I’ve been here three and a half days now and my grandfather is still holding on, despite every diagnosis, every claim to natural order. So we continue to wait. And waiting is hard.
I feel like I’ve been waiting a lifetime, my lifetime in fact, for death. In my 32 years, I’ve lost my childhood dog and a few great-aunts and great-uncles, but no one I was extremely close to. Not very many 30-year-olds have all four of their grandparents and I can assure you I feel extremely blessed, but I have also felt – and this is going to sound weird – at some sort of disservice for never having to deal with this before. The thought of death has always terrified me. This vast unknown – what happens, how do you feel, how are you supposed to feel, how does life go on, how can any goodbye ever be enough? I have felt so ill-equipped at not knowing these things when everyone I know has gone through this. But here I am. Immersed in this process, but so very thankful I have this time to whisper everything that’s on my heart to this wonderful man who continues to surprise us all.
The night I arrived we had a wake-up call at 3:00am saying it was near the end and we needed to come up. My grandmother, mother, aunt and I were there in minutes and in that urgency we held hands, we told stories and laughed so very, very hard. We continued telling stories for hours of what turned out to be a pretty big false alarm, but that was okay. I know Pops could hear that laughter and he became the most alert he had been in a long time. But since then we have grown numb to last-call warnings as he defies each time limit that’s spoken with confidence, medical degrees and experience. It’s a clear reminder that’s he’s the boss. I know he’d like that.
Since that 3am party, we’ve grown weary – in all honesty. I don’t know who wouldn’t in this scenario. I’ve spent the good part of the last two days just watching his chest rise and fall, counting breaths while I hum hymns and the theme from this favorite movie. Up and down. Up and down.
Isn’t that what this process is like, though? Up and down? There are times when my smile stretches across my face remembering something funny, usually small – a tiny moment shared between us. Then the next minute I just want to crumple with the finality of what’s coming.
Up and down.
Something I’ve realized is that there is incredible strength among the people that have been cohabitating this room for the last four days. We’ve rarely allowed ourselves to break down in front of the other, each staying stronger for the next. We have watched a revolving door of nurses and friends come in to say their goodbyes, each of them crying while we thank and comfort them. It wasn’t until a tiny five-foot nurse came in and wrapped me in her arms despite never meeting that I realized how much I needed that. How much I crave crawling into my husband’s lap and just sobbing until I can’t anymore. Like a child. Or, like someone who is so unfamiliar with death. There will be a time for that, but until then we try to stay strong even when the days become so long.
Up and down.
When something this unknown is staring you down, you crave answers. Signs. Anything that could give you a sliver of control in a situation where you feel completely out of it. The first few days we would interrogate each and every nurse that walked in. What are the signs? What should we be looking for? What do you see? And then we stopped. Because no one knows. And God and Pops seem to have this under control. It’s the best kept secret in this family so far.
I’ve even found myself grasping for a sign from anywhere I can find it. Waking up to Paul McCartney’s “That will be day-ay-ay that I die” on the radio (Saturday), seeing a flashing commercial that said “the beginning is at the end” (Friday), feeling him grab my hand (today). I will seek comfort or control wherever I can right now.
Up and down.
For the longest time I’ve hoped, prayed, wished for a miracle for this man. I wished for clarity in the beginning—of memory, speech and mobility—and those wishes have shifted through the years as the stroke took its toll. After wanting him to be better for so long, it feels unnatural to pray for a different miracle now. One that would free him completely, but also one that requires the greatest sacrifice from us. To let go. The battle between my head and my heart is unrelenting right now. It’s selfish to want him with me forever, but I don’t know anything else. And I don’t want anything else. Again, I feel like a child. My head knows this is right, the natural course of events, but I’m not sure when my heart will catch up. Maybe it never has to.
Up and down.
For those that continue to fill my phone and inbox with encouragement and love, thank you. I can’t tell you how much it helps, even when I’m unable to respond. I’m not really sure who, besides my family, is reading this, but please say a prayer for peace. Peace for his precious soul. Peace for our hearts. We will continue to take this one day, one breath at a time, embracing both the ups and the downs.