22 February 2006

Death in the Family

My grandfather passed away on Sunday night.

He was moved to Hospice on Thursday afternoon, I think. He was no longer able to stand up, he was having more trouble breathing. The nurse from Hospice came to the Thhouse on Wednesday and talked to my Mom. They agreed that it was the right time to move him. It took a while to get all the paperwork in place. Then they had to actually transport him and get him settled. My mom took some pictures from his house to help him feel more at home. She was with him throughout the weekend.

I knew that Grandpa was declining. On Thursday and Friday he was still mentally alert, but he was getting weaker. I talked to Mom on the phone on Sunday afternoon while I was on my way home from lunch after church with the kids. She said that she was out at Hospice and that her dad was continuing to get weaker. I told her that I had wanted to come visit with the kids, but was hesitant because I had been sick. She preferred that I not come. She wanted everyone to remember Grandpa as he was the last time they were together, when his mind was sharp and he was stronger.

After dinner, my brother called. He said that he had talked to Dad and gotten an update. Grandpa’s breathing had become irregular. Dad thought that Grandpa might not make it through the night. As we were talking, my 11 year old son came up and was listening. After I got off the phone, my son said that he drawn Grandpa a picture and wanted to deliver it. I explained that Grandpa was getting weaker. He said that it was important to him that he get to deliver it himself. We talked about the fact that Grandpa was getting weaker. I was unsure.

I called and talked to my mom. She was getting ready to go get dinner with Dad and Sharon and Will. She couldn’t help watch the kids. Because it was important to my son, it was also important to me. I called a friend who told me to bring the girls over, that they would watch them for as long as needed.

After we dropped off the girls, my son and I talked in the car. I explained what I knew about Grandpa’s condition, that he wouldn’t able to talk, he wouldn’t be able to see the picture. He may not even know we were there. I explained to my son that it would be hard. He said that he was strong, and ready. He said that he had not cried much when his other great grandparents had died. This was a great chance to talk. I explained that I had cried when other grandparents had died. He hadn’t seen me, and had a hard time believing that a “big strong man” would cry. I explained that sometimes it take a strong man to be able to cry. I told him that it would be hard, and that I would probably cry. I was tearing up a little in the car. He cried some. He got some tissues, and we changed the subject. We talked about basketball and pleasant stuff for the long ride out to Hospice.

When we got there, a nurse walked us to the room. They didn’t just point the way. I thought that it was a very nice touch.

It was very awkward when we walked into the room. Grandpa was lying in bed. His eyes were mostly open, but glassed over. His breathing was labored. There were delays between each breath. I said hi, that we had come to see him. Silence. I didn’t know what to do or say. We sat down, side by side. My son asked what we should say. I suggested that we talk about memories that we had with Grandpa. It was still awkward. I think I talked first. I talked, more to my son than Grandpa, about spending summers with Grandma and Grandpa. Not much detail, just a simple brief story. He talked about watching basketball at Grandpa’s house.

The we started with more stories. I talked about trips I had taken with Grandma and Grandpa: they took the whole family to Greece before my son was born. They took us all on a riverboat cruise when he was a toddler. I tried to get in as much detail as possible, but I left out so much. I told my son about the trip with Grandpa to Utica, NY. When I was twelve, about his age, for Christmas. I told him about the relatives I met for the first and only time. I explained that Babu, my great grandmother, didn’t know any English, but at least I met her. I told him about the Polish Christmas dinner. And that I didn’t wash my hair, and that my Mom was angry that I hadn’t.

I told him more details about visiting my grandparents. About climbing the old tires at the gas station, and getting filthy. I told him about pumping gas, changing tires. I told him about breakfast at McDonalds and lunch at Burger King. We always had the strawberry milkshake with lunch. It was Grandpa's favorite and became my favorite, too. There are other things I left out. I guess you can’t remember everything.

My son talked about the time that Grandpa helped us figure out what was wrong with my car. He was getting older already. But he rode over to our house. We set up a chair for him where he could watch over our shoulders. We then jacked up the car, removed the wheel, and he told us what to do, and what to look for. He then diagnosed the problem based on what we told him. He gave us the story on whether we could fix it ourselves. We decided it was more than we were able to do that day. I explained how Grandpa could listen to an engine and know what was wrong with it. No need to hook it up to computer, all he had to do was listen closely.

