(I struggled with whether to publish this or not. While this tends to often take a lighter note, as in all series, heavier moments of life often help us appreciate the comedy that is so needed among tragedy. With my Jidd’s 40 day mass occurring this Sunday I thought it was an appropriate way to honor the greatest public speaker that I knew and a man who truly loved the written word…almost as much as he did family.)
I remember thinking; It’s hard to feel magical on Christmas when your Grandpa is dying.
I sat across the table from my mom, her hair in disarray, worry lines apparent in her forehead. The papers before her were scribbled on, as if nothing more than haphazard phone messages from the dentist reminding you about an appointment. But when you looked closer words like hospice, and the summary from his doctor decorated the pages. She dialed brother after sister after brother repeating the story from that morning. Things weren’t looking good, we had to make a decision of the next steps, with my grandma’s health failing as well, what would be best for the two of them. It is only the most passionate of stories that elicit the same response upon each telling. I saw her face crumble at each crescendo, heard her choke out the truths the doctor had reported to her that morning. The questions were the same, what was the right thing to do? Had we been doing the right thing all along? But the unanswered questions hung heavier in the air. Shouldn’t Christmas be joyful and merry? Who would give the toast at our Thanksgiving dinner? What would I do without my grandpa? What would my mom do without her dad?
I paused reflecting on what the weekend home had been to me. I arrived from the airport and immediately headed to the hospital. The man laying in my grandpa’s bed was not my grandpa. He was a skeleton, struggling with each breath. When he smiled at me and asked me about any men in my life though, I held back my tears and teased him that no one could compare to him. We rotated sitting next to him on the bed, kissing him on the head, chastising him for not eating the homemade desserts every family had brought to him, a measly offering in an attempt to make things right, to get this back to normal. And then, as if someone yelled out “SWITCH,” we’d each move to a different spot. We stumbled over each other, made small talk, as new actors in this scene we were unsure of what was appropriate, and each not quite believing CUT would be called soon.
Christmas Eve came and as we sat in mass the choir swelled and like the movie that seemed to be our lives I saw him laying in the hospital bed, alone and fragile. The words of celebration sang through the air, but it only made me feel more helpless.
Morning dawned and I went to wake up my brother. In taking a step outside of my room, I ran into my mother as she was trying to sneak our gifts down the stairs. I walked away knowing that even the magic of make believe was ending. It seemed so stupid, I’ve known for years she sets up the gifts, but it was just another reminder that I was an adult now. I envied the children that were blissfully unaware of the things going on around them, their innocent exuberance as they tore the wrapping paper in anticipation. The only hope they were in search for was what is held in the box and their joyful smiles allowed, for a few moments, to ignore what waited outside of that Christmas tree. This year we brought Christmas to him, in the hospital. This year would be the last year we’d have a Christmas with him.
That’s the problem with your grandpa dying over time; life continues to get in the way while remaining halted in, as Dr.Seuss explains, the waiting place.
Everyone is just waiting.
Waiting for the fish to bite or waiting for wind to fly a kite or waiting around for
Friday night or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake or a pot to boil, or a Better Break or a string of
pearls, or a pair of pants or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.
And isn’t that the case? You jump at every phone call, dread seeing your mother’s name on your cell phone, become exasperated that it dominates every phone call while at the same time knowing it remains continually on your own mind. Life progressed as his did just the opposite.
They call my mother’s generation the sandwich generation, taking care of us while taking care of their parents. But in this limbo, we all switched roles. My mother spoon fed my grandmother, while cooing words of comfort and coaxing her to take steps forward. She argued with family about what was the right thing to do for my grandparents, where would they send them that would give them the love and attention they deserve, as if debating between private or public schools, while knowing the matters were much heavier in terms of life or death. And the thing was, in the moments I could be home, I too began to take care of my mother. I held her as she cried and shooed her to the shower. Like a teenage girl crying over a heart break, I know she let her tears mix with the water that sprayed, but if it washed her clean for a moment, it was a moment needed. I looked to her one night as she fell asleep, book in hand, sitting up as if nothing more than a prop. When I turned off the light and covered her up, I felt such a tender force that knew I couldn’t protect her from the hurt that was to come, I wanted her to just keep sleeping for awhile longer and not let life wake her with a jolt, as it seemed to continually do.
I know grandparents have lived their life, they’ve served their time, raised their families, worked to the bone, passed on their life lessons, told their stories- shouldn’t it just be time. Shouldn’t we accept the fate that we know inevitably awaits us? But is death truly ever accepted? I hope in whatever time I’m given I know that I lived life within those days, but there are few that would say “my days are spent, I’ve lived all that can be lived.” We always want more; more love, more time, one more chance to say goodbye, more, more, more. Because that’s what the quest for life is; the search for more, to fill us up, the thirst that is never satiated, our brim never quite overflowing.
So as with every death, you begin to appreciate the life that is still within your hands. We all want to feel we carry those who passed with us, letting them shape us into the person that they saw us as, which is most likely a better version than what we’re living. My grandpa made it simple, he only ever ended his toasts with one cheers, one quote on how we ought to carry ourselves throughout life and hopefully in his memory, how I plan to.
“You’ve got to be loving. You’ve got to be kind. And never neglect anyone who lays claim on your heart.”