Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Half-Empty Jars

January 13, 2008

"Here, do you want to take these?" I was looking at a handful of half-empty jars of shaving lotion that my grandmother was thrusting in my face, as I sat down in the living room for the first time since he passed, earlier that morning.

"No, that's ok", I politely responded to her. Her nerves are completely shot. I am almost certain that the reason that she is worrying enough to scurry off to the bathroom to collect something as inappropriate for the moment as old, mostly-gone lotion, when I'm just about to sit down to the fact that I've lost the grandfather that I've lived with for the past three years…is because she's still in shock. And that's very understandable. She has just lost the man she's loved and lived with for 64 years.

Even though we've been prepared for this inevitability, we have been even more acutely aware of his frailty of life. He went down in the first week of September, four months ago. It was his breathing at first, but mainly his heart. It was giving out. He was flown to Health Park three times the first month, each for a weeklong stay. His prognosis was extremely grim each time, but he managed to hang on, fighting as any soldier does, emerging in a bedridden condition. He has lived the past four months on his back, in a hospital bed, in our living room. His mind was there, but his body was giving out.

There is a wash of emotions that come over you when someone that close passes. Something you think that would be met with high drama and intensity is actually calm. Sorrowful, numbing, humbling, yes. But simultaneously calm. Perhaps it's the knowledge of his long, rich life that has outlived all the odds. Perhaps it's the gratitude that his long battle is over. Life lived on your back is like a prison of sorts. The chains of emphysema and heart disease were strained against for many years, and he fought to make it for 85 years.

We have all been moving as if in slow motion for the past 4 months, running on adrenaline alone, sometimes. The needs for him were great, and the round-the-clock care was filled, mostly by my grandmother, my mother, and me. But that's what you do when you're in a family—you rally. You meet whatever task at hand you must, and think less of what impact it has on you. Days go by; everyone is clenched, nervous, and spending a LOT of energy in keeping a good front, expecting death at any minute. Then, days turn into weeks. Schedules are formed as to when to pick him up from either the bed or his wheelchair. Or from the porta-potty. That was my job, mainly. Although he'd lost some weight, he was still too heavy for my mother and grandmother to do with great care.

And weeks turn into months.

My mother lives in Va, so she had to fly down when he first went down—it hit us all pretty quickly in Sept. If she had driven, it would have required 19 hours straight on the road, and at the time, we weren't sure he would last that long. She flew back two months later, after living out of a suitcase for all of that time. He was debilitated, but stable for the time being. She stayed back in Va for about a month, then came back in early December. This time she drove.
And it's a good thing, too, because she just drove my grandmother back to Va, where they buried my grandfather yesterday.

He woke up last Tues, January 1st, saying that he wanted to "start the new year off right", by becoming more mobile than he's been for the last four months. He thought that he would try to stand up. He scooted to the edge of the bed, where my mother helped him swing his legs down to a stool at first. He sat there for many minutes, thinking. Finally, he thought better of it. Reluctantly lying back down, he resolved to try a few leg exercises instead. He tried a couple of repetitions, then quit. He complained of, "Not feeling very well."

He started getting grey soon after that. We called the EMS folks, who were there in minutes. "This time it looks bad", one of them said. We were all in the hospital within an hour after it all started that morning, and didn't leave until late in the evening. I had to work the next day, Wednesday. The prognosis wasn't good when I left, but it was undetermined as to exactly when it might happen. Hours, a day, three days…kinda like back in September, but even more certain-sounding. We found out that the loss of oxygen for the past 12 hours had damaged his brain. This wasn't good at all, of course. This was probably going to be his final passing.

I hadn't been asleep long when the phone rang. It was my mother. Very tired, and somber-sounding, she told me that it was probably going to happen soon. I said, "I'll be there in a half hour". She said no, that she and Granny were going to be leaving soon, themselves, and that there was no need to come out expecting him to be alive when he probably won't be. At almost 3am, exhausted myself, knowing I had to be at work in a few hours, I decided to concede.
Minutes went by after I hung up. I was dozing between conscious and unconscious when I was suddenly jolted awake, feeling a definite unexpected rush in my mind, a sudden increase in my heartrate. For minutes I was affected by this sudden reaction. Indefinable, but undeniable.

"They're good lotion; he had a bunch of them. Are you sure you don't want to take them home with you?", she said, her voice starting to trail off, realizing the way she was speaking in the past tense about him.

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