There’s no one left to call Grandpa
In November of 2012 my grandpa died. I hadn’t seen him since 2001, when he’d had a stroke. Due to the affects of the stroke, my grandpa and his wife moved to Florida. Isn’t that where most old people go to die? Anyways, he didn’t die after he moved down there. In fact, he did pretty well. He had a golf cart he’d drive around the neighborhood in. He had an old-fashioned feud with a young whippersnapper neighbor barely into his 60s. He had friends to talk to. His wife of nearly 40 years had friends as well and would often leave him to his own devices. The balmy, humid heat of the sunshine state gave my grandpa a few more years of quality life. Eventually, it got harder for him to get around. Then there was the tumor on his kidney. So after a good six months of denial, emails, dementia, and pain, he died under the care of a hospice nurse on November 10th, 2012.
My mom’s dad was the last living grandparent I had. The first grandparent I lost was when I was 12. My dad’s dad died in November of 1986. I don’t recall crying. It’s not that I didn’t love him, or that I wasn’t close to him. Maybe seeing him in the hospital shortly before he died asking me how my trip to Arizona was(I never went Arizona), and seeing how emaciated he looked… well, knowing he wasn’t a disheveled bag of bones confused and lonely in a cold gray hospital room may have been more of a relief. I don’t know. He was cremated and we had a small memorial for him. Only a few people were there. My grandma was distraught. Her ‘Hub’ took care of everything. She gave me a flashlight of his at his memorial. You wore it on your head like a miner’s cap, for when you were doing work under sinks, in crawlspaces, or if you felt like doing housework in the middle of the night. It was awkward and sad at the same time.
My grandma went on to do alright for herself. She ended up getting a job at the local library in the small Midwestern town where they lived and seemed the happiest she’d been in years. Eventually though, her eyesight got so bad that she couldn’t drive anymore and stopped working there. My dad would go over to her house every week and pay her bills, mow her lawn, smoke a cigarette or two with her, and hear about the gossip involving my grandma’s neighbors. My dad grew to enjoy those visits. That is, until she began listening to talk radio and she would espouse about what Rush Limbaugh had told her. “Roving bands of lesbians are going door-to-door kidnapping straight women and taking them back to a ranch somewhere out west!! Rush said so!!“ That was a conversation one Christmas meal late into the 90s. It go to the point where she couldn’t stay at her home of more than 35 years. She couldn’t see. There were cigarette burns in the couch, the carpet, her clothes. She would crawl up the stairs to her bedroom that she shared with the memories of my long dead grandpa. So in 2002 she was moved to a nursing home. There, she went from a mildly irritated old woman to a bitter, hateful, shell of a human. She blamed my parents(my mom) for doing that to her. I visited her once while she was there. My dad would pick her up and bring her to the house for holidays. Those were angry affairs. In May of 2004 she was moved to a hospital room where she would die. I went to see her with my parents. We sat quietly in that room and watched as this tiny lump under the hospital blankets breathed her final breaths.
In 2009 my mom’s mom found out she had lung cancer. This was the second bout of cancer for her. The first was a couple years prior and she had successfully beaten it. This time, though, it had moved to her lungs, lymph nodes, and bones. On top of that she had blocked arteries in her heart that couldn’t be taken care of with surgery due to her weakened state from the cancer. For a time in the summer of 2010 she was cancer-free once again, but that didn’t last long. Soon enough it returned and wasn’t leaving. She went into the hospital in December of 2010 with all of us feeling she wouldn’t leave. Hospice set her up with a bed and a nurse so she got to go home. January of 2011 was peaceful. My wife and kids and I went over and visited with her. She may have been weak, but she was still there mentally. She had been the entire time. On February 19th she became unresponsive. She was locked in this grotesque grimace. Struggling for breath, eyes wide open. It was like a record skipping for hours and hours, waiting for someone to move the needle so the music could end. It finally ended on February 20th, 2011 at 1am with my mom and aunt by her side.
There are some people that had their grandparents for a relatively short time in their lives, losing them while still relatively little kids. But for some of us, we have them in our lives well into adulthood. Even though I’m nearly 40 years old with a wife, three kids, and a mortgage, I still on some level felt like a kid when I’d talk to my mom on the phone about how my grandpa was doing. It’s not something I tried to keep alive -that feeling of a never ending childhood- it just was that way. Not only am I mourning the loss of my grandpa, but I’m mourning the loss of being someone’s grandson. It’s very strange and surreal. Like, for a moment you stop to think about life and how it all works and suddenly the curtain begins to open and you begin to see the inner workings of life and existence…
Then, the feeling is gone. Life moves you on. You go to work. You pay the bills. You help with homework. You talk quietly in bed about your day. You look to the future and hope for the best. But occasionally, when alone and in a pondering mood, it hits you…
There’s no one left to call Grandpa.