Grandma’s Dying & Grandpa Has Cancer. That should be the name of some sort of country music song shouldn’t it. Really, I can see Tim McGraw doing it. He has more than a few songs that I like but this isn’t a song title, it is my life.
How is that for drama. Not bad, huh. If you are among the 17 long time readers than none of this is that much of a surprise. My life is just like your life, filled with a tapestry of good and bad. Stories about those we he have lost and those we haven’t are scattered through it. Some of them make you smile and some of them make you cry.
This morning as the kids got ready to head off to school I told them that my grandmother had fallen and needed to go the hospital. They looked at me and said, “again?” I smiled and told them that she had fallen again and was besieged with a thousand questions about how and why it happened. It was a bittersweet moment.
What I didn’t tell them was that she broke her hip and that due to her age and heart condition surgery is highly unlikely. I didn’t tell them that their aunt, my little sister, looked to her big brother for guidance on whether she should get on a plane because grandma is dying. I didn’t tell them that my mother, their grandmother asked me to help do some research on hospice and other end of life issues. I didn’t tell them about my visit with my grandparents on Sunday.
Because, I was there. Not when she fell but several hours before. I sat with her and my grandfather and chewed the fat. I intentionally went without the kids. It was a chance for me to focus on being a grandson and not a father. Both are important, but had the kids been there it would have been difficult to focus on the grandparents the way that I wanted to.
You see, my grandfather turned 96 last week but I was unable to be there. I had some sort of stomach bug so I bugged out but promised my grandpa that I would come as soon as possible. And let’s be real at 96 you never know how much time you have left so you do what you can to take advantage of the time when you can.
Last year we helped them celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary and watched them dance one last time. Anyway, my grandmother’s health has been declining for a while now and while that is to be expected, the dementia that has accompanied has not been. Maybe we should have anticipated or expected it, but if you knew how strong and energetic my grandmother was you’d understand why it is surprising.
She carried a laundry basket up and down a flight of stairs into her eighties and until a few years ago still exercised regularly. The change may have taken a few years, but the decline is still shocking to us. But to my grandfather it has been heartbreaking.
So in addition to spending time with my grandparents the goal is to give my grandfather a little help. So when grandma asks the same question repeatedly there is someone else to help.
I wasn’t upset with the children when they asked why grandma keeps falling. Nor was I upset when my son asked if getting older means that you break frequently and easily. But I was sad because they will never know the grandmother that I know. They won’t have a real understanding of who she was and still is.
They weren’t there on Sunday when my grandfather held onto my arm and fought back tears about how hard it is to see his girl like this. How he told me again that the worst part of aging is being robbed of the ability to take care of her the way that he wants to. About how he used to give her piggy back rides and listen to her laugh or so many other memories that he shared with me.
I sat and listened and did what I could to make it easier for him. And when my grandmother called me by mother’s name I didn’t flinch, even though I have a full beard and stand close to a foot taller than she does.
In a short time I am going to leave the office and head over to the hospital to visit grandma. She is sedated and barely awake. It is unclear whether she’ll be cognizant of my being there. I don’t know if this visit will be the last time I see her. The docs aren’t entirely certain, it could go on for a while.
But this is not a long term proposition. Regardless of how long we have Grandma will not be at the seder or at my sister’s wedding. And you can say what you will about her being there in spirit, but there still will be an empty seat that should have been hers.
And in the not so distant future I will have to have another discussion with my children about death and what that means. But I’ll save that moment for whenever it may come because for now she is still here.