On Tuesday we laid my grandfather to rest.
He would have turned 84 on Wednesday. Until 7 months ago he was a healthy, vibrant 83-year-old man who had not a care in the world. He had a loving family. He enjoyed seeing his great-grandchildren every chance he got. He loved talking politics (even if he was the only Republican in the family…). He watched the stock market like a hawk. He liked the St. Louis Cardinals and the University of Illinois football and basketball teams.
He was my Grandpa T.
But liver and lung cancer took him from us.
In March he fell. He had fainted. When he fell he caught his arm on the dog crate and had a terrible gash open up. That wound would be the first of many issues he faced in the next 7 months. They finally determined that his fainting episodes (he would have numerous) were due to a racing heart issue. He had a procedure to fix that. It worked. Then he had some issues with his prostate and not being able to urinate. He had to have a catheter. He finally had to have some sort of procedure where they “microwaved” his prostate. That seemed to help things. All through this, he was steadily losing weight. We knew there was something else going on. But he was a stubborn old man who played his personal health very close to his chest. In March he weighed a healthy 175 pounds. When he died he was 120 pounds. When he was finally diagnosed with the cancer it was a crushing blow. Honestly, he had taken pretty good care of himself his whole life. He stayed active until he was unable to. But by the time he was finally diagnosed treatment was not an option. We discussed hospice instead.
Never in a million years did I think I would watch my grandfather slowly die. But I did. Over the months, weeks and days, we slowly watched him essentially waste away. He had to have been in a great deal of pain, but he was stubborn and nearly refused to ask for help. His pain tolerance level was ridiculously high. So near the end when he finally admitted that his pain level was a 9 on a 1-10 scale, we knew it had to be out of this world pain. We were lucky that we were able to keep him at his house for as long as possible. When he was a few days away from his death they took him to the hospital. He spent a couple of days there and then was moved to hospice. He was in hospice for less than 24 hours before he passed peacefully just before 1am on Oct. 17, 2015.
I was never close to my mother’s side of the family. There was no real reason for this, it’s just how things happened to end up. But the last few months I spent more time with my grandparents than I probably had in the last 5 years combined. I’m thankful for that now. His last words to my dad were “I feel like shit.” That was my grandfather. Classic Grandpa T. right there.
I was lucky enough to have one final conversation with him the night before he was moved into hospice. It was the night he admitted he was at a pain level of 9. And while most of his conversation made absolutely no sense, he left me with the most precious words ever. As I was leaving he told me he loved me. Those were his last words to me. It’s a memory I will cherish forever. The next time I saw him it was just a few hours before he passed and he was completely unaware of his surroundings. I was very glad that I had made the decision to visit with him the night before. I was able to say my final goodbye.
Of course that didn’t make his actual passing any easier. I was still heartbroken when my mom called me Saturday morning with the news. But his pain was over and that eases my pain a great deal.
It’s tough to tell someone goodbye. It’s tough to walk out of a hospital room knowing it’s the last time you will see someone alive. It’s tough to sit through a funeral knowing that once the casket is closed you will never see that person again. It’s tough to know that my children never had a chance to fully know him. It’s tough to figure out how to tell your 3-year-old Grandpa T. has passed away (something we still haven’t dealt with…).
But it’s a part of life. It’s the sucky part of life. But it’s life. I was lucky to have him in my life for 30 years. And I have a lot of wonderful memories of him. And like all people dealing with grief, we will heal. Slowly. But it will happen.
But those last words … “I love you, I truly do.”
That’s the beautiful part of life.