|Ed Branson sketching the Arizona scenery|
At Christmas his voice was hoarse and quiet from lack of strength. He didn't smile as much. The doctors were rude and discouraging, telling him he wouldn't heal. Stealing his hope. This pain must have been so frustrating to him, to have been healthy enough to do yard work a month or so before. The chemo kills whiles it heals.
The next time I saw him was at the wedding and I was in a frenzy of stress and joy. I saw him and numbed myself to the pain, my Dad struggled with a few other men to carry Grandpa in his wheel chair up to the roof top ceremony because he was too weak to carry himself. As I stood at the front with Karolina and Dane and their friends, I saw my grandpa in the audience, covered scarves and jackets, grandma's hand on his shoulder, grandpa shivering with his eyes hardly opened. After the ceremony, I greeted my grandpa and in his still hoarse voice he told me how much he liked the song Janie and I sang during the ceremony. He told me he was happy to be there. I regret how quickly I moved on to other guests. How impatient I was in the frenzy of the wedding, excited for Karolina and Dane, stressed as hell trying to make the wedding go smoothly. Our family is always on the brink of falling apart and somehow we barely slip by disaster. I would see him again. I didn't accept how sick he was.
By the reception, Grandpa was so sick that he didn't remember any of it. Grandma was sad that he didn't remember seeing our cousins, little Asami and Megu, singing their song about a donkey, about how God uses the weak for his purposes.
On the way home from the wedding, he collapse in a gas station bathroom in Quartsite. Some men helped carry him out of the bathroom, and someone stole his wallet, taking his military ID. The ambulance came. Grandpa told them to take him to Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale. They obliged.
Turns out he had caught pneumonia somewhere along his journey and given his low white blood cell count due to chemo and his blood cancer, we weren't sure if he would recover. But he did, and he even got a place to stay at the Mayo Clinic at Hope Lodge where grandma and him got free housing for as long as Grandpa would need to be treated there. They saw this as an act of God's graciousness.
I can't explain my feelings. Was I in denial? Was I numb? I could say, "My grandpa might die" and feel nothing. Why?
It wasn't until last week that I realized it was true and he really might die any day. Timothy texted me and told me. I asked him if he was okay and he said, "No. I'm scared." I told him God would comfort his soul and grandpa would go to be with God. That wasn't good enough for him. He said, "I know but I love Grandpa so much." These tender words stabbed me.
I decided to go back home to say goodbye. But I still couldn't feel anything. One night I felt something and cried, but the whole time I felt like I was trying not to feel anything. We sang hymns to soothe him in his discomfort. For a few days he was unconscious and not aware that I was there with him in the hospital. Why didn't grandma show any emotion. She would say she was sad and it was hard but I never saw a tear. Have I ever seen grandma cry?
I felt peace with grandma and Aunt Christie and my mom and dad and tim and janie all getting along and being real with each other. It was some of the most genuine interactions we've ever had all together. When grandpa was awake he was pleasant and kind. I knew he was in so much pain. If anyone even touched him, he would jolt in pain. He was too weak to itch his own face or swallow water but he was so thirsty. He had IV with water but it's not the same as water through the mouth. His skin yellow against his bones, sweaty from fever, mouth dry, grandma kissed him on the lips. She said, "That's my man" still in love after 53 years. She'd hold his hand and smile at him, a sad smile. He loves her too. He told Christie to make sure grandma is okay, she acts okay but she is in deep pain. He knows her.
When he finally woke up last Saturday morning, we all sat in his room talking. Grandma wanted time with him. Maybe he told her he was leaving her and she would be okay. He wanted to listen to my choir CD and hear me sing. I missed the choir concert to be with him. I didn't want to sing my solo "I Dreamed a Dream" to him because that was too sad for these times. We sang hymns instead. Grandpa prayed, and fell asleep mid-prayer despite his best efforts to stay awake. He tried so hard to be awake all day and talk to everyone, make jokes, be jolly. He wanted to make it easier for all of us even though we knew he was in so much pain. Christie wrote down everything he said on a notepad. His blood was so thin whenever the nurses moved him, his thin flesh bruised purple.
Before I left, I said goodbye to him. I told him I would see him someday in heaven and I loved him. He fell asleep while I spoke to him. My words are meaningless. Nothing really describes what I feel, even the regret I feel for assuming he would live forever, time is forever. He's always just been there and now he's not
But today, a week from my goodbye, he died and passed into the gates of heaven to see the face of God.
Grandpa is the word in my head that means 20 years of things. It means the one who always wears cowboy boots and a hat. It means Skull Valley, holding the reins of a horse as I sat on one for the first time. Grandpa means the car rides to school and back from school or the old white truck. It means walking in the evenings with grandma and his dog Missy. It means sitting in his chair in the dining room watching birds at the feeders on the porch. It means sitting at the kitchen table cutting apples slowly, chewing all his food 50 chews before he swallows. Grandpa means keeping the family together in harmony, calling old friends, reading "The Daily Bread" in the morning. Grandpa means his jeep with his Bush campaign stickers on it. It means the art studio in his back yard, throwing clay on the wheel, drawing a portrait of me while I sat in front of a group of people at an art show in downtown Prescott. Grandpa means telling me that art is the same thing as music but its for the eyes. Grandpa means reading my stories that I wrote when I was a child but when I was in high school Grandpa meant not reading my stories because that's when I had secrets too deep for grandpa to know. Grandpa means Grandma. It means he used to say that when he gave me his wise words, I could add his age to my age and that's how smart I was. Grandpa means working the yard, an endless project of keeping up flowers, the grass, the garden, the apricot tree. Grandpa means his house. Grandpa means giving me mystery novels. Grandpa means childhood. It means disillusionment. It means my hometown. It means birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving. It means Delta, Colorado. It means the old west. It means God. It means church. It means holding people together.
Death means biting my teeth together to hold back the tears.