My only regret in life, involves not watching the movie Fletch, starring Chevy Chase. I know you’re thinking, “But Sarah, you’ve done so many stupid things and THIS is what you regret?” Yes, this is it. I believe I was nine or ten at the time. My mom and sister were out of town, probably with the Girl Scouts and I was spending the weekend home with my dad. That Saturday I went over to my friend Tracey’s house to play. About half way through the day, we decided we wanted to have a sleep over. Around five o’clock, I called my dad to ask him if I could spend the night. He said yes, but he had planned for us to go out to dinner and to see the movie Fletch, was I sure I wanted to spend the night? I said I was, and hung up. Around midnight I woke up at Tracey’s and realized I had made a mistake. Dad had sounded so disappointed that I had chosen a friend over him, but by that time it was too late to rectify it. A few years later he died. We never did get to watch Fletch together.
What started as an insignificant moment in my childhood, became an indelible, emotional mark that would guide me through the rest of my life. Be aware of your moments. I’ve been trying to write this blog for weeks now. Thinking up how to express something so cliché, in a unique manner. But when I started to think about it, I realized this is cliché, because it’s so true. I don’t need to put a unique spin on it, I just need to say it. I never forgot how I felt that night at Tracey’s and I still haven’t forgiven myself for missing that moment with my father. That’s why, a few years later when he did pass away I was sleeping on the floor next to the couch where he was lying, and when the paramedics came to take him away I made sure to shout from the chair that I had been instructed to sit in, that I loved him.
Four years later, my grandparents moved in with us. And so began my odyssey in multi-generational living. I didn’t realize it at the age of 16, but the universe had granted me the opportunity to rectify not going to see that movie with my father. Because Sam and Lucy, they gave me a whole lot of moments to choose between the short-term and the long-term. No, I didn’t want to go hose down the windows in freezing temperatures, or carry 278 bags of groceries in from the car, or put grandpa’s socks on him, or even sometimes eat dinner with them. When I was 16 I didn’t want to do these things because, well I was 16 and when I moved in with them again at the age of 30 I didn’t want to do these things because well, I was 30. I would lay on my bed in my mother’s basement, trying to pretend that I wasn’t the living embodiment of loser (just got laid off, had to move home, no job, living with my mom, think main character from Bridesmaids), and try so hard to forget that this is where I had ended up. And then I’d hear the floor creak, and inevitably the basement door would open and one of the grandparents would shout down that they needed me to come do these things. And then I’d remember Fletch, and I’d go do them. Because as immortal as Sam and Lucy seemed, I knew they were not and I didn’t want another missed moment.
I eventually rebuilt my life. Moved to D.C. Got another degree. Landed a job. And realized I actually missed being there to help them. That my relationship with my grandparents was made up of moments doing things I’d rather not do, for people I’d do anything for. And it occurred to me that sometimes the big things are easier to do, then those little things. I wouldn’t have batted an eye if one of my family members needed a kidney, but unload the groceries? That seemed way more labor intensive. But in those seemingly insignificant moments I really got to learn who Sam and Lucy were as people. A privilege I never got to experience with my dad. As this realization came over me, my visits to Michigan became less about friends and more about relishing in the moments I had left with my grandparents. Moments they granted me that my father, unfortunately, was never able to. And after every visit it became more and more clear, that one day those visits would end. Sitting at a kitchen table was less about eating dinner and more about listening to them tell me about their lives. Putting grandpa’s socks on didn’t seem so disgusting anymore, although in all honesty it was still pretty gross. Calling Gramps everyday on my work break, wasn’t an obligation like it had been to call him on his birthday while I was in college. It was a moment that I was acutely aware of everyday. That this one call could be the last call and if he died tomorrow, I would never forget missing that moment. After all, it could be the last time I got to hear him call me “Shithead”.
And then the day came that they were both gone. No more carrying heavy things, or trying to explain how the internet works, or listening to Dean Martin while they tell stories of their lives. My sister and mother have agreed to carry on the Shithead nickname, but it just won’t be the same. And that’s okay. It really is. That’s how life is supposed to work. It’s harder than I expected, and much more sad than even losing my father. Not because I didn’t love my dad, but because I had 37 years of moments with my grandparents. I knew them on a level that the vast majority of people don’t get to know their grandparents on. I mean I’ve accidentally seen my grandfather naked more than anyone can imagine. Talk about a moment. But I’ve been here before. One day it won’t be so sad, it will be a happy cornucopia of moments that I can pull from, or be reminded of, laugh about or draw upon for wisdom. I can happily say that I have no “Fletch” regrets when it comes to Sam and Lucy.
So when your mother texts you on a Friday night to go look at the moon, go look at it. Or when your sister wants to visit an art gallery when you’re hung over, go with her. Because you’ll probably never regret the things you do, but you sure as hell will regret the things you don’t do.