What's the saying, like riding a bike? Some bike ride, but instead of pumping my legs and feeling the air rush through my hair and the sweat building under my grip on the handlebars and the spray of muddy water kicking up on my back, I'm in the car. Driving, always driving, to see a dying human. There's the still, and the quiet. There are the blankets, the bed, the window -- always with a rather peculiar view. There's some amount of machinery, from the shiny and technical to the almost hidden line tracking back into the wall.
It's amazing to me how the skin softens so, in the final hours. It's seemed that way with everyone. His face was so smooth, the traces of lines and age and sun disappeared, and his complexion looked a robust 60, not 95. (At one point the hospice worker lifted his blanket to explain mottling on the legs, and three middle age women were standing there and finally one blurted what I'm sure we were all thinking, "Jesus, they look better than my legs.")
And there's always the awkwardness. What to say to a daughter, one who couldn't understand you even if she could hear you? To a grandmother who again probably couldn't make sense of what you were saying even if totally conscious? To a grandfather who has done everything, and kicked the living shit out of "elderly" and continued to hike and golf -- despite being legally blind?
My grandfather died.
And I was shocked to find in the car that this was not my usual death march, but an unqualified relief. He went from 60-0, fast. On the weekend of Bella's birthday we discovered that his hip pain -- which we had all been blowing off as old-man hip pain -- was cancer. Humongous, spreading, inoperable, cancer. They gave him 6-12 months, averages both, both on the outside. He had all his faculties about him, made his plans known, and sat back with the game on and waited to die.
It was painful for him, and painful to watch. When the pain was at 11 in early September, I wondered how in hell he could possibly go six months, or even get to some "average" like four, or (gulp) eight. I wondered if the DA would actually prosecute a mother of two if she offered to grind up her grandfather's percocet in a glass of scotch and sit and watch the game with him.
So when they called and said, it'll be in the next 48 hours, I may have smiled. Thank god. Jack up that morphine, let him ride that dream, no 95 year old needs to go through this crap. I drove out and said goodbye.
Of course, being my grandfather, I drove out three days later, to say goodbye, again.
And I held his hand while he grimaced, and although he was in a world where he didn't know me and wasn't speaking much, he scrunched his face up when I told him the Steelers had lost.
And they called and said, "any minute now," and my mother went to his side in the middle of the night, and 12 hours later, he finally decided he had fought enough. This, almost a whole week after that initial call.
And I'm sad, don't get me wrong. And I'll miss him. But my grandfather got an amazing, long, life. I got to travel with him to his favorite place, and he will now be cremated and taken to Alaska where one of his many many friends will disperse his ashes from a plane somewhere remote and high and cold and beautiful.
I've had so much ugly shitty and gut-wrenching death in my life the last five years, I had forgotten that death can be welcome, and peaceful, and beautiful. I hated that line about being "in a better place," but there is zero question in my mind that my grandfather is now in a better place than he was curled up in a pain so extreme he temporarily lost his sanity.
I miss him already. I was amazed that Ale took to this crotchety old dude as just another guy, and it seemed to make perfect sense, what with Ale speak-yelling his two-year-old sentences into the deaf man's ear. They would both laugh at their private inside joke. It was some bizzaro circle-of-life meets sit-com, but it was beautiful to watch.
I've been helping dismantle his house, riddled with mouse droppings (big surprise, what with the old house in the woods inhabited solo by the legally blind guy) and it's strange, as always, to find yourself the caretaker of someone's passed down stuff. The stuff, it lives -- the old crank phone that's easily over 100 years old will now hang in my kitchen; my great grandmother's china, also over a century in age, now occupies a high shelf. My great grandmother's linen chest is coming, next time I can make it out there with the truck. And it's so odd to think that people die, but the flotsam and jetsam of their lives just trickles down on onward, and my house has become a repository for baby bracelets and blankets, two sets of old china, and nineteenth-century needlework. I dream about the people who used this stuff, and wonder about all the awkward handoffs that preceded my possession.
It's odd to think that at a week, even Maddy had "stuff."
I'm good with this one, though. I'm going to don his old Steelers cap and put on the game, and dig around in my liquor cabinet for the scotch I bought, just for him, for when he came to visit. And I'll hope fervently that I too live to 95, and have time to break down all the cardboard boxes in my house before my death, before passing on all my stuff.