I sat on the floor with my knees tucked in and my back up against the hospital wall.

With my shoulder, I wiped away what felt like the 104th tear as I watched my other family members pace, talk quietly, and quickly embrace each person who came out of the room with a heavy heart.

On the other side of that wall was my Grandpa—the war veteran who stormed the beaches of Normandy, and the cheerleader who showed up to every one of my basketball games. The man who loved and raised my father, and the all-time dealer for the holiday family card games.

A few days prior he had suffered a stroke that left him in a body he couldn’t move.

I had just started college. 9-11 happened just weeks earlier. Life already felt weird and messy, and this was another heavy layer.

We had all recognized and accepted that these were my Grandpa’s last days, and decided to give each other private time with him to say our goodbyes.

When it was my turn to go in, I remember closing the door behind me and feeling the jolt of the silence. Out in the hallway were mumbles of conversation, rings of nurse’s station phones and beeps of medical devices. Inside my Grandpa’s room was a stillness.

I walked over and put one hand in his, and the other on his head. While his body was no longer serving him, I knew his endearing spirit was still operating, so I said, “Grandpa, blink twice if you can hear me.”

Two weak, but distinct blinks . . . and one tear that rolled down the side of his face.

I wiped it away, and leaned in closer.

I thanked him. I thanked him for raising my dad the way he did. I thanked him for the gift of a close family. I thanked him for showing up for me. I thanked him for making me laugh.

I asked him to go be with my grandma, and to tell her that I still feel her with me. I asked him to be with me, too . . . because I was going to need him in these next parts of my life.

It was a heavy moment for an 18-year-old kid to process, but 18 years later, I am so grateful for that time. Time that a lot of people don’t get. Time that I hadn’t had with people I had already lost in my young life. Time that I know I might not get with people who will go in years to come.

Time that taught me that I can’t spend my life leaning up against a wall waiting for my turn.

I need to stand up and realize that the time is NOW.

The time is now to say thank you. The time is now to say I love you. The time is now to show our gratitude and to show up. The time is now to forgive. The time is now to love. The time is now to let go of bad habits. The time is now to spend time with the people we love. The time is now to let go of grudges. The time is now to have fun. The time is now to stop self doubting. The time is now to LIVE.

My grandfather didn’t waste his time. And as beautiful as it was to be able to share those words with him in the end, in my heart I don’t think he needed to hear it—he already knew. He spent time with his family and did so in a way that it was impossible for us to not tell him how loved he was. He brought joy to people. He loved hard.

And that’s what I want to do, too.

So Grandpa . . . 

I forgot one little piece of gratitude. Thank you . . . for showing me how to use time here on earth to the fullest. I promise to work harder to honor your example.

Blink twice if you can hear me.

Originally published on the author’s blog

Brea Schmidt

Brea Schmidt is a writer, photographer and speaker who aims to generate authentic conversation about motherhood and daily life on her blog, The Thinking Branch. She also owns newborn, children and family photography business Photography by Brea. She and her husband raise their three young children in Pittsburgh, PA.