Love teaches us from many directions— joy, happiness, patience, understanding, empathy, humor and forgiveness. Losing a loved one can send us in a tailspin, as it did for me when my father died unexpectedly, right before Christmas. I was bombarded from all sides with an array of emotions- grief, shock, denial and anger to name a few. As I struggled to process the realization that one of the most significant relationships of my life had abruptly ended, something dawned on me. Despite the grief, I understood death is a part of life and that one day everyone dies. Then my thoughts turned to Jonathan and I wondered how this news would impact him and would he understand?
My father was always one of Jonathan’s biggest supporters and advocates. From the day Jonathan was diagnosed, he was there. Given my Dad was quite the intellectual he began to research autism so he could better understand how to support not just Jonathan but our family as a whole. Add to that the word autism never interfered with the love and relationship they both shared. My Dad loved Jonathan for who he was, and all that entailed. It was a love that spanned every age and stage of Jonathan’s life. A love that was fierce, yet gentle, protective and unyielding. A love that found humor and joy, could communicate with or without words and was a safe space when needed. Watching the countless exchanges and experiences between the two of them was a thing of true beauty. Some of the greatest examples of love, know no boundaries and cannot be defined, but must be felt.
Now it was my responsibility to convey to my son that his Papa would not be coming to see him anymore. To explain death and all its implications. To feel sadness is part of the process for many, but when your understanding of death is unknown, how does one know what to feel or why? Would my own grief confuse or even upset Jonathan and if so, how should I respond? My husband’s parents passed away years ago when Jonathan was much younger. At the time we told him that Nana and grandpa weren’t here, they were in heaven and what it meant. Honestly, it seemed the simplest way to inform him that he would no longer be going to their house to visit or spend time with them. Jonathan on both occasions listened to us with a look of knowing and then went about his way. There have been times over the years where he would look at us and say Nana not here, Nana in heaven and the same regarding his grandfather. I’ve never known what prompted him to remark when he did and assumed he was thinking of them.
My Dad had many wonderful qualities and like all of us a few quirks. One in particular always gave us a chuckle and was endearing at the same time. Whatever task he would undertake whether taking out the trash, opening his mail, finishing the paper, emptying the dishwasher, you name it, he would often conclude with one word ‘there’. It became a game to see how many times he would say it when you were in his presence.
Now that presence is gone and I was faced with the conversation about how to tell Jonathan his Papa had passed away. I must tell you the last month of 2023 was a whirlwind, for both of us. First with Jonathan moving out into his new home and finding independence. My Dad was so proud of him and thrilled to witness yet another milestone in Jonathan’s life. Sadly, little did we know it would be my Dad’s last observation of his grandson living his best life, at least from this vantage point. Now he is Papa the guardian angel watching out for Jonathan and still sending his love.
I guess it never dawned on me just how present Jonathan was with my Dad, even without him noticing. Funny how love transcends so many barriers. So when I told Jonathan that Papa was in heaven, he looked at me with a very serious look for a moment and then he smiled and said “Papa says ‘there.’”
Right then and there I knew two things; Jonathan understood and love will always find a way.