As I nervously waited to board my flight from Boston to Salt Lake City—my first airplane ride alone—my parents repeated for the zillionth time their last request.
“Don’t forget to visit Grandpa,” they said. “He’d really love it.”
“Okay,” I promised, though silently I finished it with “if I feel like it.”
I was flying out to begin my freshman year at Brigham Young University. Dad thought the trip would be an excellent opportunity for me to drop in on his dad in Salt Lake City, but I was worried enough about my own survival far from home.
I remembered Grandpa as a kind old man who always had time for his grandchildren. After chatting a little he would take us outside to swing on his swings, eat his raspberries, and gaze over the fence at his one big cow.
But seeing Grandpa now would mean doing adult things, like socializing and asking questions. Dad wouldn’t be there to do most of the talking, like he usually did. The whole idea of visiting him was making me uncomfortable.
At the airport in Salt Lake City I was met by two teenage cousins from Mom’s side of the family. They weren’t related to Grandpa Lythgoe and didn’t know about the promise I had made to my parents. How easy it would be to keep quiet and let them drive me straight to BYU.
But as we drove I thought, not only of the promise, but also how lonely Grandpa must be since Grandma died two years before. He could probably use a visit right now, especially from a grandson he didn’t see very often. So despite my fears, I asked my cousins to stop.
With Dad we would always walk in Grandpa’s back door without knocking, but this time we approached the seldom-used front door. Back doors seem reserved for people you know, and I was beginning to realize I scarcely knew him.
Grandpa came to the door, and we knew he was happy to see us. He was closing fast on his 90th birthday and looked feeble, but he was still Grandpa. The house felt empty without Grandma, but what seemed the most different was me. With Dad 2,500 miles away, I was suddenly the adult in charge of conversation, and everything I said must have sounded a bit forced.
Of course Grandpa asked me what I planned to study at BYU, and I also told him what the rest of the family was up to, but we soon ran out of things to say. I decided we should hit the road again.
A month later the rest of my family flew out for a week to help Grandpa celebrate his birthday, but a few days before the party I got a phone call. Grandpa had died the night before.
As I hung up the phone, it suddenly became clear to me how important that short visit had been a month before. I hadn’t said anything earth-shattering, and maybe part of the reason I had gone was to please my parents, but I was happy and relieved I hadn’t passed up my last chance to see Grandpa alive. I often think of Grandpa and something I later heard my mission president say: “Be glad that you did; don’t wish that you had.”