i got a text from my dad driving back from jacksonville sunday night after the jaguars game. my grandpa was back in the hospital, and was not doing well. he was diagnosed with stomach cancer a while ago. i actually found out about the stomach cancer the day when we found out about brett’s thyroid cancer. he was on his next round of chemo. the first round went well, and everyone was hopeful and optimistic that the next would be the same. he smoked until he was 65, and he’s had COPD for years. between that and the chemo, breathing was incredibly difficult. he had lost a lot of weight because of the chemo, and was weak. it wouldn’t take much to put him back in the hospital.
friday or saturday, or maybe even sunday, not sure which, he aspirated into his lungs. i don’t know all of the medical details–everything happened pretty quickly and i drove up to mooresville monday morning to see him and the rest of the family. by the time i got there, he was not awake or responsive. he was hooked up to a ventilator, and eyes were slightly, open but he wasn’t there.
they were giving him morphine hourly and had been throughout the day, and the nurses said he wasn’t in any pain. my hope is that he could hear everything we were saying to him. my aunts were there reading him verses from the bible, my dad was there, and another family he has been friends with for a long time came to see him. brett’s parents even stopped by, since they live right down the street.
also that morning, my grandma (who lives a few miles down the street from my grandpa, they’ve been divorced for many years), had been picked up by an ambulance and brought to the ER at the same hospital. she has been in remission from lung cancer, but has been riddled with various medical issues for years. she also has trouble walking and mild dementia, and lives alone. sometime between saturday and sunday she fell, and when my family went to get her to bring her to see my grandpa in the hospital, they found her in her bed in a bad state. whenever they tried to move her, she would yell in pain. she couldn’t get any words out, and didn’t recognize anyone.
i sat with my grandpa and my family for a while, and then ventured down to the ER to see my grandma. seeing my grandpa like he was was difficult, but seeing my grandma like this was a different kind of difficult. she recognized me, and told me i was pretty. i couldn’t hold back the tears. i tried to hug her but every touch made her wince in pain. not much else she said was coherent, aside from telling me she was cold. dad and i got her blankets and tried to comfort her as much as we could. her situation is still being figured out as far as what’s wrong with her, but, bottom line, she’s never going to live in her house again. she’ll be in assisted living or living with a family member or in a nursing home the rest of her life.
it wasn’t long after being in the ER that they transferred her upstairs, right down the hall from my grandpa.
so now all of us were there, walking between their rooms.
dad and i left briefly to drive to my grandpa’s house and clean out his pantry and fridge. he had 4 or 5 huge containers of protein powder, tons of protein bars, various other health supplements. i asked dad what he was doing with all this protein powder. i was so out of it at this point that it didn’t even dawn on me that he was trying to gain the weight back that he’d lost from chemo. dad said, “he had a plan”. that one hit me hard. i’d already been crying off and on all day, but that one hit me. they were all so hopeful that he was going to get through this. he was confident. his fridge and pantry were stocked with everything he loved–tuna, anchovies, ice cream, nuts, snacks. his house in perfect condition, as always. he was living his life.
dad showed me old pictures that he found. old passports. his resume from years ago when he was moving to NC for a new job. my grandpa is a brilliant man. he lied about his age at 16 to join the army, went to war, got his GED, put himself through college, double majored in physics and engineering. was like 22 when he and my grandma (who was 17 at the time) had their first child, and then 2 more. had a handful of very successful jobs in his career but eventually became the president of an electronics company in statesville. he worked his ass off until he retired. he didn’t come from a lot, and did well to support his family and extended family. he was always reading, always. his house is full of books. he stayed busy, informed, and took care of himself. he was handsome.
