General Non-Fiction posted October 17, 2016


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A story of a toddler's love and her 'missing' grampie...

Where's Bob?

by Mary Wakeford

Story of the Month Contest Winner 

My dad and my youngest child, Emily, were the best of buddies. Emily was the eighth and last grandchild my parents would cherish. Dad was seventy-six years old when our youngest was born, and had been retired for over a decade by the time of her arrival.

With my mom providing childcare the first year of Emily's life, Dad's presence was a constant and in their sunset years of life, relished their daytime rituals.  

Barney the annoying purple dinosaur and folksinger Raffi crooning the Baby Baluga song were staples throughout their time together.  Dad would make a weekly run to the local library to check out an assortment of VCR tapes with songs and nursery rhyme sing-a-long's to entertain his third granddaughter.

In turn, Emily would wiggle her little toes, arms and legs back and forth atop their laps or in her swing to the tune of I Love You,You Love Me to the delight of her grandparents proclaiming this baby had rhythm--a talent that eluded their own four offspring.  I blame my oldest brother who achieved 'white boys can't dance fame' when he accidentally punched his wife in the face during a rock 'n roll song at a spirited wedding reception decades ago.  He delivered a swift rock while his bride of a few years rolled to the tune of Paul Simon's Loves Me Like a Rock.

Emily's vocabulary blossomed as a two year old toddler benefiting being the youngest of the eight Lewis grandchildren; the next closest to her in age was her sister, nearly six years older.  The Emster was a bundle of babbling brightness, and the apple of her grammie and grampie's eyes.

Dad and Emily enjoyed an indelible bond. She would call him by his first name..."Hi Bob" or "Bob, open pweeeeeze" when handing him something of interest to eat or play with.  "Bye-bye, Bob" when leaving for the day, and finally, "Lub you, Bob."  Dad would usually retort in an exaggeratedly off-put and miffed corrective tone, "You're not supposed to call me Bob, I'm Grampie to you!" with a scowl on his face. He confined his laughter as she blew him off with another reference to his moniker being just plain "Bob".  Dad would smile with pride at his sassy, independent little buddy.

Emily was two years old when my father was diagnosed with esophageal cancer the day after Christmas in 1995. His diagnosis was a gut punch to our entire family.  As we tried to contain our devastation, dad remained the curious trooper as he researched options and treatments, none of which offered any hope. Surgery was ruled out due to his age of 78.   Chemotherapy would buy him some time, and radiation would help shrink the tumor.  Dad was stoic. Mom, my sister and I, along with our two brothers were not.

What I remember from December 26th 1995 forward was simply trying to keep it together. I helped Mom with dad's care throughout the day while my three older children attended school.  We would head home at 3:00 each afternoon, with Emily dispensing the coveted "Bye-bye Grammie, Bye-bye Bob', I lub you's." 

Once Emily was safely buckled into her car seat, I would try to stifle my heartache and tears as tunes from the radio camoflauged sobs as my thoughts moved to the reality of my father's body shrinking as the cancer advanced.  I was sometimes unsuccessful.  "What's wong, Mommy, why you sad? It's okay, Mommy, I lub you, Mommy" were delivered from the backseat throughout many a drive home.

At times when held up by a train crossing Grand Avenue, my tears would turn to rage and my little one sensed I was beyond her reassurances and kept silent. I'd rail at the train for making me late in picking up my three children from school.  I'd rail at God for taking my dad. Sometimes, I'd rail at myself for my inability to stop crying in front of my children following a night of worry and little sleep.  Many nights I lay in bed staring into the dark nothingness while wondering how my parents were handling his death sentence once alone with their own thoughts and fears.  I railed at the horrible disease that would forever change our family. I raged on behalf of the child in the carseat behind me who would likely not remember the white-haired buddy she called Bob as her beginning years grew away from his last years.

I was forty years old and my mom was about to lose the love of her life; my siblings and I were about to lose our father; our children their Grampie. Emily was about to lose her "Bob."
 
