Yesterday was A's granddaughter's 6th birthday, and while I knew it was coming, I hadn't given it much thought. A's daughter chose to have no contact with me beyond the initial phone call confirming what I already feared was true. I haven't been in contact with the rest of the family for probably two years now, maybe more, and I don't expect that to change. I've become an expert at not thinking about things that I know are going to hurt.
I was out shopping with a friend that day, when my cellphone rang. It was A, telling me that he was speeding south for his daughter's induction to hang out with the waiting room with other family, and that he'd washed his truck for the occasion. A and I had known each other just a few months at that point, but our friendship had recently turned into something more. I felt special at the time that I was the one he wanted to call and tell his good news. I still feel special that he did.
He was smitten with his new granddaughter, and delighted to be grandpa. He sent me all the new pictures of the baby that he got from his daughter. Some of my favorite ones of him are pictures of him and her playing, including the one on my desk at work; his face, and hers, are pure joy. I was used to getting frequent grandfatherly updates, but that all stopped once he died. And a little girl I had come to love through him just disappeared from my life. And the grandson that was on the way when A passed never was a part of my life; I was lucky to find out from A's friend when the boy was born.
Each year, I acknowledge her birthday, sending out love and a silent "happy birthday" to her. She was almost 2 when he died, a happy toddler. He had spent the weekend before he died with her and her folks; they'd gone to the zoo and had a great time, and he regaled me with stories of monkey imitations, as well as Elmo video marathons and tea parties, when he returned. She had a grandpa who loved her fiercely; I wonder if she even remembers him. I sure hope so, but I have to wonder.
And now she's 6, and probably started 1st grade this year, and it blows my mind. While I've changed a lot on the inside in the last 4 years, my life as it appears on the outside is much the same at 38 as it was at 32. We just don't change that much when we get older. But the life changes between 2 and 6 are vast; A's granddaughter has gone from toddler to schoolgirl, a baby to a real person. And that growth seems to underline just how long he's been gone in a way that numbers cannot.
I imagine that's an additional pain that widows with children deal with all the time. Their kids change so much, doing so many new things, that it can only emphasize the passage of time. It's easy enough to see the subtle signs of the years in your own face in the mirror—the new lines, the new grays, the new aches and pains—but they are not as drastic, not as surprising, I would guess, as seeing that your child has grown up by a quantum leap every time you turn around.
I suppose this is the nature of things. Grandfathers die and little girls grow up. But sometimes you live enough, and long enough, that academic truths like these become achingly poignant realities.