“Ga-bop-pa!”

That’s what my 1-year-old repeated until I acknowledged what he was trying to say. I had no idea what he was talking about until I looked over and saw he was playing with his 3-year-old sister’s camera. It’s made for little hands. The resolution isn’t great, but it’s tough enough to handle toddlers, which is the whole point anyway.

“Ga-bop-pa!” he said again while holding the camera. I took a look at the camera and the image was one of my grandfather, my son’s “Great Poppa.”

“Yeah, that is Great Poppa,” I said. “I think he was pretending to be a monster when Roslin took that picture.” Most of these images saved on the camera are from Christmas 2018. Santa somehow knew we were visiting our family in North Carolina and left the camera as one of her gifts.

My grandfather and Winslow had a bond. They were comfortable together. Watching the two interact at Christmas that year was a real treat.

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You see, Winslow is named after my grandfather, who went by Tom. I’m told he didn’t really like his middle name, Winslow, until he found out that would be what his great-grandson would go by. Then it seemed like a nice name after all. We kept Winslow’s name a secret until his birth. I honestly think that’s one of the only times in my life I was able to gift my grandfather something as profound and heartfelt as the many gifts he had given me before.

Why would you keep images on a camera like that for so long, one might ask. 

Because I can’t bring myself to delete anything with my grandfather’s image.

My grandfather, my Poppa, passed away last summer. We knew it was coming. We were able to say goodbye. But it was hard. It still is.

Winslow, my son, was with me during that trip back East though he was only about 14 months old at the time. Poppa was still coherent when we arrived, and I think having Winslow there made it a little more bearable.

When Winslow and I arrived at Gran and Poppa’s house, he provided a sense of relief. Seeing as he had absolutely no idea what was going on, Winslow continued on as toddler would. He laughed at Poppa’s duck voice and gave lots of smiles that, you could tell, lightened Poppa’s burden just a little. The fluid retention in Poppa’s arms made it impossible for him to hold Winslow. But Winslow still gave him hugs and kisses and giggles, and we held him up to see Poppa and squeeze his hands.

Having a little one at the house, meant my grandmother, my mom, and anyone else at the house was able to have a bit of respite every now and then. A temporary escape from the grief that was only beginning to set in. Winslow would do something silly or want to play with a toy and, for a moment, they would be able to focus on joy.

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Poppa died surrounded by his family who loved him ever so much. I know not everyone gets that, especially now, during times of isolation and confinement for health reasons.

I stuck around my grandparents’ house for another month after Poppa passed. Due to a critical work trip my husband had, Roslin, newly 3 at the time, joined us. We were able to spend time with Gran and the house certainly wasn’t quiet, but that was OK.

This issue for me came from the grief, or rather, the inability to grieve.

You see, little kids are a lot of work. They just needed so much of me. While I was going through this profound change to my own little world, that didn’t negate their need to be fed, and comforted, and snuggled to sleep.

Even though I wanted to, and tried to force it on myself at times, I couldn’t grieve. I was unable to start the process. I just could not.

So we came back home, to the West Coast. I thought to myself, once I have the time and space to myself, I can get through it. But that didn’t seem to work either. I felt removed. Emotions would come up over time. I thought about Poppa, and Gran, a lot. I felt moments of immense sadness and guilt. But it came in spurts. It was grief by a thousand paper cuts.

“Ga-bop-pa!” Winslow yelled again, yesterday. This time it wasn’t at the camera but instead at a picture on the shelf. It’s one of my favorites of Poppa. He’s bright, happy, next to a collection of his numerous carvingsthe perfect embodiment of his personality.

“Ga-bop-pa!” Winslow said as he pointed.

“Yeah, that is Great Poppa. You remember him.” 

Suddenly, the scene with the camera days before became a moment, not of bittersweetness, but of happiness. I realized that’s how Winslow remembers his Great Poppa. Full of life and joy (and jokes).

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I know these days of the viral pandemic have been hard on everyone. Physically, emotionally, financially.

But it’s helped me grieve. To see the blessings I swore weren’t there before. Winslow was supposed to be with Poppa and remembers his spirit.

I’ve included a photo my mom has titled, “The Winslows.” Of course, nobody realized it then, but that was last time Poppa was able to hold Winslow in his arms. The first time I recognized it, a wave of intense sadness hit. It’s the kind of thing you hear about when going through the grief process. But now, I like to think it’s not so sad after all.

I remember the moment that photo was taken. It was the end of our Christmas trip and we were headed home later that day. But my grandparents soaked up every moment with my children. Roslin fell asleep on Gran’s lap (a feat that has yet to be repeated with anyone else) and Winslow gleefully sat on Poppa’s lap as he made duck noises and played games. The same kinds of things I remember from my childhood with them. If we had known that would be the last time, it would not have been as pure and full of unabashed bliss.

So that’s what I have now. The kids remember him and remember his joy. And I think that’s good enough.

Previously published on the author’s Facebook page

Katie Carrick

Katie is a scientist turned child wrangler and writer. Her hands and heart are full with a strong-willed toddler and a velcro-baby. She thinks she’s funny and usually, that’s good enough.