Monday, October 15, 2012

Deja Vu, Not

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.


Sara said...

I know what you mean. My grandma died in her 90s after a two year battle with dementia. Josh's grandpa died in his 90s a year and a half ago, very quickly, after an infection set in in a tooth. I was sad because I knew I would miss them, yet somehow accepting of it. I wished my grandma hadn't forgotten all of us, that Josh's grandpa hadn't had to experience such pain, and yet it made sense in the order of things. They had long, beautiful lives.

This is a beautiful tribute to your grandfather. He is in a better place, and I'm so glad the pain is over for him, that he, and now his family, can be at peace with his death.

Mrs. Spit said...

I am sorry Tash, but I know from my experience with my FIL, it's not the same road at all. I mean, we get there in the same way, and yet the drive is so very different.

loribeth said...

I am sorry, Tash. Grandparents are so special. Coincidentially (or not??) it is 14 years today since my own beloved grandfather passed away at age 86. Congenital heart failure. He passed away peacefully that afternoon, just nodded off after lunch. My grandmother was in the same room & didn't even notice, until one of the care home workers came into their room. Of course, I had hoped he would live forever, but I guess that's not an option... if we have to go, I guess it's not a bad way. (((hugs)))

still life angie said...

I'm sorry, Tash. It's hard to lose your people, but your words about him and his death are comforting. As I read, I thought that I'd like to die that way--quickly, welcoming death, knowing I lived a full life, loved and surrounded by family. Sending love and grounding. xo

(Feel like driving to Boston with me on the 26th? Email me.)

Anonymous said...

Tash - I'm sorry for your loss even if your Grandfather had a nice long life... and that he had his facilities to giggle a bit with Ale. What a joy and then what a sorrow that it ever has to end. Love to you all.

Tree Town Gal

Lollipop Goldstein said...

Tash, I'm so sorry, but wow -- what a gorgeous ode to your grandfather, to death, and to life in general by default.

gailcanoe said...

I'm here from Mel's weekly blog roundup.

It is amazing how death is different for everyone and every situation. I am glad that you got to have a relationship with your grandfather and be with him in his final days. What a beautiful post!

Kathy said...

I am sorry for your loss Tash. What a beautiful post/tribute to your grandpa. My maternal grandpa died in 1998, so it's been awhile, but we were close and I still miss him. He would have been 96 this year and was a Steelers fan too. I agree that death of an older loved one, who has lived a full life is very different than that of our babies. Thank you for sharing your experience. Sending thoughts and prayers your way.

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