gramps

my grandfather who is 90 is dying. so trying to observe! recently we have had these amazing moments - redemptive memories that i will hold onto forever. and if i forget, he had this one really clear night, where his mind was so lucid and we took some photos and video clips. we took one glorious video at the end of a 12 hours day i spent in the hospital with him, talking to nurses and doctors about how to get him out. it was such a exhausting day and i have watched those video clips over and over again. so worth it to get him out of the hospital and these videos are a lasting memory of how much i loved our times together. at that age, you go into the hospital for a couple of stitches and never come out. if i could replicate myself, i think i'd go to washington and lobby against the atrocity that is american medicine & healthcare. but we got him out and off all the drugs they sedated him with and as he is coming out of it. we had these sweet, fun moments. still a fight left in him.

my grandfather always lived in florida and i always lived in pennsylvania. grams and gramps retired down in jupiter over 30 years ago, and my parents stayed up north and that's where i was raised. they would visit or we would visit them. it's why i call the beach, the beach, and not the shore like other people from the philadelphia suburbs. the beach. that is what i know. we would spend summers and some holidays in their cozy house on the intracoastal. my grandfather was handy in the garden - always planting and pruning. they had a honey bell orange tree in the back yard with oranges like i have never tasted before in my life. the juice was clean and pure and thin, just like real orange juice should be. when they moved out of that house i was sad about leaving the honey bell and star fruit (carambola) trees behind! the carambola trees yielded these amazing fruits that if too ripe were so grossly tart your whole face would shrivel! they were not so common when i was a kid, but you see them a lot in grocery stores now. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carambola

i didn't get to see them a whole lot growing up. the last time they came to PA was for my college graduation. when i moved to florida, i began to spend more time with them. i loved my grandfather's zany stories. over the last 5 years, i have witnessed first hand the last stages of the aging process and the reconciliation some must make with their lives. my gramps fought in world war II. he owned his own business. he was a tough man, and fair to say he was even worn by his experiences but so full of zest and spark. for most of his life, God was foreign to him - his pride too in tact to need or be known. his life was good, but early on it was hard. as i have observed him, especially over the last 6 months, when his mind has begun to drift occasionally, i have witnessed him turn into a soft and reconciled man.  observing him, at that age, reconcile his life in front of me, has been something that has changed the way i see the world from here on out.

it's something really tragic. loosing someone. even more tragic to see him miss out on so much by being so tough and cloistered in his heart (a ocean sized reminder to you and i). why do we waste our lives? some of us banging around wall against wall. what if you don't get all the chances gramps got?

i got to celebrate his 90th birthday with him.


he loves sticky buns from this bakery in the philadelphia suburbs, and in the absence of any place with similar dough raising capabilities here in florida, whole foods in palm beach gardens actually does a decent sticky bun - especially if they are warm! so i pick them up for him whenever i visit and i tell him and my grandmother not to tell my mom. we have a good laugh about it, but inevitably grams always spills the beans to my mom (fairly gleeful that her granddaughter brings those kinds of treats). anyhow, we sat with him on the front porch, as i have time after time over the past 5 years, some nights, some afternoons... i have helped them give candy to trick-or-treaters.  we have watched the neighbors string christmas lights, or we just sit together and listen to the birds chirping. we have porch memories. so this day we sat and chatted out there and i remember it was such a sweet visit. first inside we sang happy birthday and had this conversation that below me away. he told stories of reconciliation that left me nearly in tears. he was kind and so happy to celebrate. his tough exterior so soft suddenly. he looked great. May 30th.

we stood there that afternoon holding hands and i watched my stubborn, God opposed grandfather bow his head on his 90th birthday to pray. as kids, whenever we would pray at meals he was so adverserial about it, his fork would already be raised, poised to eat. so it felt like a miracle to me, watching him humbly try and connect with his Maker. i knew that he knew that he had regrets and he was desperately trying to make peace in his heart. i got in to the car and burst into tears and in my heart i knew it was the beginning of the end. i know God is merciful to my grandfather, and i somehow know his change of heart is the beginning of the end. a few weeks later he fell, not doing anything specific, but just fell and needed to go the ER for stitches. it was a terrible and tragic thing, for we lost gramps somewhere inside of the walls of the hospital where drugs and orders and nurses and doctors take over despite how much we tried to understand and ask what was happening.  at that age sometimes it is just hard to recover when you are being sedated.  he became a number and it was heart-wrenching to experience.

one nurse was especially kind and pulled me aside as i walked out of his room to leave with my eyes welling up with tears. i told her a little about my gramps and she was a good listener and had such a sweet face. she said her husband was a pastor of a small church. God is infinitely faithful b/c i never wanted to be disrespectful to my gramps. i just wanted him to have the peace i know would make him free in his heart. the nurse took me by the hand and re-opened the door to his room and went in and sat with him again. for the millionth time he heard about God's eternal love and forgiveness through Christ. she had a great way about her. she told him all about her grandfather and his life, and his choices and how it took cancer to show him the error in his ways. gramps was listening intently and affirmed us as we talked to him. i won't ever forget that nurse, even in the midst of all the terrible things that happened in that hospital. she was redemptive and encouraging. in the days that followed i prayed with him, and a couple of us read psalms to him. one evening about 7 of my sweet girlfriends came with me to visit him. he was certainly elated that night at all of the pretty girls by his bedside.

days passed and we found out he was getting all sorts of meds not approved by my family. there began the uphill battle of just getting him discharged.  he was so weak he could not sit up. only a couple of weeks prior he was walking with a cane!! at that point we got him into a rehabilitation center, but the days following proved to us that at 90, that time in the ICU was the worst thing for him - he was there too long, too many drugs and with not the right kind of care. i would go every day and talk and sit with him. a few days before my birthday i told him i was flying home to philadelphia for a couple of days. he got sad and he looked at me and said "happy birthday baby".  oh, i feel that on the insides. before i left i got him on the phone with my parents in PA who had plans to travel down in the coming days. no one thought he wasn't going to get better. that evening we got him on the telephone to say hi to my mom and dad and he said on the phone to my dad that he wanted Jesus to forgive him of all his sins. i heard my mom crying. her dad admitted Jesus could save his soul.

he declined so much in such a short period of time. we tried to take him home and it was a disaster. he became completely confused about his surroundings. hospice care took over because he stopped talking or eating. we were not able to get him to take his medications for his heart or blood pressure. yesterday when i went, he was asleep as he had been for the last couple of days. starting to gurgle a little. they told us that was one of the last stages. he looked so good though. he had a hair cut and was shaven. i got into the car and cried. we always want more time.

life is but a whisper and we make so much of it at times. today i realized that sometimes we just can't look back. we let so much in the way of truly becoming. pride, ignorance, selfishness. we have to push through and be strong from above. it matters. our lives matter. to be of good courage. these circumstances mark us, and i guess i hope they move us to living the kind of lives we might be happy to look back on one day when we are 90. la vida es bella. for as grotesque as it may be at times, with all the travesty around the world, people are precious, and i am reminded of that over and over and over these days. how will all of this make some of my seconds different?

i have written this over a couple of days and we woke this morning to a call that he just passed away. it's sad. it seems like such a small word for the largeness of the emotion. as i was driving to my grandmother's this morning, i thought, greater is He who is in me than is in the world. the tears still flow, but there is hope that we didn't have before. sin has lost its power, death has lost its sting.