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#12: Honor

In 1999, my grandmother passed away. My grandfather in his grief began doing things like storing baked goods in the oven and turning it on. Or joy-riding around town at two in the morning. Or going for walks and not coming back.

My mother had an overworked husband, two teenage girls and a nascent diagnosis that had just morphed into reality. Her right foot dragged heavily despite her new leg brace. Her muscle spasms increased and the pain had intensified. She could walk no further than the length of our eleven hundred square foot ranch. She could drive no further than ten minutes.

But Dad had raised her and it was her turn to raise dad. She had a job to do and she rose to the challenge. And so every day for the next four years she wrapped up our leftovers, drove across town, limped up the driveway and delivered my grandfather his dinner.

My excuse was: I have to go to my boyfriend's. My excuse was: I have homework to do. My excuse was: I have to go away to college and I just. Can't. Bring. Grandpa. His dinner.

As a kid I spent full days with my grandfather. We played chess. We played poker. We watched the Kentucky Derby and bet on our favorites and rooted for the next Triple Crown. He taught me everything I know about cards, strategy, and the rush of getting it right. He also taught me the merits of getting it wrong. He went to Vegas once a year, and every year I begged to go with him. When you're twenty-one, he'd say and pat my arm. When you're twenty-one we'll hit the slots and bet on the ponies. We might win a few bucks if we're lucky.

I turned eleven and sixteen and nineteen and twenty and my visits trended inversely to my age.

Six weeks before the big birthday, on a frigid evening the day after Christmas, we kissed his warm forehead and said our goodbyes. It went as well as it could. He died in a hospital bed, disoriented but comfortable. My mother feigned strength but her condition was worsening. She would never admit it, but she needed my help. She would never communicate it, but my absence affected her. I went back to school and didn't play another card game for years.

Do what you know you need to. Show your parents you care for them, even if you don't have the time, even if there are a million other things you'd rather be doing, even if they haven't always cared for you. Honor your grandparents and parents with the gift of your presence. There are no time machines. There are no do-overs. Be there when they need you. They won't ask you for help. They won't ask but you'll know. My hope is you'll go.

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