Papa

My grandpa died early Sunday evening. The event hit me hard – harder than I think any death ever has, even though, at the point that he died, it was somewhat expected. I feel very fortunate that I got to spend as much time with him as I did, both in my 22 years and this past week while he was in the hospital (see my previous post). However, I had to leave for school Sunday morning – a drive that tore me up inside: I was fighting the urge to turn around much of the time. And I still feel like maybe I should have. I know I shouldn’t dwell on it, but I kind of regret the decision to come back here now. Being alone – without my family, without Davis, without friends – was almost unbearable. But this post isn’t about me – it’s about Papa, on what would have been his 84th birthday.

I have always been close to my mom’s parents – we even lived with them for about a year and a half while we were remodeling our house. I have so many fond memories of him – from him picking us up from school when we were little to sneezing after almost every meal. For the first 10 or so years of my life, we’d go to my grandparents’ house for dinner every Sunday night. My aunts and uncles would be there too. It was like they all raised me: a group effort, to help the oldest grandchild grow up.

In addition to being an awesome grandpa, he had a lot of accomplishments under his belt. He served in the Navy and graduated from Harvard Business School. He was the president of a waste disposal company, then of a woodworking firm. He was really smart and, while a quiet guy, he had a dry sense of humor and got those “zingers” in when we least expected it. He battled cancer twice – first skin cancer, then lung cancer 15+ years later, which ended up taking his life. His faith and his family were most important to him. I really aspire to be like him.

He was the rock of our family. He loved spaghetti and smoked turkey and hated it when his food was cold. He’d let us “Heimlich” him and would turn up the TV when we were being too loud. We’d go on walks together (well, my sister went with him more than I did, but I still did sometimes!). It was his voice on the answering machine, and he’d politely tell sales callers “I’m hanging up now” before putting down the phone. He read more than anyone I know and was never spotted without a newspaper.

I turned on some jazz tonight – it was his favorite music, and we’d often hear it echoing through the house. It was like I was transported back to their family room. I wanted to dance around to it like I used to when I was little. I could almost see him, sitting in the corner rocking chair, reading his paper, and hear the bustle of my family talking in the kitchen while preparing dinner.

I felt like baking, so I’m making scones and plan on sticking a candle in one and singing him happy birthday even though he’s not here. I’ve felt pretty good all day (a great improvement from yesterday) but I still feel empty and sad when I think that he’s no longer with us. It’s hard to imagine the dinner table at my grandparents’ house without him. I won’t ever get to see him working in his yard again with his white hat on, or tending the fire at Christmas. He won’t be able to come to my wedding.

I’m trying to keep my chin up, and I’m going home again later this week. I miss him already. Papa wouldn’t want me to be sad; he’d want me to work hard in life and have faith in something greater. He’d want me to know that he’s okay, and that I’ll get to see him again one day.

Happy birthday, Papa. I love you!

Death and All His Friends

It’s so easy for us to ignore death.

I mean, there it is, looming ahead all of us. No one really knows how or when it will happen, just that it’s a guarantee. None of us can outlive or outlast it. One day, we all wind up there.

Yet it’s so easy and so desirable to forget about it. Nobody wants to sit around thinking about his or her inevitable demise. Even in church, when they talk about it, the main focus is on survival after death and how you can get there.

But it’s hard to overlook it when it’s staring us in the face.

Last weekend, my grandpa had to be taken to the hospital. He has stage-four lung cancer and had issues breathing. The past few months have been riddled with visits to doctors’ offices and a stay or two in a hospital/convalescent home, but recently he had gotten better and was able to go back home. He had finally set everything in order and things were starting to look up when everything started over again. Couldn’t breathe. 911 called. ER, Critical Care Unit, and now here, in the Direct Observation Unit.

That was Sunday. Since then, my (very large, and usually rambunctious) family has been in and out of here. It’s amazing, really: everyone’s pulled together with this, taking shifts with him and my grandma, staying awhile, spending the night. There’s always someone in the chair by his bed, holding his hand or rubbing his arm. It’s to be expected, I suppose, but that doesn’t mean it can’t amaze me.

As to his physical condition, it’s been a roller coaster. Started out okay, but quickly slid downhill. He needs to wear a breathing mask to get enough oxygen to survive, since his lungs are operating at a fraction of normal capacity. He was talking okay for the first couple days, then became unconscious. It seemed like a miracle when he (sort of) woke up and could talk again, but he’s been asleep for the past two days. His breathing’s slowed, and he’s on morphine. My grandma won’t leave his side.

I have so many thoughts surrounding this. Thoughts about love, about life and death, about how fragile everything really is. About how I’m starting my life but his is close to ending.

I sit here now in the dark. I’ve volunteered to help, to “Papa-sit” as we’ve affectionately dubbed it. My mom’s watching a movie on her portable DVD player, sitting next to her dad. My grandma’s trying to get some rest in the corner of the room. I hear the murmur of nurses talking, the beeping of machines, the rhythmic sound of oxygen pumping in and out of his lungs.

It’s so easy to escape the thought of death when I’m at home, or anywhere else for that matter, because I’m not surrounded by it. But put me feet from my dying grandfather, and it’s positively terrifying. Terrifying that it’s happening to him, that I might not get to see him again after a few more days, that he and my family will soon never be the same. But also terrifying to think that one day, it will be me in my mom’s chair and her in the bed, and that I have a 50/50 shot of being the one to go first when it’s Davis’ and my turn. And honestly, I’m not looking forward to either prospect.

I usually try to end my posts in a happy, uplifting sort of way, because let’s face it: generally, I’m a happy, uplifting person. But I’m not sure if it can be done like that today. So here I sit, in the dark, praying my grandpa doesn’t die tonight. I’d really appreciate it if you all can do the same.