I’ve spoken (well, written) very little of my grandpa on here. When I probably should have been spending more time focusing on him. In past posts I’ve talked about the times I spent with him recently and about his Alzheimer’s. I’ve put this post off for a day past a week. It is with great sadness that I say this, he passed away last Wednesday. And while I’m sad for everyone he left behind (especially my grandmother and my father), I am filled with relief for him. I can’t even being to imagine life with Alzheimer’s. It’s like grandma said, the hard part is over for him, now the rest of us just need to figure it out. As much as I wish I could have some semblance of flow for this post, I’m basically writing it without restraints. As it comes to me. It might be long. It might be rambly. Oh well.
When I was a child, my grandfather scared me. He was quite a tall man. I was quite a small child. That was the extent of my terror. It really was that simple. He was a kind, loving, caring, gentle man. Never raised his voice. Mostly kept to himself. It was rare when he would invite me into his life. That made it all the more special when he shared something he loved with me. I lived for those moments. I remember when we were teeny tiny and we’d come home from school with a case of head lice. He’d be the one who set a light up at the table, give us a pillow to lay our heads on, and spend hours with his microscope (one that had a stand and could be adjusted, he was super into gold panning at the time) going through our hair. Never once complaining. I’m pretty sure he’s also the one who taught us how to find a good cow pie to fling. It’s good fun when you grow up on a farm. He loved gardening and flowers. He LOVED flowers. His yard always looked incredible.
I also have this memory, I’m not sure I’m supposed to have it. I don’t think they wanted us kids to know about it at the time, because we were so young. It was winter and one of the sheep had given birth. Two lambs. The rest of the family was away for some reason or another. I think just grandpa was home with us. He found the babies out in the snow and brought them into the house. They were tiny little things. Because we were on the farm, we had all kinds of formula powders (I can still remember the smell). He mixed up a bottle and sat with them all night. He had them in the back laundry room, if I recall. He did everything he could to help them, but they didn’t make it. He was heartbroken. I never told anyone that I knew. But I definitely remember it.
Over the years, as we grew, grandpa was about the same. Quite, reserved. Only letting us have small glimpses into his life. Like the fact that he loved Sneakerpimps and was obsessed with the History channel. I used to loath going to their house knowing that History channel would be on. But he was an intelligent man. He knew everything there was to know about anything. He could talk for hours if you gave him the right lead in. Nothing trivial. He wasn’t one for small talk. But talk about the universe, or history, and he could go for hours. He even showed me how to find really small flecks of gold when gold panning. Nothing escaped those eyes of his.
Then the Alzheimer’s. We kinda knew something was off when he was forgetting how to do things he had done for years. It took awhile for them to be able to diagnose him. Grandma tried to tell them, at the time his recall time was something like five seconds, but when they tested they only tried for three. So he was still able to recall and they didn’t see anything was wrong. By the time they diagnosed him, I’m pretty sure he was already advance stages. Shortly after, I was married and whisked away to Florida. I spent my years away from home feeling guilty because I was missing “the good years.” The years when he was still able to somewhat recall who we were.
By the time I came home, he was well past the remembering who I was point. He didn’t even recall dad or grandma. He lived with grandma, saw her every day, but still called her the old lady down the hall. When I first came home, I was terrified of interacting with him. Not knowing what state he was in, imagining that it’s frustrating to lose the ones you love, even when they stand before you. Constantly being surrounded by strangers. I didn’t know how to talk to him, what to say, how to say it. So for about a year I avoided seeing him. Which only added to the guilt I was feeling. He was still grandpa. Even if he didn’t know who I was, I knew who he was. Then something happened that changed it all.
