It was a wonderful June day, with plenty of sunshine and warmth for everyone to share. It was June 17th, 2002, ten years ago today.

I took a drive that day to visit my grandfather in the hospital. I spent a couple of hours there. We talked and at times he seemed alert and other times he seemed…distant. Distracted might be a better word, actually. The oxygen mask seemed to be a source of discomfort as he kept trying to pull it off. I would help him put it back on.

We talked about a handful of things during my time there. Mostly stories that I had heard before but would never get tired of hearing again, and they included:

  • how he left school at 16 and was in the sixth grade (back then you didn’t get passed along, especially if you didn’t show up to school),
  • his time spent playing soccer with local semi-pro clubs (gave it up when children were born because he couldn’t afford to get hurt and not be able to work),
  • his time spent in WWII (was drafted at age 28 in 1943),
  • the house he built with the winnings from shooting dice on the way home from WWII (still unverified, but a great story),
  • his battle with prostate cancer and being told he had six months to live, back in 1974 (doctors NEVER told him until 25 years later),
  • how he lived another 28 years (this was our time together)

I said goodbye to him and told him I would come back again tomorrow. I left the hospital and drove the back to my house. It took an hour.

During that drive, he passed.

My mother called me to tell me that he had passed. She was crying, upset because it happened on the 17th, which also happens to be my birthday. I told her not to worry about that. I was named after him, so sharing a day with him was just fine with me. I don’t think she understands. I’m not sure I do, either.

I so wish I could go back and give him one last hug. I so wish I would have known that this was the end. It just didn’t occur to me that he would ever leave me, because he had always been there for me. I so wish I could give him a proper goodbye, and thank him for all the years of love he shared with me. He deserved that much from me. I feel like I failed him at the moment he needed me.  I try to tell myself that he was already gone by the time I was with him that day. But to think that he was simply minutes away from passing and that he died utterly alone, with no one by his side…OK, it’s getting dusty in here.

Growing up I always thought it was cool when my birthday would fall on Father’s Day. It just made that particular day a little more special for me, and I think for my dad as well.

My daughter was born nine months later. My son was born fifteen months after that. On June 17th, 2004.

Today we have a lot going on here in our house. It’s my birthday. It’s my son’s birthday. It’s Father’s Day. And it’s the 10th anniversary of the passing of Thomas Benjamin LaRock, a man who was more than just a grandfather to me.

I still remember playing soccer with him, the times he would come swimming with us, all of the things that grandparents spoil grandkids with. The trips to the amusement parks, the times we spent bowling (together with my Dad, the three of us won the league championship a few times), and the Saturday afternoons at their house. I could never say enough about him, no matter how hard I try.

Today was the same as it was ten years ago. Plenty of sun. Warm. And he is as much in my thoughts today, too.

I know a lot has changed in the past ten years. I know that he would be proud of me no matter what.

I so wish I was there when he needed me.

Go hug your father today. I know I will.

Because for all I know, it could be the last time. And I don’t want to make the same mistake twice.