Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Last Dance

I was living in Las Vegas. I was three or four months pregnant with my daughter. Not yet showing, but thinking that I was. With the first one you look for that.

My grandfather was sick. Cancer. It was getting bad and everyone knew it. It was now to the point that Hospice was involved with in-home care and Pops had derided that there would be no more doctors. No more x-rays, no further testing, no more one last tries. He was done now. He wanted dignity, peace, and a schedule.

It was suggested that my pregnant self come see him for a while. I agreed. I knew this was good bye. I flew across country in New Year's Eve. I started 2003 in Ohio. I was happy to see my family, it had been too long. I was anxious to see my grandparents. I missed them so. I wasn't scared. In an email in-box days before I left arrived a picture of my grandfather. I was told to look at it before I came to visit so I wouldn't be shocked or scared or nervous when I saw him for the first time. So, scared I was not. The picture prepared me for what was To be. Poor Pops.

Eight years later and the beginning of the visit is a bit hazy. I remember a quick family dinner at Gram and Pop's house where it should be and how it should be. No one acknowledged the oxygen tanks in the hall. No one spoke aloud of the food that was not being eaten. I sat on the arms of his chair and rubbed and rubbed and rubbed his back. My great big tall proud regal grandfather was now a small, sick, old man. But we were happy. And he was happy to be close to his first great-grandchild. The grandchild that, upon first hearing he was terminal, he had asked doctors if they could guarantee him being able to meet. It was that important to him.

Since they couldn't guarantee anything of the sort, a visit to Ohio was planned instead.  After that initial dinner and night of back rubbing, I'm fairly certain I spent the next few days at my mother's visiting my grandparents when I could.  I remember during one day, my grandmother called Hospice to send someone to sit with my grandfather for a few hours so that she and I could do a little shopping.  When we returned, there was no strange car parked in the driveway.  Instead was the car of my brother!  Pops had sent away the Hospice worker and called my brother instead.  We walked in to find them both sleeping soundly in the recliners and Wendy's wrappers strewn about on TV trays.  Evidently Pops had asked Ernie to bring lunch too!  That memory always makes me smile.

That night or one of the near following, I settled in to stay a few days with Gram and Pops like old times.  I arrived later in the evening.  And when I stepped out of the car, I felt something that I have never felt before.  Death.  Death was there to take my grandpa.  It was a palpable very real feeling.  It was if another person had entered the room, but you had not yet turned to greet and recognize them.  I felt it so immediately.  But I said nothing.  

I wasn't there for very long before death started his dance.  I was sitting on the couch facing my grandparents.  We were talking.  The TV was on.  Pap-paw was at the edge of his seat leaning forward with his head in his hands.  Since I had been here on my visit, this was a normal stance for him.  I didn't think a thing of of it.  Gram an I continued talking.  Suddenly he mentioned that he couldn't breathe.  Gram sprang into action.  She pulled a fan in front of him, she began rubbing his back, and started dialing the phone I swear all in one fluid motion.  The phone call she had made was to Hospice.  It was at this point that Hospice instructed my grandmother who instructed me to go to the kitchen and retrieve a brown paper bag that they had been given day one and told not to look in until they were told to do so by a member of Hospice.  Gram removed a pill from the bag and put it under my grandfather's tongue.

The next bit of time is a bit hazy for me because so much was happening.  Sometimes I think that even at this moment so many years ago my brain tries to sort it all out.  Here is what I remember in flashes - I remember my grandmother going to him.  I remember seeing them more in love during this time than I ever saw them before.  I remember at one point that my grandfather visually lost sight of my grandmother because she was behind him.  He called out to her scared and wondering.  He was so vulnerable.  She went to him and they put their arms around one another and swayed back and forth. Him sitting, she standing. It was very much their last dance with one another.  It went on for quite some time.   I remember feeling like I was intruding on a very personal thing.  My brain tried to make a route to leave the room they were in without them seeing me.  Not for any other reason than the air was permeated with death at this point, and the quiet time they were having with one another seemed so personal and final.  I wasn't supposed to be there.  Soon enough though the dance finished and they broke apart and things got a little more chaotic as he became a little more sick in those hours.  At one point, I was able to skim the label of the bottle from which my grandmother had taken his pill - it was labeled morphine.  It wasn't until that moment that I realized the severity and finality of what was happening. 

Eventually he ended up in the wonderful caring Hospice facility.  I was able to visit him many times before my visit was over.  It was always nice and pleasant.   Other family members were in and out and around as much as possible.  The situation wasn't bleak or depressing.  We knew this was the end.  We were happy we had this much time with one another. 

 Finally it was the night before I had to go back to Nevada. At the end of the night I found myself in his room. The only person was my grandmother.  All the hustle and bustle and laughing and crying that had been taking place for the previous few days had ended.  There was no in and out.  There was no one else in the room with me.  It was just us.  I said good bye to him.  I hugged and kissed him a million times.  I told him I loved him.  We both knew this was good bye for ever.  In fact, he told me, don't come back after I'm gone.  He didn't want me to travel, pregnant, to his funeral which would be held in both Ohio and West Virginia. We knew this was good bye.  Gram and I hugged and kissed too and I was so happy that she was there and part of that moment for me.  I refer to it often. 

  I kept my composure mostly while I was saying good bye.  Once I left the room though, It hit me like a brick wall that that was the very, very last time I would ever ever be in a room with both of my grandparents.  Never would it be just the three of us as it had been so, so, so many times before for my whole life.  They were my world and I was theirs for so very long. I cried and wept and worried and shook. 

In the end though, it was good.  I was happy to say good bye.  I was happy to spend time with both of them at their house.  I was happy to visit Ohio while I was pregnant.  I went home soon after that good bye.  He died a week later.  I dreamed of him the night he died. I called my mother in the morning to say hello and she told me that he was gone.  

I miss him daily.  He would love these grandchildren so much.  He's love me.  He'd be proud of me.  He'd give me advice and help and laugh and be so happy for me.  

His third great-grandchild was born on Thursday.  He would love him so much.  It's hard to believe that  they actually haven't met.  It's hard to believe that he was never in these kids' lives.  I like to believe that he has been and will continue to be in magical, special ways that may only the kids know about. 

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