Grandma fell ill. She wasn’t able to stay on top of things like she was before. She called me out to help her. And I went. Scared as I was because I was coming in to help take care of him. The first night had me frazzled. He came out of his room and I couldn’t get him back in. I tried every bribe I could think of and he still wouldn’t go. I didn’t want to touch him to lead him back, because I didn’t know how he’d react to that. I ended up having to call my aunt in to get him back to bed. Which she did. She understood and gave me some tips. The next day is when it all changed for me. My grandma had enough strength to get herself into the shower, so I decided to do the dishes and some cleaning up (even though her house is always clean). I could hear him back there opening his door. So I’d peek around the corner and make sure he wasn’t getting into things (He was always getting into things). Every time he saw me at the end of the hall, he’d shut his door really fast like I had caught him. The last time I heard the door open, I let it go. I met him about halfway down the hall we started chatting. Only with him it wasn’t really chatting because his thoughts were so broken up that anything more than three or four words, got lost. We chatted about the wind, and he demonstrated the wind blowing through my hair. We talked about dancing, because I can’t dance, so he danced with me in the hallway, because he can dance. We talked about the rain. And when I mentioned rain, he wanted to see it. So I brought him to the window and we stood there for a few minutes just looking. I asked if he liked flowers. He said he did. So I told him every time I came to see him, I’d bring him flowers. His eyes lit up at that. It felt good to see him happy. Then grandma opened the bathroom door and he looked like he knew he was in trouble. So I told him “If we don’t move, she won’t see us!” And this is the part that grandma still laughs at. He went stick straight and didn’t move! So there we stood, at the kitchen window, staring at the rain together, not moving. She still caught us and sent him back to his room. But after that, being around him wasn’t so scary anymore.
I did bring him flowers too. The first time, grandma said he kept the flower on his desk for about two weeks before it had to be tossed (I cried when she told me how long he had kept it). The second flower I brought him, he held out for me to smell. When I told him it was lovely, he gave it back to me. Perhaps he thought I would enjoy it more. Either way it touched me. That I thought it was lovely and he wanted me to have it. It became routine that when I was over, I’d go back and talk to him. Once I was only supposed to check in on him. I ended up being back there for about an hour. Grandma had said he was upset before we came, but when I went back, he was nothing but smiles. Laughing it up, having a good ol time. It was also the first time in my life I had ever heard him swear. He was kicked back on his bed, hands behind his head. Just looking comfy as hell. He kept saying “oh shit, oh man, this is good!” I don’t know what had him so happy, but it was good to see him laughing. He told me about the soup guy and how he was going to get in trouble, and how he stirs like “zoot, zoot, zoot” (He was big on using hands and sounds to communicate certain bits of stories.) And all kinds of other things. I just got sucked in listening to him. When I finally came back out, grandma asked where I went off to. I told her I got caught up talking to grandpa. She told me I was enamored. And I was. I was completely captivated by him. I loved listening to his broken speech and trying to see what he was seeing. He never spoke unless he had something to say and now suddenly he had all these things he wanted to tell me. And I wanted to listen. To really listen. Even if it made no sense to anyone.
Shortly after, it became too much work for grandma on her own. We had put off putting him in a home for as long as we possibly could, and now there was no more running from it. Once he was placed, we had to wait the two weeks they asked us to wait. Then we went and saw him. I don’t want to say too much other than I wasn’t impressed. I’m also biased because he’s my grandpa and I know how I would take care of him… this place just wasn’t up to my standard. Or dad’s, or grandma’s. No one else seemed bothered by it. Then things went down hill. In all his time under grandma’s care, he never went to the hospital for anything other than check ups. Suddenly he was in and out several times a week. I remember he had an infection and they told us it went septic. That it might not end well. We dropped everything and rushed to the hospital to see him. Thankfully that time wasn’t the final time. His last few weeks were very tumultuous. Different places, different faces, different tests. A few days before he passed, he had fallen and broken his hip. And I just remember thinking how awful it must be to constantly be surrounded by strangers, constantly in pain with no real way to communicate it. If I could just get to him, to comfort him, if he could just know he was loved. None of it would have done any good, he doesn’t even remember who I am. So he’d have one more stranger added to the mix. The day after they placed the rod, we’d found a good home for him. The lady running it was so ecstatic to have him. The next day, he passed away.
If anything, I just hope he knows he was loved. I would be so happy if we could have at least done that much for him. To make him feel loved, wanted, and happy. Even if we lost him several times throughout the years, nothing prepared us for the final time. I am beyond relieved that his suffering, not knowing, confusion, frustration, that all that is over for him now. That he can finally find peace. I know that his memory will live on. Through stories we tell, through stories we keep to ourselves, through those tiny moments he let us look into his life. All the things we didn’t know, all the things he couldn’t tell us, all the things we could only show him. He will live on.