Last Week

What happens next is hard to tell. It is twined with another story that, if not for my grandfather’s death, would have been the most meaningful of the year. But for now I will put aside what happened on Monday morning, and Wednesday morning, and instead speak of my grandfather on August 7th through the 11th.

While writing this I was struck by how many less things there are to say. The previous week saw drama with the hospital, hope for a medium-recovery, and all manner of surprises. But what is surprising about a grandfather not eating and so getting weaker every day? What is dramatic about the effects of starvation and pain, even if one is not hungry and the pain is not the one expected? What is there to do except sit by his bed and say “I love you” at the end of every day?

I returned from Lincoln, Nebraska, and my grandfather was in pain. Both of his hips had been replaced some years ago, and his right hip was giving him problems. He was too weak to sit-up or adjust his his pillows by himself. He was too weak to pull himself up if he slid down a little (which would have been a problem if the hospice bed, like the hospital bed, was somewhat slipper).

The pain was not screaming pain but it hurt me so much. I’m not sure what exactly caused it. To help keep fluid off him he stopped taking his arthritis medicine and throughout his ordeal he never felt arthritis pain. He felt pain in one artificial hip but not the other. I’m not sure what physically went on, why the pain of arthritis can leave but the pain of one hip can contort the body.

During the preceding weekend my girlfriend suggested we bring him bing cherries, as he loved fruit so much these days. We brought him a large bag full and he offered them to all guests: he always loved to give food away. He ate some cherries too. But otherwise he was eating less and still complaining about the nurses bringing him too much — “that stuff was all wrong.” He ate chicken noddle soup. He ate the watermelon they brought him.

On Tuesday, my grandfather developed a craving for V8 juice. I visited with him and told him how I became thirsty for the stuff while flying over the Pacific Ocean. I told him how next time I visit China I would try to rent some oxygen to breathe easier, because I knew being on oxygen bothered him He called me “Old Faithful Dan.” I hugged him. I mentioned that my girlfriend would arrive Saturday morning.

Tuesday night was hard for him. Fruit became too hard to chew, and applesauce was too hard to swallow. On Wednesday he could still drink V8 juice but that was a challenge. Coca-Cola at dinner made him wretch, ruining his appetite for supper. At about six he asked for a beer. I said I would get him one. My mother said she would check with his doctor and went outside. My grandfather told her not to bother, because the doctor would just say no. I told my grandfather I would get him one anyway. Fortunately his doctor was a kind man — a doctor who helped me out, years ago — and gave his go-ahead. I drove a few blocks to a liquor store and got a large Coors Light, a brand he requested. I poured a small glass with a straw half-full with Coors Light and gave it to him. I repeated two more times. Together he, and my cousin, and I drank together. He asked when my girlfriend would arrive. I told him Saturday morning. He slept well Wednesday night.

Thursday I was called in to the hospital mid-afternoon. My grandfather had not ate or drank anything all day, but wanted another beer. My grandfather didn’t oppose alcohol and would occasionally by some as a gift for my father, but he was not a drinking man. I can’t remember him drinking two days in a row before. But I drove down, got him a 24 oz of Coors Light, and we split it. He drank about 8 ounces, I drank the other 16. He said he wanted regular Coors the next day. He said he would want some to drink at night too. My uncle asked if it helped relax him, and he said he would need a six-pack to relax. He asked if my girlfriend would arrive Friday night or Saturday morning. I told him Saturday morning. He slept poorly.

On Friday I brought up a six-pack of Coors. We split one bottle. It was the only thing he ate all day. My grandmother, who had not spent a night in the hospice for medical reasons, announced she would spend Friday night in a chair by his side. This worried everyone, as the nurses expected him to live for several days yet and a change in my grandmother’s routine would cause her to miss some medications. Yet of all the people I have known my grandmother has the quickest tongue — she made it impossible to argue with her. We stored a few bottles in the hospice refrigerator and kept the others in a small closet. He asked if my girlfriend would arrive that night or Saturday morning. I told him Saturday morning.

The next day in this story, August 12th, he would die. The next day in this world, August 15th, he will be buried.

Grief Catches You

In a very kind comment, John wrote

Grief is odd in that it’s not a spigot we can turn on and off. Funny too how grief so often comes with both laughter and tears. Love lasts.

That’s true. This morning, going through the routine, I kept thinking of funny stores about my grandfather. And then a few hours ago, I got an email.

In the days before his death my grandfather would ask if I knew my schedule for the fall semester yet. He knew I liked it when I could arrange my teaching and studies around a 3-day weekend (who wouldn’t?), and on his death-bed he was hoping for the best for me. The electronic message with my provisional schedule came today — the answer almost certainly is “yes.” The first thing in my mind was that I had to go over and tell him the good news.