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Dad tried the chemo and radiation therapies initally, but they left him with such horrible side effects he couldn't continue with either, eventually taking to the full-sized bed my parents bought as newlyweds fifty-one years earlier. Dad could barely get liquids down in the end. The pine cone patterned knobs on their four poster, maple bed frame, familiar throughout my childhood, became my therapy as I sat at my dad's feet.  I worked the wood of the left footboard with my left hand as cancer ate through Dad's esophagus just inches away from me-- a helpless and hideous feeling I will never forget.

As the months played out in less than three, my little blonde sidekick would engage her buddy with pop-in's throughout the day..."Hi Bob, Bob, get up, Bob, let's play" -- oblivious as any two-year-old would be to the drama playing out before her, and without an understanding of the impact his absence would soon bring to bear.

I arrived bedside the morning of April 11th, and after sending Mom to nap in another bedroom following a tough night.  Dad asked me to get his shaving kit from the bathroom vanity and make him presentable--something I had tried to do over the weeks leading up to this day but to no avail. I knew Dad was letting me know he was close to leaving us with that request. He didn't want a stranger shaving him at the mortuary, and he didn't want to put Mom through it. I sobbed as I tended to my dad's face, taking in every crevice and characteristic as he laid between the maple pine-coned posters.

Dad held me around the waist with his right arm, a faint smile present, and every now and then an "Easy there" as my eyesight compromised by pooling tears, caused him discomfort with the razor getting too intrusive. To this day, I consider his gesture of 'shaving grace' as my dad's last gift to me, and one I will always cherish.

My father died in the wee hours that night, after experiencing some discomfort and inability to get relief.  As mom tried to make him comfortable, he looked at her, smiled, and left us.

Across town asleep, I experienced a most amazing dream. I was encompassed in a sense of complete love within an embrace unlike anything I had ever experienced before, and yet to experience since. It was as if the universe had wrapped me with infinite love. I awoke to my ringing cell phone letting me know Dad was gone.  I knew my dad had delivered one last hug the one night I slept well enough to dream.

As I dressed to join my mom, my husband and I discussed how we should break the news to our sleeping children yet to know of the loss that arrived quietly overnight. I left a few minutes later for the drive to my parents home in rain and darkness; without traffic or trains as Jimmy Cliff's, I Can See Clearly Now, played on the radio while stopped for a light at Grand Avenue.  Another gift from Dad. 

As my brothers and sister streamed in over the early morning hours, we paid our respects and shared prayers as Dad laid still. We consoled our mother, each other, and tried to manage our grief. 

A family friend and Catholic priest led us in prayer as his Protestant friend was removed from the bedroom he shared with his wife for forty-six years. His body was wheeled down the same hallway decades before two of his four children once toddled in diapers, then exited the front door on North 57th Avenue for the last time, atop a mortuary gurney.
 
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Friends bearing tears, love, prayers, time, comfort and endless food arrived without end over the hours and days leading up to Dad's services. The grandchildren arrived, each of them handling his death in their own way. Emily wandered the house and backyard asking repeatedly the same two words--"Where's Bob? Where's Bob? Mommy, where's Bob? Where'd Bob go?"

We tried to respond to her innocence in the most direct, yet innocuous way that her Bob was with God now. She seemed to take the information in stride before moving on to the next Barney tape, or toy at hand.  A few hours later, following another room to room seach for her Grampie, she would again pepper us with "Where's Bob?"

This brings us to a most unusual service and visitation at the mortuary a few days following my father's death on April 12th, 1996.  One that many of our family friends tell us all these years later, was the best memorial service they had ever attended...

To Be Continued--









 


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This is Part 1 of 2 of a continuing story.

The photograph was taken of my daughter three months following "Bob's" death. Until I can locate one of both of them together, this will have to do. 1996 was well before camera phones made photographs so easily taken.

I know, it's not every day you see a child holding a lamb in a kitchen. We were taking care of the little guy for the week while his peeps headed out of town. We roll a little different than most...




I Can See Clearly Now by Jimmy Cliff Clear Runnings Album credit to YouTube.

Concluding chapter link:

CLICK.HERE.


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