What I Will Miss When They Are Gone

gratitude

Photo Credit: weerapat (Bigstock)

They sent me home to get the music.

On a Friday afternoon in June, we were celebrating the 90th birthday of my wife’s grandfather. He remains a healthy and vibrant man, a gift to all who have known him. As he eases into his tenth decade, he quietly laments that this may be his last year of gardening. His party was a true celebration of life.

Yet, the celebration was missing something. Music.

So, I was sent home to pick up my portable speaker. A thirty-minute round trip to ponder this man who cared for his granddaughter—the woman I love so much—at a time in her childhood when no other man was around to do so. I’m a words guy, and I like to memorialize such moments with a toast. Thirty-minutes to ponder what I wanted to say about my kids’ great-grandfather.

And I blanked.

I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to say about him. It was disconcerting. For a moment, I even began to question the sincerity of my affection for him. But then I got still. And I simply listened. Then, eventually, this voice of grace:

You don’t want to toast him; you want to hug him.

When his days are done you will, in a way, still be able to speak to him; but once his days are done, you will no longer be able to hold him. His soul is as young as it ever was and as young as it will ever be, but this heartbeat of a body is nearly over. This blink-of-an-eye substance will vanish. This fleeting, fickle physicality will be finished. Soon, you won’t be able to feel the weight of him in your arms. You won’t be able to hear him call you “Flanagan” and feel him pull you in close for one more joke from his bottomless supply. Soon, he will fill the world with his spirit, but his reading chair will be empty.

I just wanted to hug him.

It made me think about my wife and my children and my family and my friends. Someday, they too will be gone from me, or I will be gone from them. Either way, I will miss them, and more than anything, I will miss their materiality. I will miss the flesh-and-blood stuff. The stuff you can only sense with a body. The stuff of light and sound and odor and mass.

I will miss the sensation of my wife’s toes finding mine, under the covers, in the darkness. I will miss the feel of my daughter’s fingers as they find mine in a busy parking lot. I will miss the cool, metallic smell of my son’s hair as the sun dives early beneath the horizon on a crisp, clear autumn afternoon. I will miss the steely strength in my other son’s eyes when he knows he’s right and I’m wrong—it’s not just spirit; it has a color, a shape, a shimmer, and I will miss all of it.

I will miss the beautiful stuff you can touch, taste, smell, hear, and feel, and I will miss the ugly stuff, too. I will miss boogers wiped in out-of-the-way places. I will miss cuts that bleed and scrapes that make showers miserable for a day or two. I will miss the messes my kids make and, hopefully, the messes my grandkids will make. Someday, my body will be gone from theirs, or theirs from mine, and I will miss it all.

For too long, I’ve thought of the body as a cage, an imperfect, deteriorating container in which our souls restlessly pace, longing to finally be set free. I confess: I’ve failed to see atoms and cells and tissues and organs and bodies for the gift that they are. I thought the body was the hiding place of the divine; now, I wonder if it is the completion of the divine. The culmination.

Souls can feel joy, but only bodies can laugh.

Souls can feel sorrow, but only bodies can weep.

Souls can feel love, but only bodies can make it.

Only bodies can hug. Only bodies can hold each other. Only bodies can snuggle during bedtime books. Only bodies can tickle each other. Only bodies can play in the pool in a strange aroma of chlorine, sweat, and sunblock. Only bodies can splash in puddles together. Only bodies can agree upon the best pizza place in town. Only bodies can feel the air cool, listen to Sinatra on the portable speaker, watch great-grandkids hide and seek each other in the gloaming. Only bodies.

That’s what I will miss.

The flesh-and-blood gift.

That’s what I will miss about my wife’s grandfather when he is gone.

That’s what I will miss about all of us.

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Loveable is available in paperback, digital, and audio and can be purchased wherever books are sold, so you can also purchase it at your favorite bookseller. For a very limited time, it is available in digital for $2.99.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Nancy Currie

    What a wonderful piece of writing. So achingly beautiful. And, once again, it’s like you’re speaking directly into my heart. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about body image and physicality, aging and failing limbs and organs, and what needs to be done to keep bodies (mine in particular) going. I’m not old, but the physical age of my body is older than my years. I hate that, but I’ve been working on accepting it. I also have a young daughter who is entering those potentially treacherous years where body image is much on her mind and mine. And all of it combined has occupied much of my free thinking time lately. But not once, while mired in it all (how to keep my body going, how to guide my young daughter through the shark infested waters of body image to a place of peace and love of her body), did I consider how our bodies are gifts and not some, as you put it, “cage, an imperfect, deteriorating container in which our souls restlessly pace, longing to finally be set free”. I’ve always felt trapped in a failing, imperfect vessel. You’ve named it and given me pause to think of bodies another way, as a gift the way a body is, not something to be fixed or transformed, but something to be loved and cherished how it is and while it is here. This new perspective has given me a way forward, a path to a different approach. Thank you.

