Just 24 hours ago, my beloved grandpa took his last breath. My mom, step-dad, grandma and uncle were all there with him. My mom held his hand. He was awake, and suffering, and his final moments were exactly the opposite of what we wanted.
And that makes me cry. Hard.
He always said he had a bad heart, and the multiple heart attacks, pace maker, defibrillator, and daily medications would have you believe it. But just like 35 years ago when his doctor told him he’d have less than a year to live with a heart in that condition, he defied the odds. Last Thursday, the hospice nurse said she didn’t think he’d made it to Saturday. And yet? He pushed through until Wednesday, June 27 around 4:10pm. Probably just to prove her wrong.
I always tell people that I never really had a dad growing up. But the truth is, I did. I had my grandpa. I am the woman I am today because of him. Our relationship was stronger than any other grandfather/granddaughter’s I’d ever seen – in real life or in the movies. He was my hero. Still is. He protected me. And when he couldn’t protect me any longer, he taught me how to protect myself. He encouraged me and gave me the drive to be successful in life. And more than that, he taught me to be a good person. Someone who looks out for others. Someone who doesn’t take shit from people. Someone who loves a good joke, and a good laugh. Someone who sees the beauty in life, even when life deals you a bad hand. And someone who, above all else, loves his family more than himself. He would’ve given his own life for any one of his kids or grandkids, and I would gladly trade him places if I could. I would’ve fought the cancer for him. I would’ve taken on all the pain so he wouldn’t have had to feel a thing. I would’ve done anything.
But that’s not how life works. And now the man I loved more than anything has been taken from me. So now the tears I cry aren’t for him, because he’s no longer in pain. He’s with Jesus, just like he prayed for. I cry for me. I cry because I’m so lost without him. I cry because I know I’ll never be as happy as I was when he was alive. I cry because we’ll never play cards again. I cry because we’ll never come over for a pulled pork dinner that he made, even though he hates pulled pork, because he knows my husband likes it. I cry because I’ll never get another forwarded email. I cry because I’ll never get to hear another one of his stories, or listen to another joke. I cry because I’ll never answer the phone and hear his voice on the other line, teasing me about my “boy Pujols and how many home runs has he hit lately?” (Answer: not very many) I cry because my son will never remember him, although I’m grateful they had a chance to meet. My grandpa called him a “dandy” and a “little dumpling.” Even though he was sick and bedridden, seeing my baby boy made his day.
He was my rock and the person whose opinion mattered more than anyones. He was the only person I could never be mad at, even when we disagreed. A couple of years ago we tried to move to North Carolina and my grandpa was so mad at me that he wouldn’t speak to me for nearly two months. He said a lot of not-so-nice things about me to just about anyone that would listen. Everyone thought I’d be angry with him or that I’d yell at him. But I didn’t, because I knew why he was mad. He thought I was leaving him and he was acting out because he didn’t know how to deal with the sadness of me leaving. And the moment we decided not to move anymore, he acted as if those two months didn’t exist. We were right back to regular phone calls, emails, and visits.
I have nearly 200 emails in my inbox – all jokes, poems, photos and other random forwards from my grandpa that I just can’t bring myself to delete. Right now, I can barely bring myself to read them, so I read a couple and then I close the window because it’s too difficult. I also have several old voicemails on my phone from him that I’ve listened to a few times already because I just miss the sound of his voice so much.
I feel like I’ve lost a limb. Like I can’t function right anymore. Like something important to my survival is suddenly missing. I know people say that it gets better with time, but I’m not sure I believe it. I’m so scared of forgetting something about him, that the thought of time passing has me worried I’ll forget something. He used to talk about how he’d eventually be forgotten once he’s gone and I could tell how sad the thought of that made him. But I vowed to not let that happen. I’m going to teach my own kids everything he taught me and I’m going to tell them so many stories about him that they’ll feel like they knew him too.
One of the last things I said to my grandpa was that I would teach Desmond how to sing “Take me out to the ballgame”, because that’s the first song my grandpa taught me. He could barely talk and his eyes were closed but he made a half smile and nodded approvingly.
The next few days are going to be rough. I’ve been crying for nearly 24 hours straight now and I don’t see any end in sight. But I have to keep putting one foot in front of the other because my son needs me. And I need him. Because he’s the only thing that’s helping me cope with this sadness. He’s like a tiny, flickering light in a tunnel of sadness and I cling to him just as much as he clings to me.