“Hoop-dee-doo, hoop-dee-doo!” Everyone in the restaurant was swinging their napkins around, laughing at the horribly cheesy jokes told by the comedians at the dinner show. It was only appropriate to be there with my Grandpa, given his love for clever, quick-witted, especially cheesy jokes.
We were in Disney World, far from our first visit. Every few years, my Grandpa would pack up the entire family and take us all on a trip to the happiest place on earth. That’s the kind of man he was; he worked extremely hard to do things that would make other people, his family in particular, happy. That’s what made him happy. If I’ve ever known a person to put with the definition of selfless, it was him.
Jokes were our thing. Forever after the hoop-dee-doo show, that saying following a joke was our thing, too. Another was Grandpa (who was diabetic) trying to get me to tell him where Grandma hid the cookies that weren’t sugar free, and me scouting them out for him every time.
I always laughed at Grandpa’s jokes. In fact, I was the only one who laughed at Grandpa’s jokes. I guess that’s why he always had one (or five) ready for me. Even when they were the same ones over and over, I would laugh time and time again, and every time, he would end his jokes with a goofy laugh, immediately followed by the infamous family joke-phrase, “Hoop-dee-doo!” and then say excitedly to his own joke, “I GET IT!”
It was funny every time.
We were tight, my Grandpa and I. Growing up, we lived in a house just up the road from my Granparent’s, and my brother and I would always walk down to see them, eat cookies out of the junk drawer, and just enjoy each other’s company.
He was one of those people who could lift your spirits even just to sit and do nothing with. Someone who your heart is better after knowing.
Grandpa was so much fun to be around.
My Mom sat on the edge of my bed to say goodnight.
“I know this is going to sound crazy. But I have this horrible, heavy feeling that won’t go away..”
“What does it feel like?”
“I can’t explain it, but I have this overwhelming feeling that someone is about to die.”
“Oh, sweetheart. I’m sorry. You know, your Dad said the picture of the family downstairs was really crooked and that for some reason it gave him a funny feeling. We just have to trust that if anything happens, God will take care of us all.”
Eight days later, I heard a gunshot.
Since we live in the middle of the woods in a very rural area, gunshots were not out of the ordinary.
This one was different, though. This one was close; really close. I paused from the work I was busy with in my room and looked out the window for a few moments, and then went back to what I was doing.
Half an hour later, my Mom ran into my room. The look on her face spoke before she ever did. Something was wrong.
“Ginny, there’s been an accident with a gun. We need to go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house as quickly as we can.”
My mind was paralyzed, but my body moved quickly.
We both hustled down the hallway. By the time we reached the end of the stairs, I finally got the courage to ask. Regardless of the answer to what I was about to ask, my reaction would have been the same, but I had to know.
“Is it Grandma or Grandpa?”
“Is he okay?”
“We don’t know yet.”
My body gave out and I fell into my Mom who caught and held me as I involuntarily started to cry. It felt like a dream. A horrible, horrible dream, and I couldn’t wake up.
“I know, sweetheart. Let’s try to get down there to see what’s going on, okay?”
Before I even knew I was standing on my own again, I was running to the car and my Mom was running behind me.
Time felt like it was in slow-motion; for all I know, it was; but I was moving swiftly.
I distantly heard my Mom remind me to be careful driving. We passed a handful of cop cars sitting right outside of our driveway, which was unheard of on our tiny, country back-road. I was right, the gunshot was close. It was right outside of the window I looked out of after I’d heard it.
Before the car was in park, I threw open the door and ran to my Grandma who was standing up outside, walking toward me. I wrapped my arms around her and we both started crying; I could swear that in that moment, I could actually feel both of our hearts break.
My Dad and brother were sitting down, and since all we could do was wait, Grandma, and Mom and I joined them.
I was shaking. I was in shock. I was praying that my Grandpa was okay. I was asking myself how in the world this could be happening, and honestly, I was wondering why it was.
My Dad was disappearing up the hill into the crowd of cop cars when I looked up. He couldn’t stand to wait anymore, none of us could.
Around that same time, I watched a firetruck drive away from the scene, but they were going very slowly.
“Why weren’t they rushing? Why weren’t their lights on? Why weren’t they taking my Grandpa somewhere to save his life?” I wasn’t ready to admit to myself what I knew that meant.
Moments later, my Dad reappeared walking toward us. He was going slowly, too, and when I saw his hands go up onto the back of his head, I knew what it meant. The last time he did that, he was standing with my Grandpa in the very place we were all anxiously waiting right then, when he learned that his brother was gone.
And in that moment, I knew Grandpa was gone.
I turned to my brother and asked if he though Grandpa was okay even though I knew the answer.
And for the first time, I heard it out loud: “Ginny, he’s gone.”
Numbness fell over me like a slow fog.
