Sunday, January 2, 2011

My grandpa died today.

Historically, I don't handle death well.

After today I wonder if that is just something I've always told myself. Truth, it has always been the idea of death that I didn't handle well. The idea that one minute they're there, the next they're gone. I'm horribly nostalgic, too. It's also the mystery of death. The thought about the pain that goes with it. The last, secret moments before relief.

I received the phone call on Thursday or Friday about his having a stroke and being at the hospital, how it was "not looking good." They said if I wanted to come, then I needed to come now. I couldn't. I've had bronchitis for a while and didn't think the hospital would smile on me coming down to see him and I didn't know if I'd just make things worse by doing so. The next day I was so out of my mind it scared me. I wasn't able to stand for more than five minutes until today, so when I was told he was on life support but that they were pulling the plug, there was little I could do.  But I'm pretty sure my stepmom at least faulted me to some degree for not coming more quickly. It wouldn't be a lie to say that a part of me hesitated to go, but I've done a lot of thinking lately and, with Eric's help, began to look at this situation from a different angle.

Besides, my grandma and my dad--I needed to be there for them. I cannot imagine losing my husband or my father. I wanted them to know I was there for real.

So when my sister texted me earlier today to tell me his respiration was failing and his extremities growing cold, I called my mom and asked her to watch the kids for us while. We left at approximately 1pm. I didn't know what I was getting myself into. I prefer privacy when it comes to saying goodbye to somebody--something I'd only done once before, but then my aunt was more alive than dead (she had stage 4 cancer and liked to put on a show of strength for everyone). I also told myself he'd probably pass as we were on our way, and then what was the point?

But there was a point. I just wouldn't know until I was there.

My mom and Eric asked me if I'd regret not going. I knew I might. I thought about my grandma--she has a ton of land with a small farm quite a distance from town, and she's living with her abusive and possibly certifiably insane daughter. At 75, it feels far too much for her.

We walked in the room at about 2pm. I made my way to the side of his bed and watched him. I thought he was asleep. Alive, but asleep. His eyes were closed, his mouth agape. The nurse was there. It took me a moment to figure out what was going on. I quite literally missed him by about two minutes, if not less. It broke me up that we missed him by just seconds. Stories were told about his last days, his last moments, things I wished I could've been there for. Apparently just before he passed he moved both his arms up, something that surprised the family as he was brain dead on the left side and assumed paralyzed.

I've never seen a dead person before. Ever. I've refused viewings, all of that. I didn't want that to be my last memory of the person. I've also not lost very many people close to me. Two, maybe. Maybe.

Eric, having used the bathroom, came in a minute or so after I did. I didn't know if I should've said it out loud, but I did before I really knew what I was saying. "We're too late," I said. That was a hard reality to face.

See, this past holiday season we had opted to visit Eric's mom. It wasn't a big deal for Thanksgiving, so much, but Christmas. I had a feeling it'd be his last. You just don't suddenly deal with mini-strokes and dementia and falling down all over the place (to the point you're put in a nursing home temporarily) and not be swiftly on your way out. Even knowing that, though, I didn't go. First it was a matter of "I don't want to," but no decisions were made. I didn't want to deal with that side of my family--they can be rather labor intensive at times. When we discovered we had no money for gas, the decision, I figured, was made for us.

Besides, I think I figured him to last longer than this.

My dad and my grandma sounded terrible on the phone when I spoke to them only a few days before, but here in the hospital room they were putting on their stoic faces. My dad was taking care of all the crapwork--answering questions, that sort of thing. My grandma was talking about other things but if you looked at her close enough, you could see she was suffering. His death means a lot of things. She kept saying she didn't know where to begin, that this was a nightmare (she walked out of the room for just a moment, and when she returned he was gone). My dad tried to be strong, but every now and again his words and actions would belie him. Five or so minutes after we arrived, my dad went to my grandpa and shook his shoulder, saying "It's okay, Dad. It's really okay." I spoke with him right before we left and asked how he was doing. He said he figured his would be a delayed reaction. He also spoke of taking a moment during a trip to her house to look at all the things my grandfather had made. They used to go cut wood together. He's resigned himself now to not do that anymore. It's sad for me to hear that--every year they did it. They were great friends. If I can say anything about my father, it is this: he is amazing when it comes to taking care of his family.

