Digging Deep

family, grandfather, grandpa, hospital, ill, memory, My First Blog, thoughts, vivid

Today’s blog challenge is: Day 18, Saturday: Tell a story from your childhood. Dig deep and try to be descriptive about what you remember and how you felt.

When I saw this was today’s challenge I thought long and hard about what memory is most vivid for me. The one I am going to tell you isn’t easy for me, but it’s my most vivid.

When I was 13 my paternal Grandfather died. I had to actually do the calculations on this one because I thought I was much younger than 13, but that would have been my age when he died in 1987. I guess maybe it’s because I felt so much smaller then. I felt like he and I had a special bond. He was a gruff kind of guy and not prone to much open love and affection, but I always got hugs and smiles from him. When we would be leaving his home he would always expect a hug from me. He would be upset if he didn’t get one. It made me feel special. (I’m sure he did this with many, if not all, the grandchildren, but I’m in denial that it was only me.)

He had gotten ill – I don’t remember from what – and was in the intensive care unit at the hospital. All the kids and most of the grandkids had all been there, hanging out in the waiting room for hours. I couldn’t go back to see him because of the unit he was in. Finally my parents, obviously knowing the gravity of the situation, pushed for us younger ones to be able to see him “perhaps one last time.”

I had heard whispering among the family saying that he wasn’t well and that they didn’t expect him to live much longer, but I wasn’t about to let that happen. My hug would make him feel better – I just had to get back there. So I was glad when we went back the long, dark hallway to his room.

To this day – I almost wished they hadn’t pushed for us to see him.

My Grandfather was never a frail man to me. He always used a wheelchair to get around their home, but he was robust and loud, he cursed, he chomped a cigar all day – this was not a frail person. But the man in the hospital bed was. He certainly was NOT my Grandfather. He looked disoriented and afraid. It scared me.

I vaguely remembering hugging him, trying to cheer him up, but it was like he didn’t know me. He looked mean – I think he may have been slightly belligerent to Grandma. As we were ushered out of the room I turned back to wave to him and he suddenly sat up in bed and looked at me with a wild stare. He looked frightened – almost like he was pleading us not to go. I hesitated, but my Mom’s grip on my hand led me forward and away from his stare.

This look lingers in my mind to this very day.

We all left the hospital at that point – it was getting very late and Grandma needed some rest. We drove the six miles back to her home. We were not in her house more than two minutes before the hospital called to tell us he had died.

To this day I think about that look. Was he trying to reach out to me? Did he suddenly remember me? Was he trying to get one last look of his family? Or was he struggling with the unknown – heaven or hell? (This particular thought really bothers me today.) I have no idea. I may never know. It haunts me when I think about him. I hope someday I will see him in heaven and he will be able to tell me what he was thinking in that moment. Until then – this is my most vivid memory of my childhood.

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One thought on “Digging Deep

  1. Thank you for sharing this childhood memory. It makes me feel like I want to reach out and comfort that 13 year old girl. The best I can do is attempt to comfort the woman she became.

    I'd like to acknowledge your statement that you almost wish that your family had not pushed for you to see him. Maybe they did it because you clearly felt that you wanted to see him prior to doing so. And at 13, you were at that borderline age of visiting in ICU's. But for whatever reason, they did. It seems to me that being able to see him was in a sense a gift to both of you.

    Because I'm a nurse and also because I've experienced a great deal of loss in my personal life, I view situations like this through a special filter. I was the youngest in my family, and my parents had me when they were on the verge of being too old to reproduce. They were also the youngest in their families. So needless to say, losing beloved family members was something that was fairly typical for me as a young child. My parents shielded me from most of it – both from seeing them ill near the end and from attending funerals. I clearly remember asking to be a part of those things and being told I was too young.

    However, as I got a little older, my maternal grandmother seemed to understand my need to know, and she was the one who talked with me about death in general. She could not control my parents' decisions, but she did include me in any way that she could. For me, not knowing allowed my mind to wander and create a reality that could have been the farthest thing from the truth. I was also able to pretend that these relatives were not really dead, but just away. For me, I truly felt that I would have preferred the truth.

    Fast forward to adulthood. As a nurse, I've dealt with my patients and their families honestly.

    And in my personal life with my own children, I've taken the cues from them. If a child wants to be a part of the end, I let them. If they don't, I don't force it.

    My children have experienced the loss of both of my parents, my husband's father, a beloved great-uncle, a close friend from cancer, and the death of three dogs. In the human situations, I've first let them decide if and when they want to visit (x). By watching my kids, I've been able to tell when they were ready to leave. At that point, we would go for a walk or a snack and we'd talk about what they saw. “(X) is looking more yellow this time, and he's not talking as much as he used to,” one daughter observed, for example. I would explain what these things meant in the cycle of life.

    For my family, these have been very tender moments – ones that we cherish. When my husband's uncle died, my two younger girls (the ones who chose to visit) sat on his bed next to him when he was semi-comatose. They took turns reading to him (he had been an avid reader!) and they sang to him. We left to go home to bed, and the next morning we were told he had died during the night. My girls both remarked how glad they were that they had (in their minds) given back to Uncle in his final hours.

    I hope that you find peace about your childhood memory. The past is one of those things that we can't change, but must come to accept. Please know that having an imagine burned into your mind like that is very normal. See if you can try to focus on the visions of your grandfather that you would prefer to remember and perhaps the sad ones will fade a bit. *hugs*

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