“One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs. Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, ‘Oh, why can’t you remain like this for ever!’ This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up.” — J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
I have, for the past few years, described myself on more than one occasion as possessing a “Peter-Pan-attitude” towards growing up. That’s not to say that I view myself as immature or reckless, it’s just that I tend to hold very tightly onto the past and often struggle when things change. Like Peter I love going on new adventures, but I want Neverland to stay the same while I’m off adventuring. I hate goodbyes more than anything.
Unfortunately for me, and for others like me, that’s not how life works, is it?
This year has been a crash course on goodbyes for me. I spent the summer break in my parent’s new house, missing the townhouse we lived in for my highschool years. Meanwhile, my paternal grandparents sold my childhood home. I said farewell to my teen years when I turned twenty in April, an age I still can’t wrap my head around. Next, I said goodbye to the three-musketeers-trio of my highschool years -and one of the most important friendships of my life-, when one party ghosted their way through the months of us all being in the same city. For a girl who once wrote a guide to maintaining friendships over time and distance, that was a hard idea to swallow.
The most unthinkable goodbye I’ve ever had to say also happened this year.
My maternal grandfather, my pake, passed away very suddenly in June. His passing was unexpected and is something I haven’t quite come to grips with yet. In my mind he was always a pillar of strength, coming out on top of every hardship, every illness; he was maker-of-the-best-pancakes, giver-of-the-best-hugs; a stubborn old man who owned my heart. He was full of life, even through years of cancer remissions and relapses. There was always a twinkle in his eye, full of affection and love and mischief. If you had asked me before this past June, I would’ve told you that he was going to outlive us all.
If he were here, he would tell me that this is a part of growing up, and a part of the Lord’s plan. He used to tweak my chin when I was sad and tell me to toughen up. I’m not sure that this is something I can be tough about, though.
Sometimes I still pick up my phone to text him, to ask how his farm is, if he’s going to come visit me at school again this year, but of course he isn’t; he can’t. I remember showing him around campus. He was ill at the time, easily tired out, but he let me excitedly drag him around, and the entire time he radiated a deep pride that I could feel in my soul.
His farm, the one I spent my childhood roaming around, now belongs to extended family. The farm is another goodbye I had to say. It’s different now, teeming with the new life and opportunities of a young couple, rather than the settled in dust and routines of an old man. It had always been my happy place, barely changing over the years, solid and permanent to a child who moved around a lot; but I can’t quite bear to be there anymore. How could I, when the person who made it so special to me is gone?
Loss is a strange thing, one that affects every single person differently. The question becomes; how do we as humans move on? How do we let go and continue to grow? We know we must. We know from a young age that we will have to grow up one day. We know that we won’t have the same friends forever, that our grandparents will most likely pass away before us. What is life but change?
That foreknowledge doesn’t make anything hurt less. The only answer I have is that none of us know how we do it, we just do. I don’t have a better one than that.
I mourn my pake a little bit every day, but I’m able to be grateful that he isn’t in pain any longer. I’m grateful that I got to see him a couple of days before he passed, that he died on his farm, -the culmination of his life’s hard work, the place where he was often happiest- and not in a hospital where he would’ve been miserable. These thoughts make everything just a little more bearable.
My pake lived a fascinating life, one so different from mine. He left behind an overwhelming amount of people whose lives were made better by having him in it. His love was an overwhelming force, so of course my life feels off-balance without it. He was a good man, one of the truly good ones, and he taught me a lot over the years, about fishing, about Faith, and about the benefit of hard work.
The last lesson he’s teaching me is one about loss, and about growing up, and I think he’d be glad to know that I’m still learning from him. May he rest in peace. May he know how loved he is.
May anyone reading this who is being forced to say goodbye before they’re ready know that they will get through. It’s just what we humans do. I believe in us.