    • Nancy, I know how frustrating that struggle with body image and body rejection can be. Resisting it is always futile. You have to head in a new direction altogether. It really does require a totally new path, a different approach, as you said. I’m SO glad this post helped provide that.

    • Nancy, my heart aches as I read your beautiful and so very tender words! I wish you the freedom to rest in peace within this body of yours that you have now and may you continue to grow into the knowledge of its gift to you while you are on this earth in this life journey. Prayers for you and your daughter!
      Blessings to you always!

      • Nancy Currie

        Thank you Jenny for your kind words and prayers. Many blessings to you.

  • Mary Payne

    Very timely article n one that spoke to me greatly. Thank you for bringing me back to the present n for reminding me to truly touch, see, hear, n smell all the loved ones God has blessed me with today.

    • You’re welcome, Mary. Enjoy those you’ve been blessed with today!

  • Shannon Sprague

    Speechless, crying, reflecting, missing, wishing…… THANK YOU!

  • Carlene Bronner

    So well expressed, and perhaps your best post yet. Thank you so much.

  • Jody

    Kelly, you hit this one out of the park. I am thankful for the gift of words that God has given you. You bless me time and time again with your blog. Thank you for your vulnerability; thank you for allowing us, your readers, into the tender places of you. This is Kingdom stuff – thanks.

    • Jody, this is the kindest and most encouraging of affirmations. Thank you.

  • Susan

    You were right. This was one of your best. And, that’s coming from one who loves them all! Thank you for this.

  • Susan

    Yep, you were right. This was one of your best! And, this is from one who loves them all. Kelly, thank you.

  • JC

    “I thought the body was the hiding place of the divine; now, I wonder if it is the completion of the divine. The fulfillment. The culmination.”

     

    Question:  Is obtaining a physical body the fulfillment of a divine plan for the completion of our eternal happiness?  Answer: Yes!

     

    This is one half of the two part mission of Jesus Christ.   According to the plan of salvation, as designed by Heavenly Father, we are meant to be reunited (spirit and body) into an eternal soul that lives on beyond this mortality.   The other half of the Saviors mission?  All that “shame” (sin) we reflect on in this blog; it was claimed by the Savior on our behalf to ensure that our eternal souls as well as our family’s eternal souls get to be with God for the rest of eternity.  We must of course accept that claim (pay the premium if you will) by adhering to the principles and ordinances of the gospel set up by the Savior for authentic acceptance of His grace/mercy.   

     

    I know the above statements to be true. Why then do I still struggle in the midst of such understanding and clarity?  The struggle puts value on the end state.  If I could beautifully master any combination of notes on any instrument with little more effort than to attempt it, what beauty would I really find in it.  Likewise, it is my agency to choose for myself and the consequences of choosing poorly that put the full value of God’s plan of salvation into effect.  I will continue to struggle and I will have joy now and in the eternities, because I will hug my family and hold them close to perfect that joy. Additionally, people like Kelly who help remind me of these things make it just a little easier to deal with the struggle.  

     

     https://www.lds.org/topics/plan-of-salvation?lang=eng&_r=1&old=true

    • Grace upon grace, my friend. Struggling to live what we believe is part of the deal. It’s good to know that that struggle can be resolved just a little bit with a simple hug of the ones we love. Go hold them!

  • ….. the tears flow. I miss my mom.

  • s merritt

    beautiful. i would vote for this being your best post as well, but i’ve only read a handful. 🙂

    i immediately thought of when our family moved overseas. the extended family was sad. we were all sad. at the airport, after check-ins and final group pictures . . . then the hugs. as i hugged my grandma, i just held her and didn’t let go. i tried to memorize the feel of her small frame in my arms. such a dynamo in such a small package. i still remember how it felt, that final hug. i memorized it and still cherish it. three months later, after laughing with family, she turned around and angels were waiting to escort her away from us . . . for a while.

    but we will all have bodies again. and we will hug. and there will be laughter.

    • “I tried to memorize the feel of her small frame in my arms.” Brought tears to my eyes all over again.

