I had a wonderful relationship with my Grandpa. I have vivid memories of the times that I spent with my him as a child. There is one in particular that I think back on when I start to miss him.
We’re driving down the street in his car. I’m in the backseat, standing up. I have my arms around his neck. “I love you Grandpa” I say, as he’s cruising down the street. “I love you too, Y.” He says back. The wind is blowing my hair all over the place. If I close my eyes, I can feel the wind on my face. I’m smiling from ear to ear as we talk and sing and laugh.
That memory is in stark contrast to the last one that I have of my Grandpa.
I walk down the hall and see him laying on his side on his bed. His belly is hanging over the bed, filled with fluid that his heart could no longer pump through his body. His face is swollen to the point of being unrecognizable. His entire body was blue and he was talking short, labored, quick breaths. It took my brain a minute to process the magnitude of what my eyes had just seen. My Grandpa, a man once so full of life, love and laughter, was slowly suffocating before my eyes.
My knees got weak, my heart started to pound as I glanced around the room. My aunt, grandma and brother were all there in the room.
Finally, I was able to speak.
“OH MY GOD.” I screamed.
“He’s FINE.” My aunt said with this smirk on her face, insinuating that I was overreacting. I wanted to punch her in the face. I literally had to refrain from physically attacking her because clearly, he was NOT fine. And clearly, she wanted him to die. She didn’t want me acting up and doing something crazy, like, you know, call 911 for help. Because then they may try to do something crazy, like, you know, KEEP HIM FROM DYING.
I knew in that moment that would be the last time I’d see my Grandpa alive. I knew that my Grandma (and my Aunt) had made the decision that this was it. That all of his suffering would soon be over if we just all stood there and watched him die from lack of oxygen to the brain. (what had happened was my grandma had given him pain medication for a fall he had a few days earlier. She gave him the pills every 4 hours as the doctor had instructed, but his kidneys had given out and wasn’t able to process the medication. He wasn’t getting oxygen to his brain the way he should have been. So maybe using the term “suffocating” isn’t medically the correct term. BUT HE WAS BLUE. AND WASN’T GETTING ENOUGH OXYGEN TO HIS BRAIN. NOT OKAY.)
I went outside and called my sister, who was on her way to his house. “We have to do something to help Grandpa.” I said. “This isn’t right.”
As soon as my sister arrived, she made it clear that we were going to call 911 and we did. Honestly? I can’t remember who called, but I can remember the HELL that broke out after the phone call was made.
My aunt was upset that we called.
And so she lashed out at all of us. She accused us of not loving him because we didn’t visit him as often as she did. Keep in mind, she lived 5 minutes away. We lived more than an hour a day. She could walk to his house if she wanted to. She screamed and shouted at us. And we screamed and shouted back. “How DARE YOU SAY I DON’T LOVE MY GRANDPA.” I shouted. “SHUT UP, SHUT UP RIGHT NOW.” My sister shouted.
It was ugly, probably the most ugly thing I’ve witnessed in my entire life. There was my beautiful grandfather, laying on his bed dying. And those he loved the most were throwing around accusations and screaming at each other. How awful of her. How awful of all of us.
I’ll never forget the sight of my grandfather, strapped half naked to the gurney being carried out the door of his mobile home. I’ll never forget how I wanted to turn away because it was too painful, but couldn’t because I knew it would probably be the last time I’d see him alive.
I saw him again at the hospital. After they had given him the oxygen he desperately needed. He was no longer blue, his color had returned to normal, as had his heart rate. But his brain had been damaged.
I held his hand, squeezed it tight and said “I love you, Grandpa. I love you so much. Thank you for being my Grandpa. I love you. I love you.”
He tried to respond. He did. He muttered, but he couldn’t form the words. I like to think I know what he was saying. “I love you too.”
I never wanted my last memories of him to be what they are.
I wish more than anything that my last memory could have been the week before, when I kissed him goodbye after spending the day with him for his birthday.
“I have to go now, Grandpa” I said, as I leaned in to kiss him.
“Already?” he said.
“Yes. I have to get things ready for tomorrow. The kids have school and I have to work.”
“Oh, I understand how that is.” He responded.
“I love you, Grandpa. Happy Birthday.”
“I love you.” He said, in the precious way he always did.
I kissed him, had the kids say their goodbyes and I walked out the door. I thought it may be the last time I’d see him alive, but I suppose I had hope that it wouldn’t. I do wonder, if I had even thought it would be the last time, why I didn’t say more? Why I didn’t stay longer? Why I didn’t hug him tighter? Why I didn’t kiss him a thousand times over?
It wasn’t the last time I saw him alive and yet it was. Because the last time I saw him alive he was brain damaged, he was unable to talk. He was unable to return my hugs and my kisses.
And I’m still sad about it. I’m still angry about it.
But I’m not the only one who’s angry. My grandma is angry too. She’s angry that we called 911. She told me this the other day. “Grandpa didn’t want to die in a hospital.” she said. “But Grandma! He was suffocating! It wasn’t fair to let him die in pain like that.” She snapped back with something about how awful that hospital was and how the bed they put him in was too small for him and if we had just “let him be.” he could have died in peace in his own home.
I haven’t been able to process her anger about this. It was the first time she’s said it to me and my God, it hurt. I never meant to go against my Grandpa’s wishes, but I also never wanted to see him suffering. I’ve always thought we did the right thing in calling for help that day. But what if I was wrong? What if he wasn’t telling me he loved me in those last moments I had with him in the hospital? What if he was asking why I didn’t just leave him be to die there in his bed?
I can only remember ONE TIME in my entire life that my Grandpa got angry with me. It was when I dared to wear jeans to church. “That’s disrespectful!” He shouted. “Go change into a dress!” I still remember how devastating it was to my little self. This man adored me, I could never do any wrong in his eyes. Until that moment. I had done something that angered him and I never wanted to do it again. And I never did.
Or did I? Was he angry with me on the day he did for what I had done?
I’ll never know the answer to that and it is killing me today.