A determined life


Grandpa left us last week. Finally, after 94 years, he left us. It’s strange. There was a time (was it only last month?) when I couldn’t imagine a world without him. He was always a part of my life. I wake up to the sun, and sleep under the stars, and just like those celestial constants, Grandpa was always here. No matter where I was in the world, he was always with me, somewhere beneath the same sun and stars.

Every couple of weeks, I would call Grandpa to see how he was doing. He always answered like he was expecting your call, and greeted you cheerfully with the time of day, dragging it out— “Gooood morning!” or afternoon, or whatever—and no matter how your day had been going to that point, it was suddenly better. The phone call would usually lead to a shopping trip, and lunch at his favorite restaurant. I would walk beside him and his walker as we trundled slowly up and down grocery store aisles picking up vitamins and mouthwash and his favorite peanut butter cheese crackers. Then it was off to the Cozy Diner for a sandwich and a cup of coffee.

We would end the afternoon chatting quietly in his apartment. Grandpa would speak wistfully of days and people gone by. I would listen with eyes closed, comforted as always by the sound of his voice. As I walked out the door, he would send me off with a hearty “God bless you!” and an admonition to be careful.

Grandpa was in the twilight of his life. He had outlived two wives and his beloved son, yet he chose to remain cheerful and as full of life as his old body would allow. He had the uncanny ability to slough off pain like a worn overcoat and leave it where it fell, having no time for acrimony or regret. His life remained full because he willed it so.

The time came when Grandpa could no longer do simple things like shower, or even walk. He went to the hospital for the last time in early August. At first, he endured breathing treatments and exercise regimens. He realized early on, though, that things were not going to get better. Grandpa had always been the physical and emotional caretaker of our family, a true patriarch in every sense of the word. This new reality simply would not do. Grandpa refused to be a burden on anybody.

“I’m ready to go when the lord is ready to take me,” Grandpa said one day. With that, he refused breathing treatments and exercise of any kind. He wanted comfort care only—morphine and water and a pillow fluff every now and then.

The vigil began.  On the wall in front of his bed hung a picture of him and his first wife, my Grandmother, who passed in 1986. On another wall, there was a picture of him and his second wife, Miriam, who passed in 2005. When he wasn’t surrounded by family, I imagined him nodding off to sleep with thoughts of seeing them again.

Toward the middle of the second week, Grandpa fell asleep one day and never woke up. In the end, he died as he had lived, on his own terms and with minimal fuss. He lived as he wanted, as long as he wanted.

We should all be so lucky.