What My Grandfather’s Passing Taught Me.

Death and the grief that follows leave us with a lot to learn.

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Me and my Grandpa, years and years ago.

This isn’t the sort of thing I typically write about. But then again I’ve never been through it before now, and I can’t shake the urge to, so here I go.

In the days leading up to my Grandpa’s death last week, I could see that it was coming.

He was at the hospice facility for a week when I was finally able to go see him, and he could barely speak. He smiled at me when I squatted down at his bedside, touching his arm and giving him a kiss on the cheek when I said hello.

Working in a nursing home, I knew it was going to be soon. Coming to terms with that reality over the next few days on the other hand, was an entirely different thing all together. Even as he slipped away and I noticed his skin beginning to mottle, I kept convincing myself there was no way he wouldn’t be there when I returned the next evening.

But the last day, for whatever reason, my heart seemed to know things were different.

He was so peaceful, but entirely unresponsive. No more squeezing my hand, or opening his eyes even for a moment at the sound of our voices when we whispered to him.

I never really believed in God, but for whatever reason I took out my phone and played ‘In the Garden’, just loud enough for him to hear. For the first time since he was diagnosed with cancer twelve years before, I started crying and could not stop, until I heard my family coming back in to the room. I wiped my eyes, and we played him some Johnny Cash.

Later that evening, my Mom asked if I wanted to go with her to pick up dinner for all of us there. I said yes. All that week, even if I was just leaving his room to go to the bathroom, I would brush the hair off his forehead and whisper that I loved him and I’d be back. When I left that night to go get dinner, I didn’t.

Ten minutes after I left, on the night of his son’s birthday with his wife and boys by his side, while his daughter was on her way, he passed away.

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My Grandpa and I on his birthday, with his favorite coconut cream pie.

I know he waited for me to go.

Working in a nursing home, I’ve seen it all too often. There’s no doubt in my mind that he didn’t want me in the room, and knowing my Grandpa I should have expected that from the very beginning. But all I could think about was how I hadn’t said a word to him before I left.

This is the first death of a close loved one that I’ve ever gone through, and it’s taught me more than I ever imagined it would.

He was given eight months when he was first diagnosed with stage four colon cancer, and he remained a warrior for twelve long years. His doctors called him a medical miracle, and looking back I know I took having him for all that extra time for granted. My family lived with him for over six months when I was a little girl. Growing up, we went and visited him every weekend or every other weekend. It just never occurred to me that one day, he would no longer be there to visit.

I was telling my coworker about all of this on my first day back to work, doing my best to come to terms with everything I was feeling. As if on cue, my other coworker started singing to the residents. She was singing ‘In the Garden’.

I had to leave the room.

As I said, I never believed in God. But our energy doesn’t just disappear when our bodies fail. That was him, telling me in his own little way that he was there, and doing just fine.

Death puts everything in to perspective, and losing my Grandpa has filled me with a complicated sadness I’ve never known before. He spotted my love of writing before anyone else, and he understood a part of my soul that no one else has. The man literally kept my first short story in one of his safes. I miss him more than words can ever describe. But at the same time, I can never wish him back. He was ready, and it would be selfish of me to want him to stay. But I’m thankful for music and words, that give me a little piece of him to hold on to.

Never, ever take your loved ones for granted. Always tell them you love them. Pick up that phone, and have those meaningless conversations. A time will come when you’ll no longer be able to, and you’ll be eternally grateful for all the times that you did.

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