  • Anne-Marie Hendrickson

    Having lost my dad a couple months ago and not having hugged him in many months before that, this really hit home. Thanks for putting into words something I didn’t even realized needed saying.

    • I’m sorry for your loss, Anne-Marie, but glad this post could help you articulate it a little more clearly.

  • Judy lawrance

    I so want to comment–but I am too “touched” to know what to say….

  • Michele Bartlett

    Slain.

  • Doreen M Vitullo-Matheny

    Ahhh and death is not the only thing that can separate bodies, flesh and visual images of people we know and love. As a mother there is a deep sadness when she can no longer hold, comfort and be her child’s refuge. They grow up and you are no longer the one they choose to spend time with and the one’s they do choose you can see are going to harm them but are helpless to do anything as your opinion is no longer of matter or value. I know this is not necessarily true of every parent child relationship but the majority tell me this is “normal” and I just have to accept it as “their life journey”? I am struggling with that as it was not what I hoped or prayed for. I believed that the grace in my life would make the difference. I raised them with that grace I was not given as a child or adult and hoped to have a stronger, deeper relationship with them than I did with my parents. I miss both my sons and do feel very broken that I am no longer needed except when they can’t pay bills it is hurtful and they can’t see that. I wonder if they will miss my physical presence when the time comes? Maybe they will but why do people wait until it is too late and then regret those lost opportunities to hold and be near and interact and laugh and love as we were meant to.

    • You are certainly describing the pain of a parent, Doreen. Now, you may have to draw more heavily upon the other senses, instead of touch. And from I hear, this is what people love about being grandparents. Getting to hold again. 😊

  • Hudson Jim

    Thanks, Kelly, for this excellent post. I am a very tactile person who ends up, for much of my days, working virtually and longing for “people with skin on.” I just returned from my in-laws’ 60th anniversary celebration, for which they had paid for all of their kids and grandkids to join them on an Alaska cruise. What a great opportunity for hugs all around! I also appreciated your shift from a previous Platonic body-soul dualism (“For too long, I’ve thought of the body as a cage”) to a truer position, in which we will one day be resurrected in very real–though different–bodies. Yes, soon we will miss those very physical connections, but the promise is that for many of us, they will one day return!

    • What a gift that cruise was! And what a gift to remind me that there is a label to describe how I was thinking and that I can understand it more by digging into that description.

  • Julie Fitzpatrick

    You were right about it being universal.

    • I’m glad to hear that, Julie. Henri Nouwen always said that the most personal is also the most universal.

  • Thank you again for another heart warming post. I have started a “morning hug” routine that I give to my family. For the first few days they were feeling weird about it, but after the third day they were expecting it. We never know how much time we have on our body, but please make sure that we make each moments count. I am crying as I am writing this respond to your post. I really needed this reminder! Have a blessed and wonderful day! :’)

    • Anne, I love your morning ritual! I’m a huge rituals guy, and I can’t imagine a better one.

  • Kathleen

    This is the most beautiful explanation of feelings that we tend to stuff. Instead you have made those feelings so obviously tangible. I wish I could hug you right now for this AHA moment! Thank You. You are so “LOVEABLE”!

  • Leah

    Kelly, your writing always hits home with me, even though our religious beliefs differ. Thank you. I am going to share your article with my youngest, who is doesn’t want to deal with the knowledge of that his parents will eventually die.

  • D Boyd

    “I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to say about him. It was disconcerting. For a moment, I even began to question the sincerity of my affection for him. But then I got still. And I simply listened. Then, eventually, this voice of grace:

    You don’t want to toast him; you want to hug him.”

    I loved the whole post, but I love this part a million times! I felt it to my soul on a level no words can express. Thank you for that gift.

    • That is so cool, to know that a line or two that most people read past struck something in you. Stay there, attend to it, there is more to learn there.

  • Mary Kay Esswein

    Poignant and profound – separation from the bodily essence of those we love is what makes grief so excruciating on this side of heaven. However, having lost our 25 year old daughter in a road accident while serving as a missionary nurse in Nigeria 11 years ago, we experienced God’s presence in tangible ways that carried us through our ache for hugs and vibrant essence. As a mom, it was as if my body had been ripped apart and sobs erupted uncontrollably for months, but in the midst of emotional devastation, the Lord brought radiant experiences of His grace that awed and amazed me and it hasn’t stopped. He remains our source of comfort and joy in family celebrations that miss her lively conversation and playful spirit, her spiritual passion and servant heart. In the ache of loss, the Lord comes nearer than ever before as He walks with us and with her simultaneously on both sides of heaven. What we miss of her on earth, we are more deeply filled by Him until we see her again in glorious wholeness never yet known on earth.

