My paternal grandfather, who is 93, is in the last days of his life. We have no real idea how many days this may be, but his edema and congestive heart failure have transformed into a vicious cycle feeding each other, and the medication that was supposed to help the edema instead shut down his kidneys, so now he is on hospice care.
It's the long, dark tea-time of his life. Only less dark and more light, because if there's anything his decline proves, it's that he is wealthy beyond imagining in what matters: family and love.
His five surviving children have gathered from hither and yon, including my father, who flew back from West Africa on Sunday evening. I took the day off on Monday and drove him up to Saginaw, where he joined his siblings in caring for their parents. I spent several hours there as well, more so to comfort my grandmother, who is too frail to care for him physically but is still emotionally tied as ever to her beloved husband of seventy-one years.
I know it seems morbid, she confided, but even though I don't want him to go, at the same time I don't want it to last too long...
I understand. It's incredibly difficult to witness the painful decay in my grandfather, the more so because he has always been such a strong man. He is a fighter: he will not go gentle into that good night.
I come from sturdy farmer stock, German Mennonites on both sides who traveled from land to land fleeing persecution for their pacifist beliefs. All four of my grandparents are still alive, still independent, still in compos mentis, though age is taking its toll on them all. This grandfather is the oldest. Five years ago, at age eighty-eight, he re-sided their house and put in new windows. Up until a year ago, he could still be found in his basement workroom, crafting the gorgeous woodwork that graces all our houses. Picture frames, clocks, jewelry boxes, bookshelves, rocking horses, detailed classic automobile models...all his children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren own beautiful pieces that will be handed down from generation to generation. That was his hobby, the work of his hands and heart at the end of his days working the land or overseeing factories and warehouses or doing Master electrical work. The delicate curves of the clock on my mantel, the enormous bookshelf against my wall, the jewelry box on my dresser, and the incredible wooden rocking horse in my children's room: they each declare all the love that my reticent grandfather struggled to put into words.
I'll admit that witnessing this final fight has struck me to the heart; even more so, witnessing my grandmother's grief and my grandfather's determination not to leave her side, this woman he has loved for longer than most people have been alive.
I don't even know how to put into words the fear that is triggered by this. I just found My True Love recently. I know the chance of getting seventy-one years with him is somewhat slim, since we met in our thirties rather than our teens, but I want as many years as I can get. And the reality is that my family is longer-lived than his. How horrible a person am I to want to go first, when my time comes? I don't want to be in my grandmother's place, facing the loss of her life companion, the one she loves best in the world.
I have hope and faith in a life hereafter, but I am a creature of this world. Each loss leaves it a dimmer place, caught in the shadows of sorrow and death.
3 years ago