timing.

    • May 20, 2014 at 3:45 pm

      Did you read my “Li’l D’s letter to God” post? Since then, he’s asked a lot of follow up questions about death. His questions make me a little sad because he’s too young to fully understand my answer that worrying too much about these things steals joy from us now. And yet, one of the benefits in his questions is how answering them has affirmed for me that we can be physically be ourselves and yet be very, very much unalone. It’s a beautiful thing. Hugs.

  3. May 20, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    Yes, those we love are worth the pain and sadness that go along with grieving after loss. My 103-year-old grandma just passed yesterday. I made the trip home to see her for Mother’s Day, while she still was able to talk, knew who I was. So I could sit with her in all her glory, this magnificent centurian who wore red lipstick and rouge every day, exercised, and worked in her garden until she couldn’t physically do those things any more. The woman who had coffee tins filled with cookies just because you need something sweet to eat after dinner. I spent that 30 minutes or so with her in conversation until she needed to take a nap. I’m so grateful I made the two-hour drive for those moments. She passed peacefully at home with my mom, and now she’s happily watching over us from above, I’m certain. Beautiful writing as always, Deb! Hope your date night was fabulous! XOXO-Kasey

    • May 20, 2014 at 3:48 pm

      I’m sorry for your loss. I’m also so, so glad you got those hours with her, and for the fantastic image of her I have in my mind thanks to your words.

      Date night hasn’t happened yet, but I think it will be a blast when it does . . . even if my eyes turn purseward every couple of minutes!

  4. May 20, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    Thinking of you and your family during this hard time (which you wrote about beautifully).

    • May 20, 2014 at 3:49 pm

      Thanks, Alison. The hardest of these times have passed, but they come up like new every so often. There will inevitably be hard times ahead, too, but it’s good to see how much love will run between and through them.

  5. May 20, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    What an absolutely gorgeous post. Heartbreaking and beautiful.

  6. May 20, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    So we today we weep together at our stories of strength, compassion and love. I think this is why I am have such struggles, I miss those who are not here, who would have normally have been beside me, stroking me, pushing me, holding me up. It is about not being alone, isn’t it?

    You are so very much woven into the quilt of who I want to become. Hugs and love. ❤

  7. May 20, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    Beautifully and poignantly written. Cate

  8. May 20, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    So beautifully written!

  9. May 20, 2014 at 6:59 pm

    What a beautiful piece. Made me cry. How lucky to have these people as part of your life.

  10. May 20, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    I love reading your words. You are so thoughtful and real about sadness—but also gratitude. And you made me laugh out loud with that first interaction with Grandpa G! I think I would have liked young Deb—she seemed like a saucy little spitfire.

  11. May 21, 2014 at 10:50 am

    This was lovely; touching and emotionally nourishing. Almost makes me reluctant to ask how the date-night movie was?

  12. May 21, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    Memories, pleasant and sad, are the tapestry of life. Yours is woven with beautiful images of love and compassion.

  13. May 22, 2014 at 7:33 am

    I somehow missed this post before in my reader. My best friend/sister from another mister and I always say that sometimes our family shares zero DNA with us, just lots of memories and history. I’m so glad you had Grandpa G and that you were all able to be with him in his final hours. I’ll be you were a sweet and gentle child, because you’re a very sweet and gentle adult! 🙂 ❤

  1. June 23, 2014 at 2:20 pm
  2. October 21, 2014 at 12:52 pm

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