When my favorite blonde cowgirl was about a year old, her Granddaddy nick-named her “4 Wheel Drive”. Her smiling antics combined with an incredible natural sense of balance and lack of fear put a distinct twinkle in his eye. In the years that followed, it warmed my heart to watch them together: wading through trout streams, rock climbing along the river and playing with his beloved dogs.
Granddaddy made a valiant effort to keep up with his 4 wheel drive despite the fact that she always seemed to remain a few steps ahead of him, looking over her shoulder with an impish grin. That grin proved to be contagious, and their times together left my dad laughing more than his serious and quiet nature normally allowed.
Cancer took Granddaddy out of our lives about 18 months ago. I remember a friend telling me shortly after he died that grief would come in stages, eventually settling into acute and distinct moments when his presence would be painfully missed. I had one of those moments on Saturday at the Nebraska State Junior High Championship Track meet.
My favorite blonde cowgirl aka 4 wheel drive decided last winter that she would compete in the Pole Vault her 7th grade track season. My favorite farmer Pole Vaulted during his high school tenure, so it seemed a pretty natural fit. In typical Meg fashion, she embraced the season with that big smile, fearless drive, and quiet determination that warmed her Granddaddy’s heart.
Her season of 7 regular track meets became augmented with a trip to the state meet. Megan ended the season clearing 8’ — earning 9th place overall, with a love of vaulting and a tremendous acquisition of new skills due to a talented young coach.
Every time that I watch her sail over the bar, I think of my dad and his 4 wheel drive. My heart hurts just a little bit because I know that we will never get to share that moment together. Instead, I have to imagine the twinkle, the big smile, and the victorious celebration whistle. While I am sure that the bleachers in heaven offer a great view, it just isn’t the same.
I grieve for myself, and for my blonde cowgirl who may never fully understand how proud her granddaddy would be. The focus, determination, and strength that are required for the Pole Vault epitomize the qualities that my dad held close to his heart. Combining those with Meg’s contagious smile creates a powerful package.
I am certain that each one of us has lost a loved one and finds moments of loss amidst times of great joy. The regret and disappointment that comes from not being able to share is strong. I think that part of the grieving process is learning to accept that a lost loved one’s role in making new memories is different. It requires an added component of faith – a peaceful acceptance that the love, pride, and presence can still be felt albeit in a less tangible way.
I struggle with this, but I also know that this journey is inevitable — happening regardless of my desires to change the past rather than to look to the future. My pole vaulting blonde cowgirl carries a piece of her Granddaddy with her each and every day.
Perhaps that is part of the reason that she carries a perpetual twinkle in her eye?