Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The day I watched my grandpa die

The day I watched my grandpa die started out like every other morning. Rush Maddy off to school. Try to stay awake after putting the baby down for his first nap. (Fail at staying awake.) Bouncing, feeding, cleaning, calling, rocking, shushing and everything in between.

I didn't know the day would be today.

Then came the text ... "We have hours left, if that."

The day came crashing to a halt. The world stopped spinning, at least for our family. Tears, lots of them. And then planning mode. 

"Ryan," I called him at work, "What do you need?"

"Bethany," I called my friend, " can you please pick Maddy up from school and keep her for awhile as we say good-bye?"

"Susan," I called the family that has taken care of my kids for years, "grandpa is dying. He has hours, if that..." They took both Leyla and Baby Z. 

And then I wrestled with that decision. Should I allow my kids to say good-bye? Or are they too young? Will they just be a distraction? 

My kids saw grandpa a lot. But today, it was more important to let Ryan and his parents and aunt have the time and focus they needed to say good-bye without the distraction of the kids.

Before I know it, it is time.

I grab some to-go food for my hubby before meeting him at hospice. Arby's was slow. Too slow. I wanted to yell at them to hurry up, I needed to make it there before Grandpa passed. They did not respond to my silent, yet earnest, pleas to just bring the darn food already. 

It was strange driving to hospice. "I will walk through these doors," I thought, "and grandpa will be alive. When I walk out of these doors, grandpa will be dead."

I felt clumsy and irreverent bringing fast-food into his final place of life. It felt even stranger munching on fries while watching his breathing to make sure he was still with us.

At first, it seemed to me we might be there awhile. As in many more hours. 

Ryan went to get me some tea in the hospitality room. We had been there an hour and weren't sure if we would be there for several more. 

But the signs started... His pulse was no longer registering on the home monitor. His hands and feet turned icy cold as all blood went instead to his main organs. 

His mouth hung at an odd angle. It reminded me of all the pictures I have seen of babies ... Dead babies. It looked like death.

I got two sips of tea in when we all realized that he was pausing a very long time between breaths. He gasped a few times -- my mother-in-law went to grab a nurse to see if he needed more medication. 

When they came back to the room, his chest had come to a still. We waited with our own breath held, but there was no more rising and falling. There were no monitors to tell us when the end had come. 

I wanted to sing a hymn to grandpa... But I felt embarrassed. And I didn't trust my voice. I stayed quiet, my silent tears communicating everything that should have been said.

We watched as the vein in his neck continue to pulse for a few minutes. His heart tried so hard to keep going, just as it had the last 101 years.

The nurse checked his vitals. When she looked at her watch.... We knew. 

Today was the day I watched my grandpa die. 

I suppose there should be consolation. And I guess maybe there is some consolation. He had a good long life. So it was a good death. 

And yet, it was still death. 

The man we all loved had shriveled to skin and bones before his chest rose for the last time. 

His body turned pale quickly, and then his hands turned blue. His mouth gaped.

We stayed with his body for several hours. Lots of crying. Lots of phone calls to fill in his loved ones who weren't present. 

The social worker came in and offered the family a quilt, as Grandpa was a veteran. 

Everyone else waited for a local university to come pick up his body. I had to get the kids and offered to pick up dinner as well.

I held his hand one last time, and said my goodbye. 

I picked up the kids and dinner for everyone. I watched all the cars on the road, carrying their important people to their important places. It felt strange and cold that the world should pulse with life when a life had just ended. Didn't they know? 

I finally made it back to the hospice. We kept Leyla out of the room. Maddy wanted to see Poppy, my father-in-law, so I let her go in. She said she was ok to see grandpa's body. She seemed to understand much better than I expected what was going on. 

Soon, grandpa was wheeled out, his body completely covered. It was then that Leyla asked for grandpa. She always loved her grandpa. They had a special bond.

Seeing death is so revealing. Of course we will all die. But does that not feel so far off? As if it will happen to us in another lifetime? 

As I watched my grandpa pass, I could envision myself on the other end of the equation. 

What will people remember me for? What will bring them consolation when I am gone? What will it be like for my family when my hands are the ones to go stiff and blue? 

We all must die. The strongest amongst us. The oldest. The youngest. The weakest.

And so death reminds us to count our days. Count our blessings, and our loved ones, and the good we have to offer. It reminds us that we are not going to have forever to make a difference, to encourage, to fulfill dreams. We have today. We have this moment. 

When death has brushed us so closely, it calls to us to live. To reevaluate. To prioritize. To remember our blessings. And to bless others. 

But it is a call to more. 

The day my grandpa died is also the day my grandpa lived. He stepped foot in heaven, where he will live for eternity.

And the truth remains that even the good we do will one day pass. Death reminds me to not just make a difference... But to make an eternal difference. 

One day, I will die. You will die. Our loved ones will grieve... But the world will go on. People will still drive around in their important cars to their important places, oblivious of the fact that we not only died, but that we ever lived.

So what am I doing today that will outlive me? 

That is my question today...

The day I watched my grandpa die.


  1. Rachel, I'm so thankful for your blog! Your grandpa was a good guy and we miss him as we do our aunt who loved your grandpa so much in their last (too short) years together. Our dad, also a WWII veteran was in a motorcycle accident six weeks ago today and has been in the hospital (mostly in ICU) ever since. My sister and I have been with him 24/7 not leaving him for a second because of some close calls. He is improving but the outcome is still unknown. What you said resonated though...the part about life going on with people oblivious. Here is my dad a wonderful man who has done so much, encouraged so many and influenced all in a positive way now struggling for his life while the rest of the world is oblivious to the fact that they should be following his first steps as they certainly will not be able to escape his last ones. Thanks again for inspiring us to make our moments count! - Diane