he wa an incredible person, and i feel like i let him down in so many ways. i didn’t visit as much as i should have. i didn’t talk with him as much as i should have. i didn’t know any of the above until my dad’s birthday one year when i got into an argument with my grandpa:
several years ago when i was in my sophomore year of college, i was going through a rough few months. this is when i had first started dating adam. adam was supposed to go to italy after that summer. i was 19, and so unbelievably stupid, and thought that somehow i’d be able to go with him. i had been extremely depressed that winter and spring. it was probably the lowest i’ve ever gotten. i was living alone in a tiny apartment. i stopped going to work and class, and flunked out that semester. i hardly left my apartment or my bed, and i’m pretty sure the only thing i ate was spaghettios and pizza rolls. i was convinced that boone was the problem, and italy with my boyfriend of 6 months was a great way to fix everything. i was spending every dime i had on gas driving to fayetteville throughout the week. before finals even rolled around, i told my parents that my classes were over, and i’d either already taken the exams or my other exam grades were high enough to make me exempt from the final (some professors did that). i sublet my apartment, and moved to fayetteville. i drove back home one weekend in april for my dad’s birthday. dad and my grandpa kept asking about my grades and how things were going. knowing good and well i didn’t want to have that conversation, i tried to make up some BS and end the conversation. i was mad and mostly mad and embarrassed at myself, so i snapped back at them, and my grandpa got upset at me. i am pretty sure i blocked as much of the rest out of my mind as i could because i barely remember it. all i really remember now is him not speaking to me the rest of that afternoon, i left upset at everyone, and i didn’t get a card in the mail that year for my birthday. i knew i’d let him down when he found out everything going on. i’d let myself down, too. none of this was like me, but at that point i figured i’d already fucked up too much to turn back.
i called my dad after that happened. he told me about my grandpa’s early years and how he made a life for them, and made it clear to me why he’d gotten upset.
ever since that day, i felt like my grandpa lost a bit of respect for me. he came from a family of 5 kids, they didn’t have a lot of money, and everything he did, he did on his own to make himself successful. and there i was pissing away free education and so much opportunity, oblivious of how fortunate i was. compared to him, i’d had everything handed to me on a silver platter. i know i disappointed him that day, and i will never ever forget that feeling. all i can think about now is i hope i made him proud. i hope i made him proud when he saw me graduate. i hope he knows how much i love and look up to him. i hope he knows. i so hope he knows. this is an awful feeling.
around 7:30 last night, my grandpa passed. he wasn’t in any pain, and he was surrounded by his family. he was 79. i kissed him and hugged him and said my goodbyes. i told him i loved him and that i was sorry. i’ve never seen someone die. my dad and i got in the car and he hit the nail on the head. “it’s weird, isn’t it? you just expect them to wake up.”
i know he was 79 and had cancer but it wasn’t the cancer that got him, it was the fucking chemo that made it happen even faster. i know he wasn’t in pain when he went, but he had to deal with so much bullshit up until then. same with my grandma, she doesn’t deserve to be dealing with everything she’s going through and has been going through for years. she doesn’t know about my grandpa yet, and i can’t imagine what that will do to her. sure, they are divorced, but they were married for 37 years and lived down the street from one another ever since. i can’t fathom that feeling. that’s going to be devastating.
it’s hard to understand why such horrible things happen to such amazing people. and here i am, living this absolutely perfect fucking life. i’m not half the person they are, nor will i ever be. i’m not a christian. i’m not religious. i’ve probably lied to everyone in my life in some form or another. i don’t talk to the people i care about enough. i suck at keeping in touch with my family. i’m moody and obnoxious all too often. i’m selfish and spoiled. i drink too much and curse more than any mother ever should. my family did everything they could to make me the best person i could be, and this is what they get out of me. i had a 4 hour drive back to charleston this afternoon, and thought about all this for a while. how do i raise a child when it seems like i can’t even find my own values? i should be the one suffering, not the people who have done so much for me and our family. not the people who have done so much good in their lives.
after we left the hospital, we went to my grandma’s to try and sort out some of her paperwork, eat something since none of us had eaten all day. clean out the refrigerator. clean up in general. she has so much stuff. just stuff, everywhere. i poured a scotch for me and my dad. we waited for my cousin’s plane to come in. she got there and we all went back to the hospital so she could see him. i said goodbye again–that time was even harder. he was so cold. it is so hard to write this.
lots of crying. dad and i were going to stay at my grandpa’s since there wasn’t a lot of room at my grandma’s with the 3 of them staying there. we started driving back and i asked dad if we could go to a bar first. i didn’t think i could go back in that house just yet. we went to a tavern near the hospital, and the hours flew by. putting the circumstances completely aside, that was one of the best nights i’ve had with my dad. we don’t see each other often, and we rarely have time alone. we talked for hours, about everything. it was amazing. i needed that. i hate living so far away.
we fell asleep in my grandpa’s bed on the mattress pad when we got home, and i woke up to my dad cooking eggs and sausage in the kitchen. my grandpa’s things were all where he left them.
i love you, tick tock. we all miss you. rest in peace.