I was never close with my grandfather. Despite knowing him for all 16 years of my life, we rarely talked. A good part of the reason for this was because he lived in Pennsylvania, and I lived all the way across the country in California, so we only saw each other once every couple of years. Our family was also never good about scheduling frequent virtual reunions.
But over a year ago, my grandmother (my grandfather’s wife) passed away in hospice care at the seniors’ home they were living in. My grandfather continued to live alone in Pennsylvania for half a year, but only one of his kids was around to look after him, so my mother and her sister, who lives right where we do, decided to move him out to California. They set him up in a nice senior living home a couple streets away so that we could visit him frequently.
For a while I never wanted to visit him. It’s hard to find something in common with a person from a completely different generation, so being around him could often prove somewhat boring. Besides, my life was moving fast. I was constantly hanging out with friends, working on film and photography, doing community service, and preparing for college. I had no time for a bed-ridden old man. But as summer 2021 waned on, the visitations became enjoyable.
For the first time in my life, I actually grew relatively close to my grandfather. As his mind and body were slowly deteriorating, it was hard to hold long conversations with him, but he remained jovial and upbeat, cracking self-deprecating jokes and talking at length about his old hunting dog Jake. My family and I would head over to the seniors’ home about once a week and catch up with him. He would typically sit silently and listen to our conversations with a big, happy grin on his face, laughing out our jokes and nodding at our musings as the sunset cast a golden glow around his little apartment.
We went over one night, and, not wanting to order food from the complex’s cafeteria, my mom made scallops and muscles with a soup and buttered toast. We moved him from his bed to his reclining armchair and ate our dinner. After, my mom made key lime pie, both her and my grandfather’s favorite dessert. Back in the 80s, my mom had been traveling all over the world, and my grandfather met up with her for a couple weeks in Nepal, where, one night, they want out to a restaurant and had key lime pie. So, in honor of that memory, she made it one last time for him.
After dessert, he asked me to print out a ranking of the highest poker hands so we could play the following week. I said I would, then wished him goodnight, and my mom and I drove home while blasting Frankie Valli’s December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night) through her car speakers. Four days later, my grandfather passed away peacefully in his sleep.
I thought my grandfather’s death would feel the same as my grandmother’s, that I would not be sad at all. I figured I was not close enough to him for it to hurt. But about a week after my mom told us the news, his death started to feel bittersweet. There had been something so nostalgic about gathering around in that little apartment room, chewing on key lime pie, talking about baseball and looking around at old photos of the life my grandfather once lived as the sun slowly set behind the trademark Californian palm trees. It dawned on me that I actually cherished those last few visits with my grandfather, and that I was actually sad I wouldn’t be able to visit him again. In the past several weeks since he passed, I’ve found myself wanting to go back just one more time and give him those poker rankings.
Luckily, I do have something to look back on in memory. The second-to-last time I visited my grandfather, I took my camera with me and snapped some photos of him sitting in his big armchair. Every once in a while I go through them, smiling at the memories of small-talk and humor. To me, that encapsulates the importance of photography has an art form: the ability to capture a moment in time and hold onto it forever. I will always have these photos of my grandfather to look back on. A night of key lime pie and poker rankings will always be ingrained into their pixels. Because of these photos, I will never forget the feeling of sitting in the little carpeted room with white walls, laughing as soft sunlight leaks through the windows, my grandfather spending time with his beloved family for the very last time.
Here they are: