Life and Death and Everything in Between

When my mother was talking to my father on the phone this evening, I could read through the spoken lines what had occurred. My grandfather has passed. While I saw him in his rapidly deteriorating condition earlier this week and knew the time would come soon, I did not know exactly when it would or how I would handle that moment.

I wasn’t particularly close with my grandfather on an emotional level, but he is certainly the first person in my life to pass away who I was close to at all. My mother’s father and his brother died when I was younger, but I grew up far from them. My dad’s father, on the other hand, was a mainstay at our holiday gatherings with his sharp, hot-tempered, yet somehow charming personality. Ever since I can remember my grandfather was there, bickering with someone over something that probably didn’t matter at all, and taking our holiday pictures with our large extended family, making sure to fit everyone in the shot he’d set up and the run into at the last minute.

The death of an elderly grandparent is not unexpected or uncommon – in fact, it’s inevitable – yet I still am having trouble processing. While my first sentiment was that of relief, for I could only imagine how it must feel to be trapped inside your body unable to communicate with the outside world, unable to move at all, and losing all sense of self as you drift into this alter universe between life and death. My greatest fear and sense of emotion was that he was suffering silently and would be for a long time. I felt a sense of relief knowing that if he was suffering he would no longer know of it.

But then there is my father who is a highly emotional person yet unable to ever handle his own feelings. I expected him to be upset as he should be but the tears come in through waves. I feel bad for my father – who both was at my grandmother’s house when my grandfather who was supposed to be asleep went out for a walk to pick up the paper and fell, causing his rapid mental decline – and him spending many nights in the hospital with his father over the past week but not being there during the day when his father did respond to some people in the room and say a few words (I was there when he did this, so I just assumed my father had also seen this.) I told my dad that I’m sure his father knew that he had visited, but I’m sure that is something that will haunt him going forward. Of course, my father could have stayed one of the days instead of just at night, but in his avoidance of reality he stuck to the schedule versus admitting to himself the seriousness of the situation.

Yet just seven years ago we were all sure his father was going to outlive him – a late-stage cancer patient who was told he had maybe two years to live.  Here we are today – my father still alive, thank god, and my grandfather’s funeral set for Monday. I look at this whole situation and acknowledge that I will be facing the same with my father in the coming years, only I won’t be in my 60s saying goodbye. I’ll be in my 30s, likely before having children or a young mother juggling a billion other things as I try to make peace with his looming passing. And while somehow my mind can process my grandfather sitting in the hospital unable to talk, slowly fading to the end of his life, I take no comfort in my father, as crazy as he is, facing such a decline and losing his ability to be his angsty, hot-headed, bulldog, borderline self. As I see my father cry and go through his own grief, I don’t know what to say, only the words I keep quiet around knowing that we will be facing this moment again and I will be equally as saddened and pained – but that’s not exactly the right thing to say to someone mourning his father’s passing and trying to avoid his own pending mortality.

With this mentality he also failed to call my mother and myself earlier today when my grandfather passed though other relatives were notified and came over to my grandmother’s house. I will see her this weekend and am trying to decide whether it’s in bad taste to attend a baby shower tomorrow with my mother for a close family friend versus focus on my own family. Being as I live on the other coast yet grew up so close to the family on this one, I see how close those who remain here still are and I feel a sense of sadness and envy, and distance in trying to feel part of that now when family is needed most. But my father didn’t even call me to come over earlier, he waited until night to tell us what had happened.

If I still had my former job I would not be out here this Monday, but it turns out my life has enabled me to decide to stay out an extra Monday and fly back on Tuesday. I just felt like I had to be here this Monday versus heading back earlier. So it happens that my grandfather’s funeral is on Monday and I will be here for it. I don’t know if I would have been able to fly out for this if I was currently employed full time. And I start my new job very soon so I can stop thinking about that and instead focus on what matters right now – family. In the end, that’s the only thing that really matters anyway, isn’t it?

 

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