The other morning as I prepared for the day, I listened to my Mary Chapin Carpenter playlist. The song “Late for Your Life” came on. My hand froze in mid-air, one eye made up and the other not, hooked on the song’s chorus. Call it chance baby, call it fate / Either one is cause to celebrate / And the question now is why would you wait / Don’t be late for your life
A vision of my beloved Pop-pop’s face swam behind my eyes in the tears that pooled. Lately, I’ve felt a strong pull to the past, specifically to my grandparents, all now dead. Perhaps it was the holiday season bringing up long-held memories. I’m not sure. What I do know is that I feel on the verge of tears most of the time.
A Grand(father) Story
My grandfather, a Pearl Harbor survivor, died in 1980 after a series of strokes brought on by an inoperable blood clot. He never talked about his experiences in the Pacific theatre as a Naval medic, but he relived them daily. His favorite thing to do was plop down on the couch after having enjoyed a breakfast of purloined steak and eggs (my grandmother would pull filet mignon from the freezer in advance of dinner, and inevitably Pop-pop would use one of the four for his decadent meal). He’d turn the television on and tune into “World at War.”
That’s how I remember him most: glued to the television, watching. Sometimes I would sit on the floor in front of him, and he would brush my long hair as we watched the horrors of World War II play out in front of us. I never filled the silence with questions, knowing instinctively that he wouldn’t answer.
When it came time to die, he stubbornly refused. I visited him in the hospital on Father’s Day. By then, he’d lost the ability to speak, and so I sat next to him, holding his hand. His eyes—so liked mine—stared intently at me as if he desperately had something to say.
My grandmother said to Pop-pop, “Just look at our girl. She’s so smart, and we’re so proud of her, aren’t we?”
Then the doctor came into the room and pulled a nearly sheer white curtain like a shroud around my grandfather and me. On the other side, my grandmother whispered something to the doctor.
The doctor said to her, “I’ve never seen anyone with such a will to live.”
I felt a blaze of red, hot anger and I’m sure my eyes reflected all that emotion to my Pop-pop. I thought, for years he’d sat around, reliving the past, and when it came time to go, he wanted to hang on. I can recall his grip on my hand as he tried desperately to communicate with me. I wondered what he wanted to say but never found out.
My grandfather died the next day.
His Will Ignited a Fire in my Belly
As I left the hospital that day, I made a vow to not put off living. And, for the most part, I haven’t. This means my life’s journey has been full of ups and downs, triumphs and regrets. I believe I was born a restless spirit and our frequent moves exacerbated my nature.
The interesting dichotomy is, of course, that my roots run deep. They’re firmly planted in Pennsylvania, where I’m from, despite not having lived there since 1991. When I’m asked where I’m from, I still reply, “Bucks County although I’ve lived outside Baltimore since 1995.”
I guess that’s part of the reason Mary’s words affected me viscerally. When I leave my earthly body, I want to have no regrets. I want to have lived and, since none of us knows where or when our deaths will occur, I endeavor to really live daily.
If you’ve been feeling stuck or unfulfilled, I invite you to join me for a virtual coffee date, where we can explore what might be possible for you.