Afraid to Say Goodbye

My paternal grandfather has been in the hospital for the past eight days now. I have gone to see him at least five out of the eight days. The last three visits have been hard as he is not real responsive.

For that matter if I don’t press the issue he’ll sleep for hours and during the few minutes that he is awake he doesn’t say much of anything. He is lucid, knows who I am, occasionally says my name, but not much else.

Some of that doesn’t bother me. He can be exceptionally gregarious, but at the same time he often goes hours without speaking as he doesn’t feel the need to make small talk. I am used to it and have spent many happy hours sitting with him.

But this is different, this time the quiet is not the same. I don’t feel like the quiet is because he has nothing to say. This time it feels to me as if the effort to speak is beyond what he is willing to do, not capable, willing.

The difference is that he seems to be weighing whether he wants to stick around or if he feels like he has done his time. He hasn’t said that to me, hasn’t even hinted at it so I might be over reacting to this. I hope that I am.

But maybe I am not.

I have a special relationship with all three of my grandparents. Yes, I said three. At just short of 37 I know how very lucky I am to have them and I treasure the time. But this particular grandfather and I have a very special bond that is a little bit different.

I remember the time after my grandmother died. I was quite young, but not so young that I don’t remember large chunks. When my mother went into labor with my youngest sisters he was the babysitter. I remember him pulling me in my wagon the day that my folks brought my sisters home.

He took me to my first Dodger game, took me to the steamroom to go shvitz with the other altercockers. I spent hours with him and his boys at Farmers Market, watched a few poker games and heard stories of his youth. I know about the time he spent as a carney and a pool hustler. I know the stories about WWII and so much more.

I am not going to write about those now because he is still here and if I learned anything from him it is that you don’t give up. But I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t nervous. He is 91, really more like 91.5 so who knows.

The last two trips to the hospital were hard. I didn’t say goodbye, he was asleep. But the honest answer is that I was afraid. I was afraid that if I said goodbye I’d get a telephone call later on letting me know that he had slipped away. Call me superstitious, but I was really nervous about it.

The day will come. No one outraces the sun and no one avoids the next step to whereever and whatever. I know this.

Tonight I hugged and kissed my children. I chased the monsters out of the closet and punched the bad guys in the nose. I helped spiderman, the power rangers and superman keep their bedroom safe. I know this is true, because my little boy told me so. I was his superman, his hero and I intend to do that for as long as I can.

But somewhere a little West of me one of my heroes is laid up in a hospital and the truth is that tonight I could have used him, would have liked to have spoken with him. I improvised and did what I think he would do in the same situation. I owe him an awful lot.

I don’t know what is going to happen and I am not going to spend too much time worrying about it because it is not productive. So when I sign off this evening and go to sleep I’ll dream about a man pulling a little boy in a blue wagon or the guy who bought me my first Dodger Dog and we’ll call it a night…for now.

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  1. tafka PP March 15, 2006 at 9:52 am

    Hi Jack,

    I related to so much of what you said in this post: I still have all of mine, thank G-d, and am pretty unique in that respect among my friends and feel very very lucky, but also get very nervous.

    Hope you continue to deal with this so admirably.

  2. Alice March 14, 2006 at 3:16 pm

    You are lucky to have each other.

  3. Jack's Shack March 14, 2006 at 4:37 am

    Hi Elie,

    Thank you.


    I hear you.




    Sounds like a good idea to me.


    Thank you too. I appreciate your kind words.


    I feel very lucky and blessed.




    Purim Sameach to you too.


    You are right, grandparents are special.

  4. cruisin-mom March 14, 2006 at 12:54 am

    Grandparents are special…
    Unlike our parents, they usually don’t discipline.
    They give candy generously.
    They love us unconditionally (yeah, parents are supposed to, but parents tend to have their expectations)

    In short, they are magical.

    I hope your grandpa comes home soon.

  5. Jerusalemcop March 13, 2006 at 10:41 pm

    Thanks Jack,

    You brought back memories of my grandfather who passed away close to ten years ago. He was like a surrogate father to me since my father died when I was 3.

    He was strong until a month before it happened and he passed at the young age of 98. His father had lived until 106.

    Refuah shleima to your grandfather and may your children continue to experience this special time with their 3 great-grandparents.

    purim sameach


  6. Irina Tsukerman March 13, 2006 at 7:46 pm

    Refuah shleimah to your grandfather. I sincerely hope he gets better very soon. That was a very vivid post.

