Bare with me folks, this is going to be a long one. It’s not pretty, it’s not elegant, it’s not even edited. I’ve delayed this post because I didn’t have it in me to go where I need to go for this one. The only way I can get this out is to just do it. It has to be raw. I would skip it altogether if it hadn’t been for certain connections.
Through this blog, I’ve been contacted by others who’s lives have been touched by Alzheimer’s/Alzheimer’s type dementia, whether through a comment or a private email. Because of those connections and previous posts, I feel like I have to post this update before I can move on to another subject so for the few of you who don’t know, here goes.
Grandpa has passed.
To be fair, the grandpa I have always known has really been gone for a long time, but that didn’t stop me from holding onto what was left for dear life. He was having many more bad days than good and more often than not, he didn’t even wake up for visits anymore, but there were still moments, good moments in the last year when his face would light up when he saw me in between dozing, and the best moments when he knew who I was from 50 feet away and be thrilled to see me. Those moments were worth holding on for, however fleeting.
I’m going to tell you how this all came to be over the last 15 days. The day of my previously mentioned shuttle incident, my mom told me that grandpa’s nursing staff was using the word “dying.” (They’ve always been very careful not to use that word, so we took notice)
They had our attention and it was scary, but we didn’t rush to any immediate reactions. This was the 5th time the family had been called in for him over the years. Each time, he always made fools of us by pepping right up the next day. I would always think Well, he is older now and his condition is worse. This might really be it, but it never was so when I got this call, we agreed that I would try and wait until Friday to go back to Muncie since they didn’t give us a timeline. If anything changed, mom would call. (I had an emergency bag packed, but I was hoping for more time. This was Monday, January 25, 2016.)
The next day, mom called me at work saying that the nursing home had told her to come out there. Grandpa had a fever. She wasn’t sure what it meant in the grand scheme of things and they didn’t say much else so I told her to go check it out and call me back. When the phone rang a few minutes later, my heart sank. I knew when I saw her contact ID on the phone that it was time to go. (It was.)
Sobbing, I headed for the door hoping to God it wasn’t the same shuttle driver from the day before. It wasn’t. When I got to m car, I went to get gas and then to my house to get my things. My dad called during this bit of time telling me that he and my brother were coming to get me. (Mom and dad didn’t want me to drive so they were coming to get me and my brother would drive m car back.) I argued, but they weren’t having it so I packed some more things for what was clearly going to be a longer trip.
I wasn’t really thinking straight. You’d have thought I never packed a bag in my life the way I just grabbed every black and grey item I had and tossed it on a pile with my 15 pairs of underwear and 2 pairs of socks. (Really.) As I did this, I couldn’t help but to remember when my grandma Mimi passed. She had been in the hospital for a while and I had been there everyday. I can’t remember how many days or weeks it was, but I wasn’t leaving her, that is of course until I finally did. I went with my dad to the Indianapolis airport to pick up her son who was flying in from Oklahoma. Before we made it to the airport, she passed. I have carried guilt over not being there ever since because I knew it was going to happen. I’m not exaggerating. Every part of me knew she wasn’t going to make it many hours longer, but I had to get out of that hospital so I left. I haven’t yet forgiven myself. It’s been 11 years and 4 months. I couldn’t live with that again so I had to do everything I could to get to grandpa before it was too late.
I threw my stuff in the car and called my dad. I told him I wasn’t waiting for him, which was a good thing since they hadn’t even left Muncie and I live two and a half hours away. I texted Jason to let him know I was leaving and I was gone. I drove 85 most of the way and made it in record time. I went straight to the nursing home.
Time felt eternal in the room, but looking back on it, I don’t think I was even there for a half an hour before he passed. Five minutes after I got there, my aunt came and said her goodbyes. Just minutes after she left, my cousin walked in and a very short while later, he was gone. I believe he held on for that goodbye, one final thing he could do for me…something else I can never repay him for.
People always say their whole world changes when someone dies. Most of the time, that isn’t entirely true, they’re just a wreck of emotions in the moment. I say this not to diminish anyone else’s loss; I too have said it, but felt much lighter soon after. I’m still an emotional mess, but I can honestly say that my world has forever changed and there’s nothing cliche about it. All this time, something about having him here felt like still having a piece of my grandma too; they were parts of a set. With his loss, I feel like I’ve just lost them both. Truly, I know that I am lucky to have had my great-grandparents for so long, but maybe it just makes them that much harder to lose?
Everyone loves their grandparents, they’re the people who are supposed to spoil you and say yes when mom and dad say no. That’s the stereotype anyway, but they were so much more than that for me. For 27 years, they weren’t just grandma and grandpa, they were my second mom and dad, and my parents know this. They were my foundation and my mental/emotional support system. It sounds stupid and selfish to say that I believe I was closer to my great-grandparents than anyone else has ever been with their own, but of course I feel that way. Doesn’t everyone? Our own relationships are all we know so of course we feel that way. So yes, that’s how I feel and I don’t believe there’s a person in the world who understands it.
For the last fifteen days, I’ve had to fight off the nightmares, remind myself how to function, and just figure out how to exist with a piece of me missing from the world. My friends and family are checking on me and Jason is incredibly supportive. I appreciate it beyond their understanding, but this one isn’t going anywhere. I used to think being his caregiver was the hardest thing I’d ever gone through, but my God, this has trumped that by a mile. I’ve been gutted.
Grandpa is so much better off now. I know this with every part of me. He no longer had any quality of life and he didn’t deserve the hell that he was put through over the last few years. Now he is finally whole again and with grandma, and with all of us left here. He’s once again the brilliant and stubborn man he always was, but knowing that doesn’t make it better. We humans can be a really selfish species when it comes to loss and as much as I’m glad to see his suffering end, I miss him.
When I left the nursing home after he passed, I got in my car and the first thing I heard on the radio was Brantley Gilbert’s “Hell of an Amen.” It’s fitting. Earl Ray Flowers lived a full life in his 97 years on this earth. In the end, it was a hell of an amen.
I love you, grandpa. I’ll see ya later.