    • Mary, over the years, I’ve come to trust that I can handle almost anything, get through it, move on. The loss you describe is one, though, that I can’t imagine living through. Thank you for sharing with us how your faith has sustained you. I and many others will take encouragement from your words.

  • Doreen McGlade

    Beautifully written and almost certainly universal! Thank you for sharing your experience and thoughts–my father will be 90 in September (Good Lord willing) and I just spent the past few days helping him and my mom deal with some medical issues. You expressed and validated many of my thoughts and reflections. Thank you!

    • Blessings to you and your parents, Doreen, as you are present to each other through these years!

  • Susan

    This post brought me to tears. Despite my beliefs in heaven and the soul living on, I miss having my friends and loved ones here where I can touch and love and yes, hug them! I recently lost a dear friend of fifty years to an unexpected heart attack. What I also miss, besides everything, is that he was so very alive, and he made the rest of us feel more alive and present when he was in the room. Thank you for reminding us again of our universal human experience of losing those we love and reminding us to love and hug them now because we never know how long we may have to do so.

  • Debby Spiby

    It’s a good job we’re promised a new, upgraded body!

  • Tomi B.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/449a937ce77f582748fd5b8a392496ca08294a882f014c5bc01887aa73aff71a.jpg Kelly, thank you for putting this life we live into perspective. My husband and I, have my 84 year old mom living with us. We are in the process of moving into a new home that will be more accessible for her. This week has been tough. I’m sad about leaving our quirky, old house and incredible neighbors. This is uncharted territory we’re entering, and the fact that mom has dementia, makes this journey exhausting, filled with bouts of hilarity, joy and sadness. it can be a thankless role we’re filling, but I know it is a gift. Thanks for reminding me of that.

  • Melissa Kamrowski Karl

    This came at a beautiful time!

    I have just spent 5 weeks with my dearest friends, helping my girlfriend take care of her husband who was placed in hospice at her home. He was diagnosed with ALS less than a year ago, although we realize that he had symptoms for a couple years before that.
    Her husband was a vibrant, loving, caring husband and father, and a dear friend to all of us.

    He had an End of Life directive, and chose July 1st, as his date of transition. He was so happy that we brought all of his family together, to surround him with love and laughter and music, in the days and hours before his passing. He was held and hugged by 15 people, as he took his last breaths.

    My friend and her husband also suffered the loss of their 20-yr. old son (hit by car), and her mother (unexpected heart attack), both in the past two years. Their grief has been unfathomable, and their love and strength together has been immeasurable. Only love, such as they had, could support them through the past two years. And knowing that he has joined their son has given my friend her greatest sense of peace.

    It is because of their love that she will be able to continue, to love, to grieve, to celebrate, to move on. She still has her oldest son, daughter-in-law, and two granddaughters, and they will all continue to share that love with each other.

    Thank you, Dr. Kelly, for reminding us all of what is most important.

  • Rita Kerley

    You nailed it again, Kelly! Mortality, Materiality, Memory Making! My own dad left us at 90/& that was ten years ago, already! I still talk to both my parents & yes, occasionally, get answers. Or, at least solice! Carpe’ Diem!!!

  • Brian Shimer

    Brother– I think that this one hit me someplace I didn’t expect. Like you said, sometimes the most personal are the most universal. The thing that came to mind is how “tired of the body” we can get in this life. The aches. The pains. The challenges. Yet, as you beautifully wrote, how central to our living is that body. I love how you pulled that into word in such poetry. I’m glad I have been saving this to read until I can savor it. Thank you for sharing this. And what a gift for your wife’s grandfather to see and hold his great grands, and you too, “Flanagan”!
    Love to you my brother. Glad to hear your voice!

  • Mike Gates

    The sentiment is awesome and your writing on this is even better than that. You’re improving at your craft.
    We’re in the midst of a 2 week family vacation and yesterday was the 1st time I’ve check in. I’m glad I did.

  • A. Julie

    My grandpa died a year and a half ago. I still have a voicemail from him on my phone, and there’s a corner of his voice telling Grandma something, on the answering machine message on their phone.

    Grandma’s birthday was over the weekend. I drove from Chicago to Cleveland to surprise her for dinner. We talk on the phone every week, but it was really nice to be able to hug her. On the drive back to Illinois I wondered if I would see her again… things happen when you’re eighty eight, after all, despite being sound of body and mostly sound of mind.

    Yeah, I will miss those things too.