  7. Gail March 13, 2006 at 7:33 pm

    You and your grandfather are both very fortunate to have had such an extended and loving relationship. I hope it continues and that he finds the strength to rally.

  8. Shoshana March 13, 2006 at 5:14 pm

    I am sure your grandfather is very happy knowing how much you care about him, and that you have had such a special relationship with him. It’s extremely hard to say goodbye – but fortunately, he will always live on in your memories.

  9. dorothy rothschild March 13, 2006 at 4:35 pm

    That did it. Going to write my grandmother a letter tonight!

  10. Stephen (aka Q) March 13, 2006 at 3:45 pm

    God bless you, Jack — and your grandfather, too.

  11. MUST Gum Addict March 13, 2006 at 2:54 pm

    My grandfather and I were vey close as well. It’s actually pretty scary how you describe much of the same feelings that I had. We had a big 90th birthday party for him, and about 6 months later, he decided he had enough of left us for greater things. Those last few months were incredibly difficult for me. My grandfather survived many horrors in life (Holocaust, etc.) and was a tremendous inspiration to me. To see him lying helpless in a hospital was very uncomfortable for me, but if there’s one thing I can offer, it’s this.

    He can’t tell you that he’s happy that you’re there with him, but you know that he is. You know that while he’ll never admit it (my grandfather never showed weakness), he’s not capable of the things he used to do before. But you’re there to let him know that it’s all ok — because you’re going to raise his flag and continue to make him proud long after he’s gone.

  12. Elie March 13, 2006 at 2:49 pm


    What a touching post. I makes me think of my paternal grandfather who dies last year at the age of 101. He was fully active and alert until almost the end. I was luck to have him in my life for so long, especially since my other three grandparents all died before my 10th birthday.

    May your grandfather live and be well.

  13. Jack's Shack March 13, 2006 at 2:43 pm


    Thank you.


    I’ll pass along your good wishes. Thank you.


    I appreciate that.


    I have read similar things, a lot of that makes sense to me.


    Thank you.


    It is just one of those things.



  14. PsychoToddler March 13, 2006 at 2:30 pm

    I’ve had a similar experience with my Dad. I never know if the last goodbye was the last goodbye.

    Hang in there.

  15. bornfool March 13, 2006 at 2:26 pm

    You got me a little misty, G. I have one grandparent still alive. I miss the others every day.

  16. Stacey March 13, 2006 at 2:02 pm

    Beautiful post. It made me cry. I hope he rallies and comes home from the hospital soon.

  17. stepima March 13, 2006 at 1:51 pm

    that’s a really beautiful post. I only knew two of my grandparents, and I still miss them very much. It’s wonderful that you have had so much time with your grandfather (with all three of your grandparents), and that his time with you even now is so rich. That it sounds like he’s not unduly suffering, so you can focus on the happy times.

    You may be right when you say that if you say goodbye to him now, he might not be there for you tomorrow. At the same time, many grief counsellors believe that for some people who really are dying, what they are waiting for in the end is permission from family members that it’s okay for them to go. That the reason they hold on may be because they don’t have that goodbye, and that it’s that moment of relief that they’re waiting for, so they can finally let go. That their family will be okay without them. It’s just a theory, of course. But if it helps you any, maybe saying whatever you might want to say to him could actually help him feel better, even if it was the last chance (G-d forbid) you had to say it.

    I hope he still finds the strength to make a full recovery, and soon.

  18. .m. March 13, 2006 at 12:00 pm

    Such a touching post, so many lovely memories and so much love from it.
    Wish you and your loved ones the very best. Keep strong Superman!

  19. westbankmama March 13, 2006 at 10:55 am

    What a beautiful post. Grandparents are very special people – lots of unconditional love and none of the parent/child independence issues. Refuah shleimah.

  20. Pesach March 13, 2006 at 9:56 am

    I never really had too much of a connection with my grandfather as i did not know very much french, but I understand exactly how you feel. Loosing a loved one is not supposed to be comfortable, it is probably evryones biggest fear. When it comes to older family members, we have to accept the cycle of life, and just wish that everyone we know should live to such a age.

    Not very applicable to you in this situation, but i once heard that the reason why parents get old, senile, incapable and eventually pass on is so that we, the child, can return the favour to the parent for nursing us and helping us through our incapable times.

    I hope your grandfather has many more healthy and happy years, but if not i hope it will not be too difficult for the both of you.

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