John, a 73-year-old retired man, sits quietly, looking out the window of his two-bedroom apartment in western Wyandotte County, Kan. He has been reading stories about life, love and dying. “A Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman, “Annabell Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe, and “Death be Not Proud” by J. B. Gunther are among the few choices he has made. He reads to forget the pain, but remember the beautiful life of his grandson, David.
David was a precocious and intuitive little boy, always surprising John with his clever opinions of life and living. John remembers how thrilled he and his son, Dan, and his wife, Paulette, were when David was born. David arrived two weeks early, yelling his way into the world to let everyone know he had come. John sent Paulette a dozen red roses to welcome David into the world at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.
As David grew, John was delighted to see his grandson learn to do things. John videotaped events, such as David’s first words, or what John believed were his first words; David’s first steps and David’s first day of kindergarten at Olathe Elementary School in Olathe, Kan. There wasn’t a day that went by that John didn’t phone or stop by just to see David and “catch up” on all the current events.
David would come to visit John on the weekends, while Dan and Paulette went shopping or to the movies on the Plaza in Kansas City. David would go with John to Loose Park when the roses were in bloom in the spring and summer. David would fly kites, catch bugs, and one time while John wasn’t looking, David caught a toad that was crawling across a parking lot. This made the little boy ecstatic. He actually tried to throw the toad up in the air and scream, “Fly, fly away and be free!” That was David, John thought, always trying to set things free and let nature take its course.
When David was eight years old, John took him to the Kansas City Zoo and they walked for hours until David konked out but he didn’t do so until after he made sure that the animals would be put to bed properly. John also took David to the Imax Theatre while at the zoo, and David was filled with awe at the sights and sounds of the Africa Tundra and its wildlife. David told John that he thought Africa was a beautiful place where animals are free to roam as they should be, according to nature. John agreed heartily and replied: “Yes, nature is wondrous and truly does take care of itself.”
David and John, while on their trips to various parks would come across many different animals. They made it a game to see who could call out first when they saw an animal or bird that they recognized. John had taken David to the library and sat with him for hours teaching him to recognize various kinds of birds and animals.
As David began to get older, John and David would talk about nature and its natural course. John would explain about how old animals and other living things can become weak: that when animals, birds, and other living things are born, they are young and healthy, but that nature eventually takes its course. John further explained that when nature has run its course, animals, birds, and people know it’s time to leave life and go to Heaven. David would listen to John ever so carefully when they talked about nature taking its course.
On one of their many strolls, John became concerned about David’s silence and asked him, “Are you okay, David?” David replied, “Grandpa, the way you have explained nature to me, I guess what you’re really trying to say is that everything that lives must die, right?” John answered, “Yes, David, that is true.” He looked at David while David pondered this thought, looking ever so deep in concentration.
Then David asked, “But Grandpa, that really isn’t so bad, is it? I mean; going to Heaven is what we learned about in church. Heaven is a wonderful place, so people, birds, and animals should be happy when they know it’s time for them to go, right?’’
John answered, “Yes David, Heaven is a beautiful place. All living things should look forward to going there when nature has run its course.’’
By the time he was 15, David and John had taken a bazillion walks at a bazillion parks and lakes, as David told John. David could never get enough of the outdoors, and John was only happy to accommodate his grandson’s wishes… and go on another of their bazillion walks. A tear slowly trickles down John’s face now, as he reminisces about David. The boy was so full of life, so full of love, so full of energy. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t try at least once. John doesn’t have to try very hard to bring back the feelings of joy that David brought to him throughout his life. This is why he hurts so, realizing that his life will never be the same.
David was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia close to his 16th birthday. Doctors tried everything they could – bone marrow transplants, blood transfusions, radiation and chemotherapy. Through all this, David held his head high and told John that he was feeling fine. David would remind John of the bazillion walks and trips they took together. He would remind John of the beauty in life and just how precious life can be. John agreed with David, and as the boy’s life force was slowly leaving him, he would reassure David that he would meet him in Heaven one day. David told John he felt very happy about that. During the last conversation, David slowly reassured John. He said, “Grandpa, remember when I was about eight years old and I told you that I understood about how nature takes its course? Well, Grandpa, I really understand that everything that lives must die. But Grandpa, that’s okay. I know I’m going to Heaven and I am very happy about that, so don’t you worry about me! When you get to Heaven and see me, we can go on a bazillion more walks, okay?” John wipes the tear from his face and slowly gets up from his chair. He walks to his bookshelf and puts his books away, and thinks to himself, “Yes, David, life is truly beautiful and when I get to Heaven, we will walk together once more and be happy that nature has run its course and brought us back together again. John thinks to himself once more before going to bed, “Everything that lives must die.’’ He feels no pain now, for he is filled with all the happy memories of his grandson, David, as he begins to fall asleep.