My son talked about watching Gator basketball and Red Sox baseball.

We told Grandpa that we loved him. That we knew he loved us, even if he didn’t always express it very well. We cried together. He had brought two tissues from the car. One for me; one for him. Thankfully, there was a box a tissues in the room. We needed more than two.

A nurse came to check on Grandpa. She asked about us. She was amazed that I was the grandson. She was even more amazed that I had an 11 year old son. She commented on how much Grandpa had changed in the last couple of days. She didn’t say it, but I could tell that she meant that she thought the end was near. She asked if Mom was coming back that night. I told her I didn’t know. As the nurse left, she showed us where we could get something to drink. We both made tea. We went back to spend some more time with Grandpa.

We started talking again, a little more subdued. I noticed Grandpa breathe. This breath was much shallower than he had been breathing. Much weaker. As we talked I watched Grandpa from the corner of my eye. I didn’t see him breathe again. I asked my son if he wanted to stay. He said he did. I asked more directly, would he want to be there at the end? He said he thought he would be okay if that happened. All the while, I was watching from the corner of my eye. No breathing. Josh said his “earatory sensors” noticed it was much quieter. I said yes it was. I told him I thought it might be the end, that Grandpa might be gone. My son looked sad. I glanced at the clock and we both watched Grandpa. One minute. Two minutes. No breathing. I was pretty sure he was gone. My son asked what we should do. I said, lets sit here for a minute or two, then we will get the nurse. He noticed the oxygen machine running. He said it would be wasting energy if it kept running. I told him that would be okay. It was time to say goodbye and just be quiet. We heard a beeping from down the hall and both wondered what it was. I told Grandpa goodbye, that we loved him, and that we hoped he enjoyed seeing Grandma again. We both quietly cried for a while.

Then I got up and stepped outside the door. The nurse at the station saw me, and I motioned for her to come. She came and checked on Grandpa and confirmed what I already knew. I said goodbye again and that I loved him. I then called my Mom and let her know. That was hard.

I called my wife, who was out of town, and let her know. At first she was aghast that our son was there when Grandpa died. I explained what happened, that the girls were at a friends’ house. She talked to our son. When she talked to me again, she was okay with it, and thought it was good that he had seen that the death was peaceful.

Then I called my brother and let him know. Neither of us knew what to say. He suspected why I was calling. He was surprised that we were there. I picked up the girls. I told the girls in the car. My five year old was overtired, and cried loudly as a result. My nine year old, “blinked back the tears.” The five year old's exhaustion was clear from her crying. I brought her to my room and snuggled her on my bed.

Mom called. She wanted to know what happened in more detail. She was glad that we were with her Dad when he died. With the little one still crying, I couldn’t really talk. I let my son talk. He explained everything to my Mom. A few minutes later, Dad called. He had not realized that it was me who called at the restaurant. He thought it was a nurse. We talked quickly, but the five year old was still crying. Again, my son talked and explained, although quickly because my Dad’s cell phone battery was dying.

My daughter finally calmed down. While I brushed her teeth, my walked up behind me and said he wanted to have a “man talk” with me. At this point I was very impressed with his strength. He had been willing to cry with me. He had been open about his hurt. Once we picked up the girls, he was strong, he explained what happened, and helped comfort the girls. He had talked to Mom and Dad and given the blow by blow account.

I got the girls settled down. My son was waiting for me at his door. I motioned for him to come with me to the living room. We sat on the couch together. The dam broke. The emotions that he had kept in check since we picked up the girls flowed over again. He explained that he had held them back because he didn’t want to cause the girls to cry more. He wanted them to settle down.

He was hurting. He was glad that he had been there. But, it hurt more because he had been there. He knew that he would miss Grandpa. And he cried. We cried. We cried for a while. Finally, I got up and got the box of tissues for us, while he carried over the garbage can. I had to go check on the girls. He cried alone on the couch. When I came back we talked for a while longer, and cried some more. I checked on the girls one more time.

I am proud of my son. I think that he became more of a man on Sunday night. He has seen death. He knows that it can be peaceful. He has felt the pain. But he has seen the strength that we can draw from each other. I explained that I drew strength from him while we cried together at Hospice, and that I was glad he came with me. What a wonderful thing for a father and son to cry together, to grieve together.

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