When I switched my SIM card upon arriving in Ireland, I lost something precious to me. I lost a multiyear collection of voicemails from my late grandfather. I rarely listened to them, but I knew that they were there. I knew at a click of button, I could hear his voice saying, “I love you.” There was one where he called me “Sarah-Bara.” That always made me smile.
Most of you who read my ramblings know that 1) I loved my grandfather very much and 2) that he spent the last seven years of his life in a wheelchair as a result of a West Nile Virus.
However, we did not know that it was West Nile when he first got sick.
My brother had come home from West Point for the first time over Labor Day Weekend in September 2010. We had to take Christopher to the airport in Nashville early Monday morning. We swung by our grandparents’ house Sunday evening to say goodbye. Grandpa was feeling kind of tired, but nothing out of the ordinary. The last and only true memory I have of that day is Grandpa standing in the sunroom of their house watching us drive down Elm Street.
It is the last time I ever saw him standing.
Less than 48 hours later, I was unexpectedly picked up from school by an old family friend. He was tasked with bringing me to the hospital—Grandpa was sick. He was more than sick. He was in and out of consciousness. We didn’t know what was wrong.
They let me go into his room. My mom was with me. I didn’t stay long and I don’t remember much. I hated seeing my grandpa helpless and unconscious in the bed. It didn’t seem real. I didn’t want it to be real.
The days that followed were weird and disconnected. I went to school. I went the hospital. I spent time with my grandmother. There were a lot of hushed conversations. We still didn’t know exactly what was causing the illness. The West Nile test had come back inconclusive as had all the other tests.
After, I think, about 4 days, Grandpa was awake when I was at the hospital. I visited him again. As I walked through the doors, Grandpa looked at me, smiled, and said, “Sarah-Bara.” To this day, those words remain the two most precious words that I have ever heard. A silly, childish nickname and, yet, more beautiful to me than anything Shakespeare has ever penned.
A few days after this, he slipped into a coma, which lasted about two months. During that time, I lived with the knowledge that “Sarah-Bara” might be the last words he ever spoke to me. I prayed that they wouldn’t be. They weren’t. He woke up. He got to call me “Sarah-Bara” again and again.
With the loss of the voicemails, I no longer have the ability to actually hear that most beloved voice say “Sarah-Bara.” That truth makes my heart hurt a little bit.
However, in the midst of the hurt, a still small voice reminds me of something. The memory of Grandpa standing in the shadows of the sunroom could have been my last memory. There might never have been another “Sarah-Bara,” let alone almost seven years more of them. There might never have been any voicemails. My memories of my grandfather might have stopped when I was barely sixteen.
Instead, my family got the precious gift of more time. More nicknames. More hugs. More holidays. More phone calls. More laughter. More tears. More memories. More love. More of what makes life worth living.
Grief is crummy and I’m still sad about the loss of the voicemails. However, I still have one. It’s one where that distinct, somewhat gravelly voice says, “I love you.” I don’t need voicemail to tell me that Grandpa loved me. I know that with every fiber of my being. All the same, it’s nice to hear a recorded reminder, which is all I will have until we meet again.
I love you, Grandpa.
Happy Trails by Dale Evans
Some trails are happy ones,
Others are blue.
It’s the way you ride the trail that counts,
Here’s a happy one for you.
Happy trails to you,
Until we meet again.
Happy trails to you,
Keep smiling until then.
Who cares about the clouds when we’re together?
Just sing a song, and bring the sunny weather.
Happy trails to you,
Until we meet again