Goodbyes are never easy June 13, 2011 – Posted in: Family

Once again, I have to apologize for my delayed absence around here. I’ve been avoiding updating because there’s just no easy way to talk about what I’ve been doing.

My Grandpa died a week ago today.

First I should tell you that being just 4 months shy of my 29th birthday, I’m extraordinarily lucky to have had all 4 of my Grandparents living and an active part of my life. I just lost my last Great-Grandparent in March 2008, while pregnant with Sofie.

But this was hard. Harder than I imagined it would be. We didn’t have long to adjust to the idea that we’d be losing Grandpa soon, and it happened a lot faster than I imagined it would.

Back in March our family gathered to celebrate his 87th Birthday. He was healthy and vibrant and full of life. He enjoyed a cigar and a round of BS with the boys and we all stayed late into the night, spending time together. I’ll cherish that night for the rest of my life because it was the last time we were all together. Ironically, it was the night we announced this pregnancy. I framed a picture of the girls in their “big sister” shirts to give to my Mom, whose birthday was just 2 days later. In the confusion of present and cards, Mom handed the gift bag to Grandpa and he was the first to lay eyes on the picture. Though he didn’t read their shirts or make the connection, he was the first to know. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The next week we found out he was sick. The doctors diagnosed him with Small Cell Carcinoma and we were told to prepare for things to happen rapidly. I prayed he’d be around at least 6 more months to meet this little girl and I tried to prepare my heart for what I was about to face. He started chemo almost immediately and due to a compromised immune system, they politely asked us to keep our kids and germs at home. It was hard for me to sit idly by and not do something to help. I cooked meals and sent them with my Mom. If I couldn’t be there for moral support, I was going to be there for nourishment. I wanted to see Grandpa and hug him and love on him, but I kept my distance and continued to pray for him to heal quickly.

On Monday, May 23rd, he was admitted to the hospital with congestive heart failure. Suspecting pneumonia as well, he was admitted to the Critical Care Unit the following morning. We all made plans to go to the hospital. The Hubs took off work early and met me and the girls there. My brothers got off work and drove down, too. My sister and her family, my parents, and my Aunt and Uncle all filled the waiting room. We took turns visiting with him, chatting about this and that, assuming it was just another day in the time we had together. It was nearing dinner time, and shift change, and the girls were losing their patience in the waiting room. So I kissed him goodbye, told him I loved him and that I’d see him later. I had no idea it would be the last time I ever talked to Grandpa.

The next morning he was having trouble breathing due to all the fluid in his lungs. He was placed on a ventilator and sedated. We were told it was temporary to help clear the fluid out of his lungs. But the days started to run together and each day hope slipped away a little more. We all spent a lot of time at the hospital, holding his hand and rubbing his white hair. I talked to him about the baby, about the girls, and about how much I would miss him being in my life. None of us were sure how long he’d continue to live this way. Soon he developed other complications and things kept getting worse. Then around 1:30 in the morning, June 6th, his potassium levels spiked, his heart became erratic, and then it just stopped. My Mom called me at 2 am to let me know he was gone.

I have no idea how to mourn. I’ve been shocked at how abruptly the tears will start, without warning, and I’ll suddenly be sobbing as I drive down the road, or stand in the checkout line at Walmart. I lived through it all last week–the news of his death, the details of the planning, the wake, funeral, and everything that accompanies losing a loved one. But somehow it still doesn’t seem real.

But through all of it, I’m incredibly grateful. I never should have known Grandpa at all. He had a heart attack before I was born and was given a 3-5% chance of survival. He shopped cardiologists, needing surgery, and none would take him on because his chances were so grim. He finally found someone who would do the surgery and the doctor warned if he changed his diet, started exercising, stopped smoking–he might have 5 more years. Not only did Grandpa prove them all wrong by living 30 more years, he outlived all those skeptical doctors.

I’m also grateful for the way things turned out in the end. My girls are too young remember him, but Meredith’s will. They’ll remember him at his Birthday, celebrating life and laughing with joy. They never saw him sick. I’m grateful we went to the hospital that day. That The Hubs and I got to talk to him one last time. That our last words to each other were “I love you.” That I got to be there for his Last Rites.

I will always miss my Grandpa. I will always have beautiful memories of him to share with my girls. I’m proud to tell people about him. He was a veteran of 2 wars, he had a very distinguished military career, and he raised an amazing son–who turned out to be the world’s best Dad.

In the midst of my sadness, I’m finding things to be joyful about. My Grandparents celebrated their 59th Anniversary this year and in my entire life, I can count on one hand the number of times I saw them apart. They’re such a testament to enduring love and devotion. There was never one without the other. And even though my heart is heavy for losing Grandpa, I’m thrilled about the prospect of spending much more time with Grandma. She’s one of the most amazing people you’ll ever meet, and I hope very dearly that my girls will always remember her.

It’s been hard to squelch the resentment I feel that Grandpa will never meet my youngest. It was bittersweet to say goodbye to an old life while feeling new life grow and move within me. So I hold on to the hope that somewhere in the space between when you leave this Earth and when you enter it, their paths have crossed and Grandpa is actually the first to know our darling girl.