Like an ill-timed harbinger, I was searching for words to hold onto Grandpa the afternoon he passed away. I had gone to my bedroom to finish a blog I was writing about “As Long as He is Still Here” but I didn’t realize he was actually going to die that very afternoon. If I had just known how close he was to leaving this world, I would have stayed in his room for the rest of the day.
Earlier, a CNA from home health helped me bathed him for what was to be the last time. As we applied lotion to his delicate butterfly-like skin, I asked her about the state of his overall condition. Although, I’m sure she knew exactly what was happening, she remained cryptic and non-committal.
“Do you see the way his skin looks?” I asked her, referring to the bluish tint of his feet.
“Yes,” she said. “But I’m not saying he’s goin’. Oh, no, that’s up to the Lord!”
And then, as an afterthought, a revelation of something that might be holding him back from making the Grand Departure, she asked, “Have you released him?”
“Oh, yes!” I laughed. “Multiple times! But I can do it again!”
Over the last few months, I had told Grandpa on several occasions that is was okay to go, that Jesus was waiting for him, and heaven was going or be the most beautiful place he has ever seen. Every time we would talk about it, he would close his eyes and smile with such yearning on his face.
Releasing him again, I leaned over the bed and spoke loudly into his good ear, “You can go now, Dad. You can go!” It was finally time to say goodbye. Of all the days that were written in the book of life for Grandpa, the hours, the minutes, the seconds, today, September 15th, 2015 was the day that would end his final chapter here and begin the next in Eternity.
Against all odds we fought the good fight and we won! Love had made a way for us to care for him at the most vulnerable time of his life. Love had conquered a myriad of health crisis’ and old-age maladies. Love had covered a multitude of minor aggravations and petty grievances that would have landed Grandpa back in the nursing home if he hadn’t been a changed man. Love had triumphed!
And in June, Grandpa hadn’t passed away in the hospital as some of the palliative care team hoped he would. When they thought his life was not worth living anymore, that he would never write again, I knew better. Just a couple of days after he was released from the hospital, he was back at his computer writing the sequel to his children’s book about Yeti, The Adventures of the Abominable Snowman (a Christian version, of course), right where he had left off. He had purpose right up to the end, and now the end was finally here.
As if seeing the true state of his condition for the first time, the CNA commented, “Oh, his eyes are set!” But she didn’t tell me what that meant, that death was eminent within a couple of days or even a couple of hours. I could have used a little head’s up that I was running out of time. I wish she had just said, “It won’t be long now.” But CNA’s aren’t supposed to give a diagnosis.
Who needs a diagnosis, anyway, right? But think of it from my perspective. What if I had run out to Walgreen’s that afternoon to pick up a prescription, or what if I was standing in the produce isle at Kroger with a bunch of bananas in my hand when I received the call from my husband, “Your Dad is dead!” After all the long, long hours of turning him in the night, dressing his wounds, dispensing his medicine, feeding him and suctioning him him out, I’m so thankful I was just down the hallway and not all over town running errands!
That’s why I went to my bedroom to write in the first place, so I could release the pent-up emotions that can only be expressed when your heart is breaking in the moment. He was still here, but it wouldn’t be for long, and how would I remember everything I had done while caring for him? I even wrote on the top of one of the charts I made to keep track of the tasks I had to do every day, “I never want to forget what I did in this room!”
And then, as I was in my bedroom trying to find the words, the thought came to release him again. I walked to his bedroom, and lowering the railing down on his bed, I closed my eyes. I could almost see through the thin veil from this life to the next. The words on my lips gave testimony as seeing through a glass dimly, but now face to face: “Dad, you can go now. Jesus is standing at the gate, the door is open, and Grandma Reid is waiting on the other side!” Jesus, the gate, the door, my mother–all there, and all just as real as if I was going there too. I kissed his forehead and put the railing back up and went back to my bedroom to write.
That’s why I took a writing class on memoir last year in the first place, the year of long hospital stays and recuperations. Like a fragile seedling, fingering its way up through the dark loamy earth as it reaches for the warmth of the sun, I was having a hard time pushing the words up and out of the pain and grief and into the light. I needed a reason to write beyond my blog to keep me going. I needed someone to assure me that words can bloom even when they don’t want to germinate, when the conditions for growth are hostile.
Somehow that day, in His infinite mercy, God got me up and out of my chair and back into Grandpa’s room before he left us. As I walked down the hallway, I passed my husband who was coming up from the basement. I commented, “I think I’ll sing a hymn to Grandpa.”
“That sounds like a great idea,” he agreed.
I went back to the living room to get the hymnal, but before I did, I thought I better call my sister and tell her if she wanted to see Grandpa one last time she should come as soon as possible. I went into the kitchen and called, but there was no answer. I walked back to Grandpa’s room and decided to take his blood pressure. It was 70 over 35. That was the lowest I had ever seen it, and I knew from reading about the last stages of death that he was finally going.
I went back to the kitchen and called my sister again, but there was still no answer. I filled a glass with water and headed back to his room. I sat down next to his bed, and as I opened the hymnal, it fell to the hymn “Take My Life and Let It Be.” I was just about to begin singing when I noticed a change in the atmosphere. I looked at Grandpa’s face, and then at his chest. Instead of seeing the familiar rise and fall, I saw nothing at all. I called to my husband who was in the kitchen. “Honey, come here. I think Grandpa just died!” I took his blood pressure and there was no reading. I took it again. “He’s gone,” I said in amazement. “He’s gone.”
And so, Grandpa passed from this life to the next in the peace and comfort of his own home, in his own bed where he had conquered the monsters of sickness and sorrow, and the grief of letting go of all you hold dear to embark on the final journey homeward.
Sometimes I think he was holding on for me–I know he was. It was a sacred passage and a testimony of God’s love and provision for him in his final years.