When sitting within grief...

Sailor 1946

There used to be this amazing man in my life.  He was generous and kind and thoughtful and funny and loved his family with a quiet fierceness and tenacity you don't often see these days.  He was always laughing, even when things were falling apart around him.  He was the sun around which my mom's side of the family orbited, all of us reaching out and grabbing a bit of that warmth when we felt out in the cold. 

On Saturday night at 11:16pm, my Grandfather died, with two of his daughters at his side.

He did not go quietly.

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Months ago when I was visiting him with my girls, Mark took Lily and Anya downstairs to ride their scooters in the courtyard and Grandpa seized the opportunity to tell me something.  "I want you to know that I love my life.  But I honestly don't know why I'm here anymore.  I've said goodbye to so many friends, your Grandmother... I've lived a wonderful life.  It's OK.  When it happens, it's OK."

It's not OK yet.

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On Wednesday, his kidneys started to quit.  He'd been in hospital and in a care facility for a while, but this was it, the nurses said.  Hospice came and set up end-of-life meds, Ativan for the anxiety he had been struggling with and Morphine for pain.  He had spent hours with his daughters by his side while he struggled, calling out to his Grandmother, a woman who had cared for him when he was a child and his own mother was sick.  "I'm not ready, Grandma.  I don't know how.  NO.  NO. Stop."  After the Ativan & a good nights sleep my mom came back to find him sitting up happily, trying to coax her and my aunt to let him get out of bed and go for a walk. 

Summertime Long Beach 1946

"Thursday night," my mother wrote, "my sister and I read poetry to my father--poems he and his friends had written, and many of his favorites. We shared memories and laughed for hours, then slept well. Friday morning he beamed that last night was his best night ever! He ate, his color was good, and he's alert and very much alive. Poetry is powerful."

Grandpa with Babies 1 & 2 1948

Friday he told them that he'd be going home tomorrow.  When reminded about his sister's Memorial Service on Sunday, he shook his head and told them he wouldn't be there.  He was going home, after all.  His Grandmother was waiting for him.

My mother's description of the next twenty hours prompted me to blurt out, "Mom, you just doula'd death!"  Waves and waves of struggle, more pleading with his Grandmother that he wasn't ready, that he didn't know how.  He lost his ability to speak and instead communicated with his eyes and half smiles whenever staff members would come in and ask, "How you doing, Mr. J?"  Struggle, peace, pain, calm... wave after wave.  She and her sister held his hand, gazed into his eyes and stroked his face, basking in the love he was showing them when he could. 

At the very end he had a burst of strength, pushing to get himself out of bed, pushing against anything he could.  One last round of Ativan and he settled down to sleep.  Mom and my Aunt turned away to quickly eat while he rested and looked back to see him gone.  Peace. 

I guess he finally figured out how.

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Grandpa John, Ida, Morris

Sunday I was preparing to drive up for my Great Aunt's Memorial Service when I called my mom.  She broke the news of his death and I felt a small part of me shatter.  I missed him by a matter of hours.  I didn't get to say goodbye.  Over the next hour I felt myself break further and further apart.  The depth of my grief took me by surprise.  But I got there, celebrating the remarkable woman that was my Aunt, my Grandfather's sister.  Knowing that they were together now.  After the service I went to my Grandfather's home with my mom before heading back home to pick up my girls from a friends house.

Grandpa and me

When I finally started for home I quickly discovered I was lost in this desert town.  I couldn't figure out how to get out.  Luckily, Mark had given me an old GPS when he got his new phone and I pulled over and programmed it.  It occurred to me that maybe the reason I was having so much trouble leaving was that I'd not be coming back.  Hemet no longer held anything for me.  It was empty.  The place I'd been visiting since I was a baby was a place I had no reason to return to. 

And then I saw a couple riding their horses down the sidewalk and laughter bubbled up inside me.

When I arrived at my friends house to get the kids she pointed at the kitchen table, "Dinner's there, wines in the fridge."  Yep, it seems that no matter how shattered you feel there's always someone with glue standing by.  Blessings.

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There used to be this amazing man in my life.  He was generous and kind and thoughtful and funny and loved his family with a quiet fierceness and tenacity you don't often see these days.  He was always laughing, even when things were falling apart around him.  He was the sun around which my mom's side of the family orbited, all of us reaching out and grabbing a bit of that warmth when we felt out in the cold.

 

Grandpa on a mountain 1970's

I'll miss you, Grandpa John.  More than I can even say.  And I'm going to have to take it on faith that it really is OK.  Because right now?  Well, it's not.  And it might take a while before I believe you on that one.