This essay was written January 31, 2006… two and a half months before my grandfather passed away. It’s a true account of my grandfather’s illness. I’ve decided to include it as it was originally written.
The white walls of the hospital seemed to close in on me as I walked down the long, lonely hallway. Outside, a dreary downpour soaked the world and cast onto it a sort of sadness. I rounded the corner and paused when I read the sign on the door, Room 218 Oswald, Leonard, my grandfather.
My heart ached and my stomach turned. I thought I would be sick. My shaky hands grabbed the doorknob and for a moment, I could steady them just long enough to twist the handle and open the door. I walked into the hospital room like a zombie. My eyes wandered across the room. It was filled with a song of beeps from the heart monitor and murmurs from the IV line. Every now and then, a soft whistle crept out of the oxygen machine. The bed had a special mattress for diabetics, and gentle air leaked in and out to maintain a comfortable pressure. Then I fixed my attention onto his face.
My grandfather, who for so long had been able to navigate his way through illnesses and complications with medicines, was losing his battle with kidney failure. I could hardly recognize him. His face had aged ten years in a single night. His usual rosy cheeks were now shapeless and gloomy and his body was battered and bruised from the sticking, probing and pricking of needles. His face had dark circles under his eyes, his complexion was an unhealthy shade of white and his once baby blue eyes were sad and dull. I swallowed hard and tried to compose myself.
“How’s he doing?” I asked my grandmother. She was sitting in a chair next to the bed, holding his hand.
“He’s not going to make it out of this one, Laura.” she said, falling apart almost immediately. She shook her head in dismay and she began to cry. I could feel tears slipping through the creases of my eyes. I didn’t even realize I was crying until they began rolling down my cheeks like waterfalls – but I didn’t care anymore. I had to let it out. I rushed to my grandmother and collapsed beside her. We rocked each other back and forth and held on to each other for comfort. For a moment, we were the only two people in the world.
The beep of my grandfather’s machine brought us back to reality. The nurse had come in and started checking his vitals. My grandfather was in a weird stage, where other than his insides failing, his vitals were fine. His fever had gone down and his blood pressure and heart rate were superb, but inside his body was fighting the biggest battle of his life. He suffered kidney failure, cardiac arrest and now, an infection from the port they issued in his neck for dialysis. He was in his own sort of twilight zone.
I took a break from the room and walked down the hall to the vending machine. I searched the machine for what seemed like hours. I shook my head to clear the thoughts and pressed the buttons E-35. A bag of Cheetos slowly freed itself from the swivel hook and proceeded to fall. Just when it was almost loose, the turning stopped and my Cheetos bag remained stuck. I pounded and kicked on the machine until I was too tired to care. I leaned against it with my back and slid to the floor. I buried my face between my knees and cried hard. Short jabs of breath were escaping me without control, and my face was a watery mess. Suddenly, I heard three small beeps and a “kerpluck.” I wiped my tears away and looked up. It was my brother.
“I tried to call and tell you I was on the way, but your phone is dead,” he said. I threw my arms around his neck, and this time I cried because I was happy. He fetched the cheetos out of the vending machine and put a comforting arm around me.
He walked with me back to our grandfather’s room where we sat for hours swapping some of our favorite stories. Some of the best times in our life came up. I was reminded of the time my grandpa dressed up as Santa Clause when I was five. Word had gotten out that Santa was not real and to preserve the innocence of my younger cousins, and me, grandpa rented a Santa costume and ran in the house yelling, “HO! HO! HO!” My insides kept banging on the back of my throat to let out the belt of sobs I was holding in, but I subdued them with a hard swallow. Every now and then, a tear rolled down my cheek, but I bit my lip to control the quivering and focused on the moment. The only thing holding me together now, was the love that our family shared.
I leaned over my grandfather’s bed and grabbed his hand. As I studied his face, tears plummeted down mine. Before I knew it, I was eight years old again, back on the farm that my grandfather built with my dad. Grandpa and I were picking fresh carrots in his garden just next to the goat enclosure, while the chickens were clucking in the coop, and the pigs were oinking in their pen. “Look Grandpa,” I would yell when I picked up a good size carrot. He would smile at me and try to find one bigger. Grandma made fresh eggs, toast and milk in the kitchen and everything was worry free.
“Maybe grandpa will have his farm back when he gets to heaven, or maybe he’ll find his dogs, Maggie and Jigs.” I thought to myself. Then I felt my mother grab my hand as she whispered in my ear.
“You ready to go, or do you need more time,” she asked.
“I’m ready,” I answered. I wasn’t really ready. But I knew I never would be. So I lied.
I bent over the side of my grandpa’s bed and kissed his forehead. I stared at his restful face and forced out a closed smile. It was the best I could do before losing control one last time.
“Bye, Grandpa. I love you.” I staggered out in a whisper. I felt his hand slightly tighten in mine. He opened his eyes and turned his head to look at me. With his eyes fixed on me, he mumbled, “Thank you, come again.”
* My grandfather went home shortly after this and continued to do dialysis for two months before deciding that he wanted to relinquish the fight. He died, peacefully at his home, on April 12, 2016