TW: Death, loss, grieving
It is 4:54am and sleep will not come to me for another night in a row because my mind is as heavy as my heart, if not heavier. Often I say my heart is heavy, and often that is true in a life such as my own; but it has been a long time since it weighed as much as it does now, and I’m just not sure I can carry it.
Yesterday afternoon as I sat half paralyzed on my couch as I have for most of the week, watching the Powerpuff Girls (which has been my main aid in get me through this), I thought I finally had the strength to write about my grandfather. That afternoon, four states over in my hometown in California, he was in a hospice, perpetually asleep. I wrote half a post before I couldn’t take it any longer and began to cry, which is most of what I have been doing since Easter when the ambulance took him from his home. My family went from being told we’d have him for months, to weeks, to days, to hours, to any second over the course of only a few days. After the final estimate, my life became unbearable, swallowed by panic as every txt message, e-mail, and call I assumed to be the one that told me he was no longer here. “Brace yourself,” my sister kept telling me. I tried.
I was proud of myself yesterday, because after nearly two weeks of letting my housework go due to being emotionally and physically wrecked once and for all, I was able to clean my home. Soon after my boyfriend arrived from work, we made ourselves dinner, and just as I was about to reward my hard work with some gluten free mac n’ cheese, I got the txt from my mother:
“They just called me, guys. His vitals are declining.”
I heard my sister’s voice in my head again: “Brace yourself.” I did my best to, but for all my effort, it wasn’t helping. My hands began to shake and my mind began to panic. I knew this was coming. I’d been suspecting it for months. I’d been on edge for nearly a week. Yet in that moment, none of that fucking mattered, because all I could truly think of was that my grandfather, who was really more like a father type figure in my life since he raised me, was about to leave his grandkids, his daughter, and his wife, who for 60 years unconditionally loved him.
I tried to stay calm but didn’t quite know what to do with myself, so I got ready for bed and planned to finish the last 20 pages of Armada, an incredible book a dear friend let me borrow. I sat in my bed, ready to read, and the tears came back. I prayed as hard as my little heart could. “Please stop my family’s suffering now, God, we have had enough. If ever you were to listen to me, please, please, pleeeease listen to me now. Please let our pain be eased after this. We have had enough. He’s had enough.” I’m not sure if God heard me, but not a half hour later, my mother txted my siblings and I once more, and just like that, the “any moment” that we had been dreading for nearly a week finally came. I cried and I shook and my heart ached, especially for my darling grandmother, my lifelong best friend, who was not only torn apart by my grandfather’s passing but not even able to fully comprehend it because her brain is being taken over by Alzheimer’s. Robbed of herself and now robbed of my grandfather, her husband, I cried more than anything, for my grandmother.
My relationship with my grandfather was complicated. My sister and I for the past week have been drowned in flashbacks, most of which start out beautiful and cheerful but are then disrupted by ones that are exactly the opposite. As I said before, he was the only father like parent we ever had, albeit a dysfunctional one. Since moving to Missouri, however, and meeting my new spiritual counselor, I have been taught about compassion and grace. And the thing about grace is, everyone deserves it. Not just those who are white, straight, healthy, or well off. Even those who suffer the most, even those who are different than you, and yes, as hard as it us for us to imagine, even those who abuse, deserve compassion, and that is an incredibly difficult realization.
The majority of the adults in my life save for my grandmother always abused us, bullied us, and made us out to be nothing but burdens on their lives. Being raised to hate yourself is a very difficult obstacle to overcome, and I will mostly likely be fighting that for the remainder of my hopefully long life. At first it was confusing to me to grieve the loss of someone who was often times far from kind, and truthfully, it still is; but that does not mean I will not miss my grandfather, his silly jokes, his laughter, or his yodeling along with the Austrian record we always put on at Christmas. In the most painful moment, after my grandfather suffered far more than any human being ever should from heart failure and then later all his other organs failing one by one, after this horrific, painfully dragged out goodbye, I sat in my bed sobbing uncontrollably as I cried out, “I forgive you. I hope you feel better now.” Despite it all, I’d still do anything to get him back.
For sixty years my grandparents lived together, for sixty years they fought loudly in Austrian. But I know he loved my grandmother, even if he often failed at expressing that. I know he loved my family and I, even though he could rarely tell us. When I last saw him, he was bedridden at home, horribly ill and unable to sit up. He was absolutely miserable and I knew he was fading away from us. One lesson my grandfather was extremely strict on was our manners; you say please and thank you, always, no matter what. Despite his organs failing at at the time being on no medication whatsoever for it, when I brought him water or a slice of pizza, as he struggled to even breathe, he still constantly said thank you, and the last thing he said to me was, “it was nice seeing you, thank you for coming. Be a good girl.”
I was constantly confused by the fact that every time my siblings and I figured something out, or had an answer for a question he asked, my grandfather would smile and say, “hey, you’re a real fart smeller!” I was perplexed by this for nearly 23 years, until one night at a family dinner, he said it once again, and I was smacked hard by a realization.
Fart…smeller…smart…feller? WAIT. IT’S BEEN A COMPLIMENT THIS WHOLE TIME?
I excitedly asked my grandfather if this was his joke that I’d missed my entire existence. “You only now get this?” He asked. I felt like someone who just figured out that the internet existed. I guess I’m not much of a Fart Smeller after all, am I. But I do take comfort that even in his late 80’s, my grandfather still found fart jokes hilarious.
I am only beginning to grieve this loss, and my grief is mixed with overwhelming fear for my grandmother, who in one day had everything she had known for the majority of her life taken in an instant. I know statistically and logically, she will not be with us much longer. But until then, I will devote everything I can to making the remainder of her life the best quality possible because she deserves nothing less than everything my family has to give her. Her impending passing is now lingering above me darker and heavier than ever, and though I will try my best not to, I will be living with fear at my heels. Losing my grandparents has always been one of my absolute worst nightmares, and now I can tell you, in my sleepless haze that my nightmare has become my reality.
My depression and anxiety have been worse than ever these past few weeks. Just as I was starting to think my life was finally beginning to relinquish a bit of control to me so that I may raise myself up from the darkness I’ve been in for so long, I have once again been knocked down, and this has been a mighty blow. That seems to happen to me all too often. I have not really done much of anything but the basic actions I must do to keep myself healthy and somewhat sane. Everything else has lost importance. I feel paralyzed by my life, and I just can’t seem to stop crying. I’m afraid I’ll dehydrate completely and wither if I don’t stop soon; it’s been weeks, but these weeks feel like years.
To grieve for someone I love is a hard battle; it is even harder when my life is broken in so many other ways as well.Not to mention I haven’t slept in days, and even Benadryl won’t remedy that. I’m in desperate need of help, but I don’t know what type. In the last nine months I feel as if I have been torn apart one piece at a time, and I’m worried, because I feel as if I am running out of pieces for my life to rip away. I ask that if anyone reads this, I welcome all comments and replies, but for the sake of my sanity, please do not write, “I hope you are okay.” I am so clearly not okay, my friends. I am extremely not okay. I won’t be for a while.
I don’t know if I am a “good girl”, grandpa, but I certainly try to be. I hope you feel better now that you’re free. I hope all the pain is gone.
And I’m sorry I never built you a robotic leg out of hangers and tin foil like I promised you I would to replace your arthritic one. Dear God, please bless my grandfather with an utterly badass robotic leg in heaven. Thanks.
(If there’s one good thing I can say about the people in my family, it’s that we never lose our humor, even in pitch black darkness).
“I know that the future is scary at times. But there’s just no escaping it.”
-Armada ~Ernest Cline