It’s the beginning of November, which means that one thing will be constantly on my mind all week. Actually, one person – my grandfather. You see, November 1st is All Saints’ Day, the day we celebrate all the saints in Heaven. November 2nd is All Souls’ Day, the day we pray for all the souls not yet in Heaven. And November 3rd is what I like to think of as Saint Buck’s Day, that day when our family celebrates the birth of a man dedicated to his faith, his family, and his community.
In my book, Crabbing With Granddad, I describe my grandfather like this:
“He was a large man, tall and muscular. His skin was the color of an old copper penny from spending so much time outdoors – mornings in the boat and afternoons tending his field. He always wore a baseball cap to shield his bright blue eyes from the sun. The hat did little to keep his head cool from the blazing sun for he had thick, curly white hair that stood up a full inch above his rough face. His hands were hard and calloused, covered with the lines of a man who had worked hard all of his life. To me, they were the gentlest hands in the world.”
I was eighteen when the world lost this great man. I was a freshman at a very prestigious private college a couple hours from my home where the drug culture was in full swing, and I was the only girl I knew who wasn’t the daughter of a prominent attorney, famous actor, or member of Congress. I was lost and lonely, living in a world I wanted no part of, and, though I graduated from one of the best public schools in the state, was woefully unprepared for college. To say I was struggling doesn’t begin to describe my life. By the middle of October, I was counting down to Thanksgiving and trying to figure out how to tell my parents that I wanted to give up my full scholarship and transfer schools.
I vividly remember that chilly day, the nineteenth of October. Autumn had arrived, and everyone was finally wearing their jeans, sweaters, and fashion boots. I attended my morning classes, ate lunch with my roommate, and went to my American Lit class, the class I dreaded the most (I won’t digress into what a terrible professor that man was). We were discussing Moby Dick, and it was all I could do to keep my eyes open (I learned early in my college career that I should never take a class right after lunch). As my professor droned on and on about the symbols in the novel, I suddenly had a moment of panic from out of nowhere. My heart began racing, my throat went dry, my hands started shaking. It was all I could do to hold back the tears as this feeling of dread washed over me. Though I had no reason to think anything was wrong, in my heart I knew. I’m not making this up, not exaggerating at all, I truly knew.
I left class in a daze and walked on autopilot to my job at the campus library. I had just started putting away a cart of books when my roommate and a good friend from high school walked into the library. I can still picture the scene in my mind as if it happened this morning. They entered the building, stopped, looked around, and both spotted me at the same time. I looked from one face to the other and began to cry.
“Your dad called,” my roommate said.
I nodded, “I know,” I told her. She looked surprised. After all, this was 1988. There were no cell phones, no laptops in every book bag, nothing but a pay phone at the end of our hall. “He’s gone, isn’t he?” I choked out the words.
“Your grandfather passed away about thirty minutes ago,” my friend, Greg, told me.
With confirmation that my fear was real, the tears began to flow uncontrollably. And that’s the last I remember of most of the next several weeks.
I’ve been told that over 400 people attended Granddad’s funeral, but I couldn’t tell you. I went through those following weeks enshrouded in a fog that would not lift. I rarely got out of bed, barely ate, and almost never went to class. I was drowning in a sea of despair the depths of which my friends and family never knew. I was certain I would never find the strength to break the surface and gasp for air. Between my misery at the school, the homesickness I couldn’t overcome, and the loss of the one person I loved more than any other person on earth, I had no desire to open my eyes and live. Today, everyone around me would have recognized that I had plunged into a deep depression, but that word was almost unheard of at the time, whispered behind closed doors and kept secret from everyone, for fear that it made one less of a person.
But Saint Buck knew just what I needed. He knew the main reason for the sadness that overwhelmed me. It wasn’t just that he was gone. It was that I was the only member of the entire family who wasn’t there to say goodbye. While everyone else was gathered around his bedside, I was three hours away, listening to the destruction of Ahab in his quest for the white whale. It was not just grief that had taken hold of my soul; it was guilt. And only the one person with whom I was most in sync could pull me out of my misery and force me back into the world of the living.
And so it was that, as I lay in my dorm room, about four or five weeks later, my grandfather stood beside my bed and told me to get up. Some may say I was dreaming. After all, I was doing nothing but sleeping twenty or so hours a day. Others might attribute it to a hallucination from lack of food and water. But I maintain that he was there, beside me, talking to me, telling me that I had a life to live. He told me that he knew what was wrong and that he had come to make it right. He told me that he had come so that I could say goodbye. Not so that he could say goodbye, but so that I could. As he always had, Granddad knew exactly what I needed. He never touched me, didn’t give me a hug, or lay his hand gently upon my shoulder as he had done so many times before. But he let me say goodbye, tell him I loved him and missed him, and ask him how I was supposed to go on without him.
“You have a whole life ahead of you,” he said, just as clear as anyone had ever spoken to me. “Now, by gawd, get out of this bed and start living it.”
With that, he was gone, and so was the weight that had been pulling me down. No longer in a daze, I rose from bed, feeling light on my feet but cognizant of everything around me. I walked down the hall and showered, went to the cafeteria for lunch, and even made it to my afternoon class. My grades recovered to the point where I was not embarrassed to show my face in class; and, over Thanksgiving, my parents agreed that I could transfer schools at the end of the year. I made it through the second semester by working hard in my classes, going on daily runs, and remembering the words of Saint Buck, “You have a whole life ahead of you…start living it.”
What I was writing about one year ago this week: “In the End, Only Kindness Matters”.
Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me and Whispering Vines, are recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top three inspirational fiction books of 2015 and 2016. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Amy followed up her success with, Island of Miracles, which has outsold all of her other books worldwide and ranked as high 600 on Amazon. Her next children’s book, The Greatest Gift, is now available. Amy’s novel, Summer’s Squall, is on pre-sale and will be released on December 1, 2017.
You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschislerand at http://amyschislerauthor.com.
Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017)
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