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Dear Grampa,

I don’t know if I will ever be able to live down the guilt that I feel for abandoning you in the end. I should have gone. I should have called. I should have written.

When the stroke hit, I felt like my own life was falling down around my feet. I was barely hanging on to my own sanity so I said a few prayers and cried a few tears as you lay in that hospital bed over a thousand miles away. I took the rest of the day off of work to feel sorry for myself and to soothe my sense of loss but I didn’t go. I didn’t call. I didn’t write.

Time went on and you went home. Gramma did her best to take care of you with some help from Dad and your other kids and my cousins. I cried when I talked to Mom about the difficulties you were facing. You had to learn how to let other people do things for you instead of being independent like you always had been. I felt better with the sense of urgency gone so I didn’t go. I didn’t call. I didn’t write.

It was a Sunday when Mom called. You were in the hospital again and it wasn’t looking good. Your kidneys were failing. They were going to let you die. I cried and I cursed Mom for waiting to tell me as you’d been hospitalized days before. I went to work the next day, numb and angry but still I didn’t go. I didn’t call. I didn’t write.

You slipped away on a Thursday, two weeks before my birthday. I got the voicemail from Mom just before I went into a meeting at work. It was all I could to keep the tears from my face as my boss yammered about something or another. I sobbed all the way home, grief and guilt overlapping in my tears. I didn’t go. I didn’t call. I didn’t write.

I don’t know if I kept myself from your funeral because of the expense (which is what I told everyone), out of selfishness (I’ve never been good at dealing with death) or to punish myself. By staying away, my guilt is complete. I didn’t go. I didn’t call. I didn’t write.

My Grampa, I have eulogized you in my heart: You were a mean, ornery old bastard that said what you shouldn’t and stepped on plenty of toes, but we never doubted that you loved us. You taught me my first swear words and gave me my first gun. You were the hardest working and most independent man I’ve ever known and I will miss you for the rest of my life.

I’ve never believed in communication with the dead, so my pleas for forgiveness must fall on deaf ears or be lost in the air. Still, I wish I could tell you that I am sorry that I didn’t go and didn’t call and didn’t write.

I will love you always,