Friday, October 26, 2012

Grandpa by Lisa Dempsey

When I first met my future father-in-law, it was hate at first sight. I nicknamed him “The Irish Archie Bunker”. He was nasty, disagreeable, obnoxious, unpleasant, prejudiced, sexist and judgmental. (Now let me tell you how I REALLY feel!!!) I heard story after story from family and friends of how he used to be fun, loving, and pleasant, but I just could not believe they were talking about the same man. I knew he’d had a rough life. His dad had died real young and left him responsible for taking care of his mom and 3 brothers. He had multiple health problems, a business stolen out from under him by someone he trusted, and some harrowing and disturbing experiences while serving in The Korean war (which he would not talk about). These things certainly affected him deeply. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt for a long time, find ways to love him and appreciate him, (or just tolerate him) but he was just miserable. He was not a nice Grandfather either, and he and I had a number of “heated discussions” about how he would belittle my daughter or mercilessly tease her, bringing her to tears.

One of our bigger fights was about religion and the decision that Ed and I made to forego any organized religion for our children. He knew I was an atheist, and was not happy when we told him we would not baptize his grandchildren. Being devout Catholics, he and my mother-in-law (a saint if there ever was one) were worried that the children would not be welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven without it. He said I would regret it, I said I’d felt this way since I was 19 years old and that my feelings would not change. He said “stranger things have happened”…..(one of his many favorite expressions). He remained miserable.

Then a funny thing happened. I had another baby. He told my mother-in-law that THIS one was “his”. He was now realizing that when Melanie came to visit, she rushed directly into my mother-in-laws arms for hugs and kisses, then to Uncle Jimmy. She had to be prodded to even say hello to him. She was afraid of him and didn’t like him. As she grew older, he saw how much he’d missed by being so stodgy and mean. His own granddaughter didn’t want to be with him!!

From the moment Delaney was born, she WAS his!! He was caring and funny, generous and loving. He called her “Sweet Pea” and played games with her. Melanie was now seeing a different “Pop-pop”. He was softer with her and so wonderful, she was loving him up as well! Now, don’t get me wrong, he was still difficult and ornery about most things, especially about religion. He was still pissed that we didn’t baptize the kids. But whenever the kids were concerned, he was a changed man. Delaney never once saw the mean Pop-pop, so she was crazy about him, and they were very close.

When Delaney was 8, I woke up about 3AM to hear her talking. When I went into her room, she was staring into the corner, nodding her head and saying something about water. Now, she had had imaginary friends when she was younger, but the conversations she had with those friends were animated and lively. That night it was almost as if she was in a trance. I figured I knew what I was seeing. As a child, I was a sleepwalker and a sleeptalker. I’ve been told that I’d had entire conversations with my mother that didn’t make sense, emptied toy boxes into bathtubs and done all sorts of other crazy things in my sleep. I outgrew those episodes by about 9 or 10. I’d never seen her do it before, but I figured I was seeing what my mother experienced with me as a child.

Here is the conversation as I remember it:
Me: Who ya talking to, honey?
Delaney: Pop-pop
Me: Well, it’s the middle of the night. You have school tomorrow. Let’s go to sleep now. You can call and talk to him tomorrow.
Delaney: No, I can’t. Pop-pop says he has to go.
Me: Where is he going?
De: I don’t know, but it’s far away. ….Mommy?
Me: What, babe?
De: Pop-pop says I don’t have to be baptized.
Me: well, I’m glad to hear that.
(she’s still staring into the corner and speaking in monotones)
De: He says I don’t have to have cold water on my head, I will still see him in Heaven anyway (we’d never talked to the girls about Heaven, but I figured my in-laws had)
Me: of course you will, a long time from now….
De: He says I HAVE to go to college, that he has some money for me to go, right? (asking the empty corner) But not enough, so I still have to get a job.
Me: (laughing) Good…’cuz college is real expensive….(trying to lay her down now) What are you looking at?
De: Pop-pop...I TOLD you...he’s telling me all the STUFF before he goes.
Me: (now feeling a little queasy) Like what?
De: like he loves me…(nodding her head at the wall) and he loves YOU too…
(Now I look to the corner, but there’s nothing there)
De: ‘Night, Pop-pop, love you too (then she looks at me and says “Can I have bologna for lunch tomorrow?” and lays down and falls right to sleep)

After that it took me a long time to fall back asleep as I told myself it meant nothing, rationalizing that she’d been sleepwalking. The next morning, I asked her about it and she remembered absolutely NOTHING. She said she was so tired the night before that she fell asleep right away and didn’t wake up until I woke her up for school. I told the kids a little of the conversation, she said it was ME who must’ve been dreaming. She and Melanie were laughing, and I said “yeah, like Pop-pop would ever admit that I was actually right….” and both girls, almost simultaneously said “Hey, stranger things have happened” and we all got a good laugh out of it. I felt much better and got them off to school.

I was just about to leave for work when I got the call from my mother-in-law. She said that my father-in-law had died the night before. Later, the coroners report would put the time of death at around 3am (just the time my daughter was talking in her room). A few days later I learned that he had set up college funds for both my daughters. Not a lot, but a start.

To this day, I’m not sure what to make of it. Delaney still has no memory of it. I tell myself sometimes that it didn’t happen, that I DID dream the whole thing. I’m not clairvoyant at all, and the timing is too coincidental NOT to mean anything. I didn’t feel anything, or experience anything. There was no light in the room, no “energy” or feeling or breeze or smell. No funny buzzing noises or weird coolness. It was a regular night. But SHE felt something (even though she doesn’t remember it). What to make of him “telling” her that she didn’t need to be baptized after all, that she’d still get to see him in heaven? Or him “telling” her he had stuff to tell her before he had to “go”? What to make of the college funds that she mentioned that no one knew about? She was 8 years old, we had NEVER talked to her about college at that point.
And something else...she has NEVER walked or talked in her sleep again. As far as I know, it was a one-time thing. So was it really the same type of sleepwalking I'd experienced as a kid, or something entirely different? I’d like to say “Stranger things have happened”, but it’s simply not true...this is THE strangest thing that’s ever happened to me.

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