Tonight, Nicholas was lamenting to me the fact that he just missed meeting his grandpop. Nicholas was born 15 months after my Dad died.
This is a reoccurring conversation we have--it pops up at least once a week. Sometimes, it arises out of one of our "doctor talks." Nick started to listen to me interviewing researchers before he could say 10 words, so he thinks I'm good at explaining medical things and we talk about everything--brain tumors and blood cancers, joint replacements, conjoined twins, heart surgery, organ transplant and death. As he's gotten older, he wants to know more about my experience with death. Which is a bit weird; but I so admire his ability to ask persistent, intense and pointed questions.
And I can answer all the technicalities--the things I've witnessed and the things I know as an adult. I can share the facts about death by old age and death by cancer and death by brain death. I can navigate the faith questions and I can discuss the reality that we won't know what it is like to die until we do--and that it is something we want to know; but are not impatient to know. I can do all this, even though it often leaves me mentally and emotionally exhausted, because he so wants to understand the puzzle that is life and death.
And each time we have these conversations, I always know the questions to which he is so leading me: "Momma, why did I just miss Grandpop?" or "Mommy, I barely remember Uncle Davey. Why can't I see him again?"
I can't ever answer these questions for him. It kills me--how I would love to see my Dad with my son and how I would love to see my Dad and my brother with him, too. How much I wish I could gift Nicholas a lifetime of Grandpop and Uncle memories to give him peace and take away the things that he feels are missing.
I get it--my grandfather died before I was born as did two of my aunts and one of my uncles. I used to pepper my Dad with the same questions night after night--asking for stories and memories and then, well, how did they die?
I always thought that if I knew how, I'd know why and then somehow knowing everything would help me to unravel how I just missed them--and then, irrationally, I could somehow reconstruct the puzzle to bring them back. I was relentless in my questioning--and my Dad, finally asked me one day, when I was just a little older than Nicholas "What is it that you want?"
I don't remember my exact answer, but I imagine, I probably just yelled something back about wanting it all to be different. Because it felt so unfair that I did not get to have them. Nicholas tells me the same thing in his lament--"it is so unfair, my sisters got to have so many more memories."
I don't have the answers for him. I don't have what he wants. But, do I have my memories and my stories. I have all those gifts that I can give him--so he can feel like while he just missed them, he hasn't missed me and all those amazing people and memories that are to come.