I can't believe 6 years have passed since I stood there, aware of the baby girl spinning in my belly, a hand on each of my small boys, watching my husband try and speak at his father's memorial service.
"Did Grandpa Spike know me?" She asks quizzically, every now and then.
"He knew you were coming," we tell her, "and he was excited to meet you."
Instead she knows him through pictures, stories, tall tales told by friends and family. She knows him through us, each memory carefully crafted to depict the man he was, the man she will never really know like we did.
"He was an outdoorsman," we say, "and he died doing what he loved best - hiking and camping."
We explore the camping gear he has left for us, methodically, purposefully, inspecting each item with care and consideration. His tents. His gear. His photos that he can't tell us about. His music. His books. His life. We continue to toast, to honor, to include him in our daily lives, even though we know he is far from us now. We try to hold on, it is what we do.
Every time one of our children does something we think he would enjoy, we share a knowing glance and wish that he was still here.
Every time their curiosity in the natural world rears itself, whether we're camping or on a hike or just walking down the sidewalk, we understand where this love of the outdoors comes from, and we do everything we can to not let it disappear, as he has.
Every year, my husband and his brother hike to an alpine lake high in the Cascades where some of their father's ashes are laid to rest. They take solace in knowing he is here, someplace beautiful, someplace he loved. They do it for him. Every year.
This time, our oldest will accompany them.
He's been more than ready for this for years now, physically and emotionally. He is the one, out of our 3 children, with the most memories of Grandpa Spike. He is the one who holds on to many of his belongings. Treasures, he calls them. He is fearless, adventurous, intelligent and curious. He is most like his grandpa. Most.
I know a mother should be worried, sending her baby into the wild...
But I'm not.
I've known for a long time, long before my father in law passed away, that he possessed the personality well-suited for a life of adventure. Maybe it was the way he played with his Rescue Heroes, or the way he made forts in the back yard. Maybe it was the fact that he always had a bag packed with emergency items, just in case, you know - a few granola bars, bottles of water, homemade first aid kit, flashlight, batteries, radio...things you would need, things that made sense. Maybe it was his interest in being a Coast Guard rescue swimmer, and his intense like of the movie The Guardian, which is still what he will tell you he wants to be when he "grows up."
I know, I should be terrified.
But he is not at all like me. Not at all. Sure there may be some things which tie us together, little wisps that remind me he is my son (like how he is a fast reader). But for the most part, he is a puzzle to me. His mind far comprehends concepts well beyond those I ever could. His problem solving capabilities impressing me more and more to the point that I've caught myself (much to my delight) asking him the answers to questions that perplex me. He is brilliant, and it could be the combination of having grandfathers on both sides who understand mechanics and how things work, but it is most definitely not something I gave him.
He is his father's son, and his grandfather's grandson.
And he is ready.