The Last Day

My girlfriend arrived from Lincoln and we were at the hospice by 11:30 AM. Like the previous days Saturday, August 12th began gloomy and overcast. My mother had visited earlier that day, to pick up my grandmother who spent the night, and as I woke up this morning she was in tears. Friday night was even worse for my grandfather than Thursday night. He had not slept at all. So as we arrived I was nervous.

We entered. My grandfather’s son, a man I despise for the way he treated him, was asleep in the other room. My grandfather’s daughter and her husband were sitting with him. I looked at us, and said “Hi!” to my girlfriend, repeating her name three times. We sat with him for a half an hour. His son-in-law fed him ice: “I could drink a quart,” my grandfather said, “but I couldn’t keep water down.”

As he fell asleep I said we would catch some lunch and be back. We drove to the west side of town and ate comfort food. I bought a copy of The Economist and got her a fashion magazine because I expected to be at the hospice all day. We drove back.

My mother and grandmother had replaced his daughter and step-son. My grandfather was asleep. His son was asleep to in the other room. Not wanting to wake up my grandfather (because my grandpa needed rest) or his son (because my grandpa needed rest), my girlfriend and I walked to near the elevators and sat. We spoke of things.

We came back and sat in front of my sleeping grandfather. Time passed, and we took our grandmother to eat downstairs. She ate chicken noodle soup and spoke of how he was now to weak for soup. She spoke of the fluid filling his lungs, and how he would drown from it. My grandmother, a woman rarely affectionate or kind to her husband, cried. She had been crying for days.

While eating dinner in the hospital cafeteria I saw my mother leave. I ran after her and we talked. “There is a nurse who said, ‘A lot of people are expecting the end sooner than it will come. It will not come while he is still speaking. It will not come while he is eating ice.'” My grandfather was in pain, so much pain that he asked my mother to help him stop living. “We cannot give him a pill for that,” she said. “What about his pacemaker?” I asked. “Can it be shut off?” “If he was in a coma, maybe. Not while he was conscious.” This hurt me so much. I wanted my grandfather to be healthy, not sick and not dead.

My mother departed, and I rejoined my grandmother and my girlfriend. We came back, and my grandfather’s son was awake. I sat down besides him. He spoke into the air about needing to be going, visited with my grandfather for a few moments, and left. After speaking of things we switched rooms, and I saw that my grandfather’s daughter, her husband, and her eldest son were now there. My grandfather was weak and eating ice. He was so thirsty, and as strength gradually left him

These hours blend together. I wish my memory was clearer, and perhaps it can be jogged, but I see my grandfather, sick, curled in pain, weak, slowly eating ice. Hour after hour. I am not sure if the previous few paragraphs happened in the order I presented them, if some actions were repeated, or if I made another mistake. I remember other scenes, talking with my mother in the visiting room, or with my girlfriend in the day room, but they are hard to place in context.

Maybe the day is not worth examining in that detail. It may not be worth the pain of remembering.

While my grandfather sat, and curled, and ate ice, I moved in disorienting mental pain. I sat by him. I fed him ice twice, I think. He talked not so much.

The day grew old and it was my grandfather, my grandmother, their eldest daughter, her husband, their eldest son, my girlfriend, and myself. My grandfather spoke of how his body now sweat so much. His son-in law said “It’s like when we worked in the fields. Remember that?” My grandfather complained of the choking, of not being able to get a full breathe. The day grew dark.

The clock approached 6, and then 7. Slowly it climbed to 8. At 7:45 we began to leave for the night. “We will be back tomorrow morning,” I told my grandfather. “I love you. I will see you tomorrow.” He was too weak to speak but he held my hand with his two strong hands. He held my girlfriend’s hand. He smiled.

We left, took the elevator down, and went to my car.

I turned on my iPod. Amazing Grace played.

Through many dangers, toils and snares… we have already come. T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far… and Grace will lead us home.

I drove 26th Street eastbound, and thought how this street is still “Sioux Falls.” East 10th and all of 41st have grown beyond my memories, but 26th Street still is as it was. It was part of my city’s past.

We drove into the country. My girlfriend, at about 8:00, looked up at the towers into the sky. Casimir Pulaski Day played.

Oh the glory when He took our place
But He took my shoulders and He shook my face
And He takes and He takes and He takes

We pulled into the house. The phone rang.