My grandfather was a Korean war veteran and a machinist. He astounded me with his knowledge. He had his own little saw mill where he could take tree trunks and make 2 x 4s. He made his own nuts and bolts. His garage is something to marvel at. My dad has no idea how they're going to get through it all.

Everyone, of course, began to guess what my grandpa was up to now that he was gone. "He's probably meeting a lot of people right now," they said. "Probably eating a whole load of cookies." "Got a platter of food, I'll bet." Stuff like that. My grandma talked about how some people, right before they die, are reported as smiling and/or waving, or saying hello to themselves, how if that doesn't prove an afterlife she doesn't know what does. Of course I let her have this. I let them all have this. As for me, I didn't believe it. I just didn't.

Same goes for looking at his body. My SIL, after seeing her friend's dead son at his viewing, told me that it was a good experience--she, too, had balked at such things before. She said it reaffirmed to her that our bodies are mere shells. She could tell his spirit was gone. I spent some time looking at my grandfather, wondering if I saw and felt the same thing. I didn't. Other than the lack of breathing, it just seemed like he was in the room. He wasn't, and I knew that--I felt that--but it wasn't like something was missing. If I didn't think about it, he was just sleeping.

I also kept looking at him because I knew I wanted to go touch him and say goodbye. I had asked my dad over the phone yesterday to kiss him for me, but I wasn't sure he'd do that. Besides, I was there. Everyone else would take his hand and kiss his forehead. I wanted to, but I was absolutely terrified. I spent our entire visit debating with myself. I knew I'd regret it if I didn't, but I was afraid of rigor mortis and the cold of the dead.

Right before we left, I determined to approach him. I kissed him on the forehead. I think I said something but I don't remember what it was. I worried for a moment about my hair falling into his eyes but remembered straightaway that it didn't matter anymore. His skin was cold to the touch, but it wasn't a special kind of deathly cold. It was just as if he needed a blanket.

There's something comforting to me about just knowing that he was gone. Not that he, individually, was gone, but I wasn't worrying or speculating over what his spirit was doing or where he was. I didn't wonder about him being in the room with us, as my mom tried to reassure me he was (because we were too late). He was just gone, and it was up to us to make something good of it. It gave me a sense of strength I hadn't felt before.

I've thought a lot lately about being honest with myself. I fight with myself about Jesus--not so much god anymore, but Jesus. I'm holding on to threads, just like I did with Mormonism, but I think deep down I just don't believe. I have the door cracked, of course, but mostly I don't believe. And that's okay.

I'm going to miss him. I keep thinking about how he played "this little piggy" with my cousins and I when we were just little. He and my grandma weren't in a happy, loving marriage but they stuck together. He took great care of her and she of him. For a long time he didn't come with her to family get-togethers, and if he did he was quiet. He'd speak with my dad and my uncle out in the garage, of course, but in the home he was in his seat, sleeping. The last few years he became much more sociable. It was fun to see him that way.

I'm sure there's more to say. This is probably more for me than you, but that's okay. This is my journal.

I'm gonna miss him, but mostly I'm worried about my grandma. I'm sure that's okay. As for myself, I'm pretty proud. I fought through a lot to do what was best.


  1. I'm a Single Dad of 2, age 2 and 5. I find your site so interesting and helpful. I hope I have much time each day to drop by and check your site for recent post. By the way thank you for sharing this.

  2. So sorry for your loss. My thoughts are with you.

  3. My deepest condolences, Lisa. I'm glad you found your own personal strength to deal with this experience.

  4. Sorry about your grandpa. Beautiful blog.

  5. Lisa, I'm sorry. I was very close to my grandparents and remember how tough it was to lose them. Maybe it will help to write more about him, he sounds like an interesting person. I would certainly like to hear more.

    Please take care.