After those words, I don’t remember much. In a series of events I’m not exactly sure of, I remember my Grandma disappearing into the crowd of police as my Dad had done earlier, my Dad disappearing after her, my Dad’s brother arriving at their house, I remember absolutely, inconsolably crying, and I remember hearing that the reason my Grandpa was outside of our house with a gun, was because he was trying to find the racoon that had been eating our cat’s food.
That was so like him; being completely selfless; helping to protect his family, even something as small as the family cat.
Life suddenly felt so temporary, so fragile, and I was still hoping I’d wake up soon.
Quite honestly, the rest of that day was a blur. I vividly remember two things, though, both of which gave me an odd sense of peace. On my walk back up to our house to change clothes, I saw a butterfly floating around over some of the last flowers left in the late August summer. I grinned for the first time that day. “That’s beautiful,” I thought, “it’s a peaceful thing to see right now.” The second, was getting into my car that night to drive around and clear my head. The song that was playing on the radio when I turned the car on was ‘See You Again’ by Carrie Underwood.
It came through right at the chorus:
“I will see you again,
This is not where it ends.
I’ll carry you with me –
Until I see you again.”
I didn’t think I had any tears left after that day. I was wrong.
Upon returning home, I quietly walked to my room to get ready for bed. I stopped in my tracks when I locked my gaze on a huge, beautiful moth sitting on the wall right over my bed.
Grinning, I said, “Grandpa, is this your way of saying everything’s okay? Because it keeps putting me at peace to see.”
When I finished getting ready for bed and returned to my room, the moth was gone.
Before I went to bed, I thanked God for all of the time I had gotten to spend with Grandpa. I asked Him to help our family get through this time, and I asked my Grandpa to show me a sign.
“Grandpa, I love you. I miss you. I can’t even fathom that you’re gone.
Can you show me a sign that you’re okay? If it’s the butterflies I keep seeing, can you show me in a way I’ll know for sure it’s my sign from you? They sure were peaceful to see.”
The next day, I woke up, but everything I was hoping had been a dream, wasn’t. I was still in shock.
The first thing I saw when I went downstairs was my Mom and her beautiful smile that could brighten any day.
“Good morning, sweetheart. How are you?”
“I’m okay. Hey Mom?”
“I knew… I knew someone was about to die. I just didn’t know who, or when. That feeling I had… it’s gone.”
“I know you did, you have a very sensitive soul. We’re all going to be okay.”
I knew she was right, but I also knew it would take a while. A long while.
I told her about the butterfly on my way home, the song on the radio, and the beautiful moth in my room and how I wondered if it was my sign. When I finished, I looked down.
The moth was sitting right in front of me.
“Oh my gosh, Mom! This is the one! This is the one that was in my room! I cannot believe it! Maybe it is my sign, after all!”
And not knowing that the next few seconds were about to change my life, the moth flew up from where it was sitting and landed on me; it landed directly over my heart.
No doubting it anymore, they were my sign that Grandpa was okay.
Without saying a word, my Mom and I looked at each other, smiled, and held back the lumps building up in our throats.
Strangely enough, when I went down to see my Grandma that day, she told me of a similar experience she had, had with a butterfly, and said she believed it to be my Grandpa telling her that he was okay. Shortly after, my Dad had one, too.
Over the course of the next week, we saw more butterflies than we’d ever seen. Swarms and swarms of them, and every time, it gave us a sense of peace and reminded us that Grandpa was alright.
A week after the accident, the last thing I wanted to do was return to college with the fall semester about to start, but I had to go.
A lot of people with quickly spreading news in a small town, questioned whether or not my Grandpa’s accident with the gun was truly an accident.
That hurt me, deeply, because I knew the kind of man my Grandpa was.
He wouldn’t do that, would he?
I hated that people tried to make our family question that.
I missed home. I missed my Grandpa even more. I dozed off to sleep with those two things heavy on my heart.
Skydiving. That’s how the dream started. I landed safely in my Grandparent’s backyard. Wilson, their dog, greeted me as I landed, and took my hand gently in his mouth. Somehow, I knew that meant he needed to lead me somewhere. So I followed him.
He took me up to the woods along the pine trees that line the edge of their yard. My brother, David, followed us. He stopped us at a place in the woods that belonged to my Grandpa. On display were an assortment of things David and I had made for him over the years; one of which was a clay butterfly. We silently looked around at the collection, amazed that he had kept everything. Once again, the butterfly calmed me.
I glanced over when I saw someone walking near us. I couldn’t believe my eyes… it was Grandpa. My mouth fell open and I watched as he walked up the tree line carrying a gallon of milk in one hand and a paper plate in the other. I kept hoping he would look over at us, that he would change his path and walk to where we were, but he never did.
I turned to my brother,
“David! Did you see that? It’s Grandpa… he’s here! He’s really here!”
“I saw, Ginny, but we’re the only two who can see him. You can’t tell anyone, they won’t believe you.”
Frustration flooded me. I was upset that Grandpa didn’t see us, that I could no longer see him, and that no one would believe what I knew I had seen.
I ran through the yard into my Grandparent’s house and David ran behind me.
She was standing in her kitchen.
