#37: Saying goodbye to your grandfather.

How to say goodbye to your grandfather when there's nothing left to say.

My grandfather is dying from cancer and his 80th and last birthday is coming up this Friday. We have not talked in years, not because we dislike each other but because we have nothing to say. Our lives are just too different to relate.

My father asked me to please call him and say something. I am dreading it because I don’t know what to say. Any idea on how to have the last conversation with a relative like that?

First of all, I’m sorry about your grandfather and about the timing.

This is not an easy experience, especially in the midst of COVID-19, and possibly in a situation where you won’t be able to attend his funeral or seek the comfort of your family when he does pass. Even though I don’t know who you are, I feel for you, and I’m sending you all my love. I hope my advice helps.

You’re not wrong that this is a lot of pressure. The last moment of anything is a lot of pressure. That last hour of senior year, your last night at home before you go away to college, then your final college class. The stakes here are even higher—Friday doesn’t mark the end of a chapter; it marks the beginning of the end for a human life. Of course you are dreading it. It is sad, it is painful, it is stressful.

Before I tell you what I think you should say to your grandfather, I think it’s important to say that not all relationships are verbal or need constant maintenance. There are some relationships that just live and breathe on their own; that they exist at all speaks to their importance.

This can be a hard thing to wrap our minds around, because I think we’re so conditioned to think of relationships as requiring constant validation that they’re still alive.

I know that, for me, if I don’t hear from a friend at least once a week, and for many people, as often as once a day, I will either forget about them altogether or start to question whether or not we still have a relationship. Of course, this feels crazy or extreme stated so plainly.

Why isn’t feeling alone enough to sustain some relationships? Why does something need to be validated with conversation to be important, or real? Why is it that it’s so hard for something to have historical importance, even if it doesn’t have the same importance in the present day?

Maybe this is the case with you and your grandfather. Maybe he knows you love him, and you know he loves you, but at some point, something changed and never quite bounced back. Maybe you’ve made a lot of good memories with him, but they live in some faraway past. Maybe you were never close in the way we traditionally conceive of closeness; he was simply your grandfather, and you, his grandchild.

This doesn’t mean the love between you has diminished. The way we express love just changes. There’s not a lot of room in the way we talk about relationships for these kinds of silent affection. I want you to know it’s okay if this describes you, that not everything has to be cemented with conversations, or even structured activities. Sometimes things just are.

With that said, here’s what I think you should say: Happy birthday. I love you.

That’s enough. That you’re calling him at all is important.

Whatever you do, do make sure to call him. I’ll schedule a tweet for Friday to remind you, too.

Be prepared for him to say something to you. Also be prepared to sit in silence. And finally, be prepared to remind yourself that sometimes a moment of silence between two people, even over the phone, can be affectionate.


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