My Granpa was never a cave diver, but he went anyway in the year I made my transition from one side of the country to the other. The rest of my family was there for him, but I was not and I’ve been cursing geography ever since.
I beheld him for the first time after the move and his eyes told me I was forever a glimmer of recognition, nothing more. In spite of its repetition, he never remembered my name. It was Bob, the name of his late brother.
Since my arrival, he suffered eight more heart attacks and two more strokes. Somewhere in those years he suffered a heart attack that required triple-bypass heart surgery but he still refused to lie down.
The doctors rebuilt his body but couldn’t recover his memories. He made the slow, one-way descent into the caverns of his mind, dropping new memories as quickly as they came. There was no better example of living in the moment than Granpa every day.
Together we settled into a routine of watching the Yankees in his living room after a decade of trying to cope with who we were to each other. He always waited for Lou Gehrig to step up to the plate, he always forgot who he waited for by the end of the game. And my name was still Bob.
Every Sunday I took him out for breakfast at Maple Glen, a diner in town about as old as he was and run by an intriguing collection of estranged family members—two ex-wives and three daughters who barely spoke to him. These trips were easier in his state, no bad memories.
When it was his time to go, I made sure to be present. Mom, dad and auntie were there, too, and he received them tears and all. I never let go of his hand. He turned to me and called me by my name with his last breath.
His day-to-day life was a testament to the perseverance of the human spirit, and I mapped his fifteen year descent so I’d never to fear my own caverns whenever my time came to go spelunking. He’d be right there with me.