This time last year, in August 2017, my email inbox was strangely, eerily quiet.
Sure, there were the “Sale Ends Monday!” and “Don’t Miss Your Chance to Register for Fall’s Best Race!” notifications, the emails from vendors trying to push their back to school jackets or local running stores trying to boost registrations for the next 5K. And there were “Top News” notifications from The New York Times, a summary of the latest headlines across the world that I always enjoyed skimming, or new blog post notifications from health and fitness blogs that shared the latest tips for cutting sugar, or studies on why strength training is just as important as cardio.
But there were no forwards of travel articles in my inbox, the kind that start with “36 Hours in…” There were no forwards of photo compilations that looked back on a time in history, the kind that start with “100 years ago.” There were no short emails with photos attached that read more like a conversation and contained the subject of “Visit,” or “Dogs.”
Grandad wasn’t sending emails.
An Unexpected Reaction
My grandfather, known as Grandad to my siblings and me and to so many of our friends, was living at an extended care rehabilitation facility. A nursing home. His beloved iPad, where he sent all of his emails, browsed Facebook, and read the news, was back at his condo, sitting atop the glass coffee table in the main living area, the cover of its black case neatly folded over the screen.
He was 92. He had outlived his parents, many aunts, uncles and cousins, many of his best friends from his work as a general surgeon, the friends he and my grandmother had made during their retirement, and even friends he’d made recently over a game of pinochle at the Senior Center. He’d suffered the loss of my grandmother in 2013, his partner in crime and wife of 59 years, and the unexpected loss of my brother to suicide in 2009. In his lifetime, Grandad had experienced more joy, love, pain, and loss than any one of us could hope for.
Yet, seeing him in that nursing home, at the end of his life, wasn’t easy. I don’t know why I thought it was going to be, because losing someone we love always hurts. Before Grandad got sick in July 2017, I would tell myself that because he’d lived such a long life, and because he’d really lived it by staying active into old age, that when his time came, it wasn’t going to be that tough to say goodbye. That since his death wouldn’t be unexpected, as my brother’s death had been, that it would be easy to lose him because it would be a part of the cycle of life.
Though it was at a much later, more expected stage in life, losing Grandad when he was 92 and I was 32 left holes in my everyday life that I hadn’t accounted for. The missing phone calls about the weather, the absent text messages of “Just to say hello,” and the smaller voicemail box because only he and my parents left me voicemails anymore, were all loud and glaring blank spaces. And then there were the lack of emails.
King of the Keyboard
Grandad loved email. Thought it was invented and marketed in the last two decades of his life, it’s a wonder how he had lived without it. He used it to keep in touch with friends and family who lived in other parts of the country, to share articles he’d read on CNN and The New York Times, or National Geographic, and to send photos of his latest adventures. He also used it to send notes to my Mom, who is an only child, and to me and my sister. His emails were always short, ranging in topic from his trip to Panera Bread, to the construction work outside his condominium, to pictures of the frozen yogurt he’d eaten earlier, and they were always signed, “xxlv Grandad xx.”
Really, what Grandad loved was technology. He was an early adopter, often purchasing a new device (which he termed “a new gadget”), long before my generation. When my siblings and I were growing up, he bought us our first film cameras, the first family computer, our first digital cameras (complete with batteries and a memory card), our first cell phones, and even my first wireless printer that I didn’t even know existed (when it comes to using new technology, I’m what the business world would call a Late Majority).
On September 11, 2018, it will be a year since Grandad passed away.
Because of his love of technology, I have stacks of printed pictures, thousands of digital pictures, and folders of paper copies of articles, to remember Grandad by.
And because they are so easy to save, I also have hundreds of emails. Those are my favorite way of remembering him.
On July 22, 2017, before his health started to quickly decline, Grandad sent me his last email. The subject: Baseball Game Sarah and Dad.