“Grandma! I just saw Grandpa walking up the yard! He’s here! He’s really here!”
Grandma smiled, “Ginny, I know you want to see him, we all do, but you think you saw him because you miss him so badly that you want to.”
“No, I really did see him! He was just here!”
Familiar frustration settled in me.
I heard my brother’s voice behind me, “See Ginny? No one will believe you. We’re the only ones who can see him.”
Discouraged, I turned back around and my Grandma was no longer there. But I was surprised at what was. On the counter were the two things my Grandpa was carrying moments prior as he was walking up to the woods. There was a paper plate, and on top, turned on it’s side, was the gallon of milk spilling out onto it.
“That’s what Grandpa was carrying,” I thought, “Now I know what I saw was real.”
Because no one would believe me, though, I began second guessing myself. Maybe it wasn’t real. Maybe it was just my mind playing tricks on me.
I hung my head and walked out the front door of my Grandma’s house to the place I was standing when I learned Grandpa was gone. For some reason, there was a long dining room table sitting in the yard, with chairs all around it. David was sitting in one near the end, so I went to join him. I sat down still hanging my head, devastated that what I saw must not have been real.
But then I noticed that my brother was talking to someone, so I looked up to see who.
It was Grandpa.
He was standing right in front of me.
I couldn’t focus on a word they were exchanging, because my own thoughts took over.
I never thought I’d get to see him again, but there he was. I studied him, still missing him even though he was inches away. He looked exactly as I remembered him except for one thing; he wasn’t wearing his glasses. I had never known my Grandpa not to wear glasses, but something told me he didn’t need them anymore.
Something told me he could see without them now.
And then a thought absolutely consumed me. I didn’t speak a word of it out loud, but I thought it so genuinely, so hard, that it felt as if I was saying every bit of it.
“I need to see your eyes one last time. Grandpa, please look at me. Please, I just need to see your eyes one last time.”
At that very moment, as if he could hear what I was thinking, my Grandpa looked at me, made eye contact, smiled, and said, “Hoop-dee-doo.”
I woke up.
It was the most vivid dream I had ever had in my life, and although I knew it was a dream, it felt like so much more than that.
It felt like he came back to visit me in a way that I could see him.
It felt like he heard my thoughts when I desperately wanted to see his eyes one last time.
It felt like a message,
But I didn’t understand… what was he trying to tell me?
I drove the hour home as soon as classes were finished for the week. I got to sit with my family at my Grandma’s kitchen table, reminisce on old memories we each had about Grandpa, and after debating over it, I decided to tell them about my dream.
I told them about the plate and the milk, and seeing Grandpa with no glasses, how I got to see his eyes one last time, and how right before I woke up, he said an all-to-familiar, “Hoop-dee-doo.”
I told them that it felt like there was more to the message that I just wasn’t understanding, that the plate and the milk made no sense, and that maybe it was just a random dream filled with random thoughts.
My Mom looked at me, absolutely shocked.
“What is it?”
“Ginny… don’t cry over spilled milk.”
“Don’t cry over spilled milk. Ginny, I think he was telling you it was an accident.”
At that moment, everything in my dream suddenly clicked.
I went to sleep that night hating that his death being an accident was even a question. In the dream, I saw a butterfly; my sign that everything was okay. Next, I watched my Grandpa walk up to the woods taking something with him, (in real life, his gun, which I believe he didn’t want to leave in my memory) which is then what he used to make a cheesy pun (because jokes were our thing). After I saw the spilled milk, which insinuated that what happened with what he was taking with him up to the woods was an accident, he ended it the way he ended every joke, “Hoop-dee-doo.”
… every time, he would end his jokes with a goofy laugh, immediately followed by the infamous family joke-phrase, “Hoop-dee-doo!” and then say excitedly to his own joke, “I GET IT!”
He told the pun, he smiled, and he said, “Hoop-dee-doo,” and the only other thing left was my turn;
I smiled and finished it with what I’m sure he was waiting patiently on; with the only other thing he always said after he told me a joke;
“I GET IT, Grandpa.”
Since then, I graduated from college debt-free because my Grandpa worked hard to save every bit of money my brother and I would need to go to school.
I married the love of my life in my Grandparent’s back yard, knowing without a doubt that Grandpa was there with us.
My husband and I had our first daughter, and many nights before bed, I sing to her ‘See You Again’ by Carrie Underwood. Her nursery also has a Disney theme, and we get to take her for the first time with my family next year.
My Grandma has since passed. My faith points me to believe that she’s with him and their son now. That although we miss them horribly, they’re together again. I’ve even gotten my own sign from my Grandma since she passed, and had a dream that I got to hug her one last time.
There’s a sign hanging in our house that says, “Don’t cry over spilled milk.” A beautiful reminder of what Grandpa shared with me, a helpful reminder as a new Mom, too.
And every single time I see a butterfly, and every time I will for the rest of my life, I stop what I’m doing, smile, and think,
“I get it, Grandpa.”