The summer weather has been incessantly muggy, the air clinging uncomfortably close as it blankets my small corner of the world in its drawn out, tropical exhale.
This past Tuesday gave a brief reprieve from the incessant heat in the form of a torrential downpour, one that lingered throughout the day, providing frequent, eccentric lighting that Dr. Frankenstein would have been itchy to utilize. It was a day to sleep in, to listen to the percussive precipitation on the windows and the roof, to cuddle up with a book and a endless cup of coffee.
My sister called me in the midst of this heavy mist; my phone reports that it was about 8:30am, but the day stretched on under a soggy grey canopy that gave no indication that time was passing. Lightning flashed, and the gods rolled another strike as thunder crashed just a few miles off to the south west of my quaint Victorian homestead.
My grandfather passed away.
This had not been entirely unexpected.
The day before this I had gone to visit my grandfather for what I had surmised to be the last time. The longer we linger in this world, the less certainty we have regarding our duration, and I approached the journey back “home” with this in mind. My partner’s kids have been with us for the summer, and nearly every day I spent with them we did something meaningful and memorable. I had already explained to them that this day was a little different, and they understood that the trip was important to me despite my inability to provide much more than a skeleton of reasons as to why. We all loaded up into the truck and drove the 90 miles back in time to a small, slowly dying town which I am traditionally loath to visit.
The kids headed off to the school park with my sister, and I reset my course for the small town care center.
Over the last few years it has become increasingly difficult for me to visit care centers, hospitals, or zoos, without thinking of them as prisons for their respective inmates.
Presently, the thunder roars again, low and throaty enough to set off someone’s car alarm a block from me. Nature is the real queen of the jungle, the rest of us are just listless quarry.
At the care center, attendants pushed and prodded at my grandfather, taking his vitals and trying to get him to stay awake. I stood in the hall, listening, the door dividing us for 15 minutes before I could go in and say hello, and goodbye.
My grandfather had been old for my entire life, but he always was smiling, happy, a great friendly oak tree, my hand tiny in his massive palm even now. Here, at 89, he looked sick, grey, tired. Bloodshot eyes, and frail despite his 6′(+) frame.
He was always a great, gentle lion, and now with the thorn of life wedged firmly in his paw I felt like a tiny, helpless mouse. I couldn’t save him from the steady step we all march toward the infinite, but I could hold his hand for a little while and let him know he wasn’t alone while he walked.
I thought back to my grandmother, who had passed away 12 years prior. I thought about the last time I saw her, bathed in florescent light, surrounded by medical accouterments. I thought about how out of place she looked, a warm friendly beacon set among the harsh medical sterility. I thought about how hard it had been for me to really comprehend what she was going through at the time, with my shortsighted 17 year old periphery of experience, eyes mostly downcast, the thick lenses I always wore providing only the most basic situational clarity. Because of her, I had always excelled academically. Because of my pride, or perhaps the comfort of the shelter she lovingly provided, I was still largely emotionally absent from the end of life realities, myself never really having to deal with true hardship before that. Without life experience, without adversity to test our limitations, we do not flex or evolve the parts of ourselves we so lovingly protect. My great grandmother (her mother) had died the year before, so I had been to a funeral, but my grandmother was a cornerstone in my life, and I lacked the experience to properly navigate loss with grace.
Something about the last decade of my own life had given me more to utilize in this attempt to connect now with my grandfather, even though I still felt like I arrived at the care facility empty handed.
Sitting with him, I wanted to say something meaningful. I wanted to I tell him that it’s alright to go. I wanted to ask what he was holding on to. I wanted to tell him I didn’t want him to hurt. I sat with him without saying anything and concentrated on just being present. With my grandmother, I had stumbled through motions of an end-of-life-goodbye without having the tools, without knowing what tools to ask for or look for. This time I sat and was present, and understood that was all it took to offer comfort.
My father arrived to my grandfathers room, then my mother. I hadn’t seen them in the same room since they had gotten divorced, back when I was in college. For a decade, I think the lack of closure had been sitting with all of us, and I could feel some of it slipping away as we banded together for this common cause.
I thanked my dad, for giving my grandpa the tools he needed to have an independent life as long as he had. I thanked my mom, for being an absolute artist as a nurse and care coordinator.
I finally rose to leave; I had to budget my spoons
enough to get back to home with the kids. I told my grandfather I would see him on Thursday, and he smiled at me; I think we both knew I wouldn’t. I hugged my mother and father, and left.
My grandfather passed away early the next morning, per Kelly’s call notifying me of this. When I had visited the day before, they had been waiting for a doctor’s order to be able to discharge my grandfather to his home. My father had even spent the last several days building a ramp so they could get him up the steps and into the house.
My grandfather had waited to leave our earthly realm until he could do so from his own bed: comfortable, away from the foreign sterility of the medical facility. He held on long enough to say goodbye to everyone, and then he was gone.
Back at my own home, reflecting on the last 24 hours, I sat on the porch and watched the plump grey clouds bumbling through the atmosphere. I felt the static dissipate through the air. I always feel more connected to the world when it rains.
My partner’s two girls, 11 and 8, came out to sit with me. They’re both capable farm kids, but that primordial sliver at the base of our brains still makes them jump when the thunder cracks right above our heads.
“Have you ever heard that thunder is just the sound of the gods bowling?” I ask. They nod, and we discuss this, briefly. The 8 year old dances in the rain for a moment, then jogs back to us. I tell them how much I appreciate the car trip they took with me the day prior, and let them know that my grandfather has passed. Their great-grandmother had also just passed away a couple of weeks prior, so while I don’t want to burden them with unnecessary layers of grief, I do want them to know how much it meant to me to get to see him.
The 11 year old hugs me. “Great-grandma will show him around,” she says, eyes motioning skyward. “I bet they’ll be friends.”
The 8 year old nods. “Maybe they’re the ones bowling.”