Dear Grandpa,

It’s been a long time since we’ve talked—a year, maybe. But it’s actually been three, as impossible as that is to believe.

It’s taken me this long to collect my thoughts and write them down in this letter, but I’ve finally decided that after so long there are some things I need to get off my chest. I need to talk to you—even if I can’t do so face-to-face—and explain how I’m feeling.

Immediately, as I sit down to write this, I’m overwhelmed by a diverse stream of memories. I see the fiery red sweater you wore to grandparents’ day at my elementary school, the one that reminded me of your red firetruck. I remember the time you came to my Christmas concert in high school and took me out to a restaurant afterward.

Other Christmas memories—the model train circling the Christmas tree, the Christmas music floating through the house and the brightly colored presents— are only hazy recollections at this point.

But one memory from that season is stronger and more recent than the others—Christmas of 2018, the last time I saw you.

There were red and green lights then too, just like at all the other Christmases we’d celebrated together, but this time, the grim red and green lights were flashing across hospital monitors ad nauseum, displaying your vital signs. This time, hospital food was the best hope I had of sharing a holiday meal with you.

And three years later as Christmas comes closer, I’m desperately holding onto the all-too-quickly fading memories of you I’ve stored away in my head— memories that bring a confusing mix of joy and pain.

But I remember anyway. Those golden memories are worth the pain, but the pain of loss never really goes away completely.

Every time I reflect on those golden memories we built together, it affects me the same way. I’m left wishing I’d spent more time with you, but time is something you never get back. Once it’s spent, it’s gone.

Although I can’t go back and spend more time with you, I can learn from that missed opportunity.

Another loved one’s health has taken a turn for the worse around Christmas—your wife, my grandma—and I’m not sure how much longer she’ll be around.

Although I’m 700 miles away, I’ll do what I can. I’ll call Grandma and remind her of her favorite memories, including some the three of us share. I’m not going to waste what little time I have left with her— just one more lesson you’ve taught me, Grandpa.

Although I’ve enjoyed writing this letter to you, I’m afraid I have to go now. As refreshing as dwelling on my good memories of you has been, I need to call Grandma and make some new memories.