A couple of weeks ago, my grandfather died. Which has brought not a fullsade of sorrow, tears, and grief as one would expect given the apocalyptic overtones of mortality manifesting itself in one’s life. What it has done to me, is make me think about the ramifications of his life and how it’s been like a specter lingering always over the lives of the family long before his demise. Meaning that, he’s almost always been in the background silently overseeing and moving events in the lives of my family for years. With him gone, nothing feels the same in those households, and they never will again given the unique position of the family hierarchy which was extremely dependent on him to handle everything.
He had to deal with a wife who was becoming increasingly aloof and difficult as she grew older, two adult children who’s marriages ended and forced a semi financial co-dependance on him, and four grand children. One dangerously close to an alcoholic, one with some serious anger and stress issues, one who gave him a great great grandchild, and one who did nothing but fight him tooth and nail for years over everything and anything. Guess which one I was.
All of us, at some point, needed him to get through some tough times, and in spite of the fact that it cost him his retirement to take in our family when my father ran out, he did what he could do to ensure we made it. It may not have been a perfect relationship, and we may not have agreed at times, but I never hated him. The man was selfless, and was the closest thing to a father I’ve had in my adult life. My mother would not have been able to survive taking care of four kids on her own after my father ran out on us when I was twelve, opening old wounds for me because of my adoption and the obvious subtext that implies. She was incapable of normal work due to severe arthritis, so my grandfather helped her get a place for me and my brothers.
I had the experience of even living at his house for most of my high school years, and he didn’t know what to do with me. I wasn’t religious, I wasn’t very conservative, and I certainly wasn’t going to be told what to do by anyone. Naturally we clashed and there was lots of friction between us and while I recognize that he did a lot for my mother, my brothers, sister and I. I won’t deny that many times I found him to be demanding, difficult, stubborn, and a huge pain in my ass. I spent, probably, the majority of my high school years grounded in some capacity or another. I learned quite a bit from my time there, and it’s where I learned to love reading, ideas, books, writing, the whole world of words. So many books were scattered over the house and the summers were long and boring when grounded. Naturally, my curiosity got the better of me and I would just pick one at random to keep myself occupied. I used to go to sleep listening to his corny old western audiobook cassettes that I secretly thought were cool. It’s where I first met some of my online contacts to this day. I learned how lying is usually a really bad idea, and how to actually finish a job that you can be proud of because you know it was done right. It’s shaped my life and my personality for better or worse.
Eventually he kicked me out because we’d just fight too much and disagree too much and I wouldn’t bend to him, even if he was right, or even if I was right and he wouldn’t admit it. My first apartment was one he owned, during the good old days of long nights watching corny movies and drinking store brand soda. Still, it was always his place and I was never free and that’s what I need more than anything. To be on my own, totally. I saw how the family had become so co-dependent on him for everything in their lives, even managing finances and paying bills and they would pressure me into allowing him to do so for me too because it became, in the later years, about a never-ending childhood. My mother and my aunt had tried to grow up and go out on their own and when they failed they feared the same for us so they would try to keep us forever in the family unit getting ‘help’ that always came with a price to pay. Namely, your freedom and ability to be independent and on your own. It was like, some sort of family welfare program that you’d be made to feel guilty about if you abandoned. I never doubt it was my grandfather’s intention to help and not hinder or harm us, but at times for me it certainly felt like that.
Watching my family, especially for someone who’s always been or at least felt like on the outside, it always seemed like we were all children, all of us. No one was willing to grow up and stand out on their own. My sister and I got out before the end, but everyone else was broadsided by the rapid decline in health that led to my grandfather’s ultimate demise. This is something, that for the past few years I have been mentally preparing myself for. When he was in the hospital and the whole family was around, I kept thinking about what was going on and I thought to myself, ‘this must be what childhood’s end looks like.’ They’re all going to have to grow up a little. There’s no backup now. I wanted independence, and so I left the household for good because I foresaw this happening sooner rather than later.
It took a week, it started with sudden liver failure, leading to kidney failure, which was due to an infection that he fought for almost ten days straight, oddly timed around my birthday and vacation from work. It’s strange timing, and the day before I was to return to work, is when he caught pneumonia as well. That was pretty much all he could take. When I had visited him on Wednesday, the day before my birthday, he seemed to be fairly lucid and the doctors were hopeful. We talked for about an hour, I wish I could say what about but I only remember a few things. Mostly, it was the usual stuff, I told jokes, and said “well it looks like you won’t be here that long.” He wasn’t really sure where he was at first or what was happening, so I tried to explain it to him. He couldn’t remember anyone before me visiting him because he had been so out of it. We both laughed at that, I said, “that’s funny, everyone else comes down here and just sits around while you’re totally out of it for days and I show up nearly a week that you’ve been in here and I’m the first person you remember.” We both thought that was pretty funny. I was tempted to tell him that nobody had visited him and to write them out of the will, but didn’t because while I thought it’d be pretty funny I didn’t want to be too morbid. I regret not telling that joke now, because he would have laughed at it, I just know it.
So in the room, they were all standing there, saying goodbye to him because of this sudden turn for the worse. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not good with moments like this, I can’t help but act how I always do. I walked in, and my last words to my grandfather were, and please don’t think me cruel, “hey granddad, remember how I came by on Wednesday and told you that you would be getting better?” He nodded slowly and I proceeded with “yeah, well my diagnosis may have been a bit… inaccurate. Let me find your chart here…” I fumbled for the chart then pretended to find it and said, “yeah it just says in big angry letters here ‘you’re screwed’.” I cracked a big goofy smile and laughed, then he laughed too, hard. Probably for the first time in the past few days. No one else did, but they should have. They should have all laughed, because life is funny, short, and cruel, but we all know the rules of the game. You can face death or change with sorrow or fear but it will come regardless and in the face of such a relentless and unchangeable force what can you do but laugh? I did the best thing I could do for a dying man, I made him laugh and feel the kind of happiness it brings one last time before the end. That’s all I could think to do, all the other things were implied and subtle. I didn’t say anything more, I just sort of lingered for a few moments and then my nephew wanted to talk to him on the phone and that seemed to cheer him up as well. I washed my hands, walked out and went to get something to eat with a couple of friends because I certainly didn’t feel like going home. In Perkins my brother called with the news that it was over and that was that.
I sat and ate my meal. Went home to the cats. Slept on and off for a couple of days. Life goes on, I guess. I don’t believe in heaven or an afterlife, but I do think when you die you fall into a dream brought on by the body shutting down. I don’t know what his was like, but I hope it was a pleasant one. He deserved it.
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