Ever since I found out that my wife was pregnant with our third child, I'd been avoiding this narrative. But today, I did it. I had to. And for the first time in my life, I cried while writing. If you're in a situation where you have children who never met their grandparents, this piece is for you. It's extremely personal, it hurt to write it, yet it felt necessary to share, in case it resonates with others. Also, as the saying goes, if it reaches even one person, it served its purpose...
About three weeks after you died, I was driving to the store with Antonio. He'd just turned three, and at that point, he would shut down if I mentioned your name. But this time, he was the one who brought you up.
"Daddy, is Grandma ever coming back?" he asked in a small voice, barely audible from the back seat.
It was the most heartbreaking collection of words I had ever heard. And it was in that moment when I realized the grief I felt was not exclusive to me, but that your grandchildren would grieve in a very different way. And that they would grow up to only wonder what it was like to know you.
The morning after this past Father's Day, Sonia sent me a text message with a singular image -- a positive pregnancy test with the news that I'd be a dad for the third time. As odd as it sounds to say it, you were the first person I wanted to tell. But just as quickly as your face flashed across my mind, I imagined the delivery room. Then I imagined the balloons waiting for us as we wheeled the new baby past the waiting room, and how my immediate family would be beaming with excitement, and how you wouldn't be there. Unfortunately, that's the reality I must accept.
My mother, meeting my second son, Nate, in 2011
When you died, it was sudden. It wasn't a prolonged illness, which not only meant it was shocking, but there was no closure. No farewells, no "here's something for the kids to remember me by." Instead, we're tasked with filling in the blanks ourselves. The Valentine's Day card you gave the boys, which felt uneventful at the time it was received, still sits on Antonio's nightstand as a daily reminder of your presence. And once in a while, he even brings up the pillow fight you had with him a mere two weeks before your death. I can never be certain if he actually remembers it happening, or if he's simply speaking of it as legend rather than a memory. But either way, I'm doing my best to keep your spirit alive for them (and me).
I know it would tear you apart if you somehow had the predictive ability to know that you wouldn't get the chance to meet every single one of your grandchildren and watch them grow into adults and dance at their weddings. You loved them immensely and were only just beginning to fall into your groove as "Grandma" when you left us. Like an artist who passed away before completing a painting, your role in my life and my children's lives feels unfinished, yet revered for its ultimate intent. That ultimate intent was always the purest of intents -- love.
However, despite the sadness I feel from your absence, I have to be open to one simple, yet incredibly complex idea. And it's an idea I've been trying to wrap my head around for two years. That one idea is that the best days of my life haven't happened yet. As soon as I think it, instantly a voice pops in and suggests, "How could your best days possibly be without your mother?" But that, as I've come to realize, is the voice I need to shut out, the voice I need to silence indefinitely. Because if my children are going to be blessed with the kind of father they deserve, I must be hopeful. I cannot wallow. I must be optimistic about my future or I can't possibly expect my children to be optimistic about theirs. And I must accept that there are some things in this life that can't be changed, no matter how desperately we want them to be.
When February arrives, I will be in the delivery room one last time. And if history is any guide, I will find myself flooded with emotions I wasn't even aware I had. Naturally, I will have no control over the way I feel. But I do hope if sadness arises that I will think of you, your enduring laughter, and know that you'd want me to smile tears of joy, not grief. I hope within my heart that heaven does exist, and that you'll be watching us from there, grinning broadly as your fifth grandchild is brought into a world I wish you were in, but pray that you watch over.
I miss you dearly, and I can only hope that when my children are old enough to realize the limitless impact a parent can have on their child, that they look back at me with the same level of boundless respect that I'll always have for you.