Dealing With DeathDealing with death is something new for me. No one close to me has ever died and I’ve never been to a funeral. Both my parents, all four of my grandparents and all my aunts and uncles are still alive (with the exception of one aunt I never knew). I’ve never lost a friend or coworker to death. My experience with death has been rather peripheral, which considering I just passed 30 is maybe a little unusual. I fear that’s all about to change—my paternal grandfather is dying. And I’m not sure I know how to feel about it—or how I’m supposed to feel. And maybe I won’t until he actually passes away. I get the impression I’m supposed to be distraught, that I’m should be overcome with emotion. But I’m not. And I don’t think I’m cold or dead inside. My grandfather is in his eighties, he’s had ten children, at least seventeen grandchildren that I can recall and now several great grandchildren. And every one of them loves him. He’s only been married to one woman—who’s still by his side. He proudly served his country in WWII. I can’t help thinking he’s lived a very rich life. As much as I’ll miss him, I won’t see his passing as the height of tragedy.
I understand that this is very difficult for his wife and his children, and even the grandchildren who grew up around him. But I grew up on the other side of the continent. I went back east once in eighth grade, then not again until the summer after my freshman year in college. So growing up, that was all I ever saw of him. Going to graduate school in Pennsylvania, I got to see him a couple times a year and that was wonderful. But we’ve just never had the opportunity to form a really strong connection.
Furthermore, my grandfather and most of the people closest to him are devout Catholics (or at least Christians) and so for them, death should be seen as a release. He’s finally going to meet his maker in Heaven. All the pain he’s in will be gone.
What does bring a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes is the suffering he’s going through right now. Among other things, he had a mild stroke a while back, and it’s made it very hard (and painful) for him to swallow. And so he’s lost a lot of weight—way too much weight. He now sleeps 20 hours a day, is on a respirator and is connected to a feeding tube to try to get some food into him. His hearing is just about gone and his speech is slurred, so he can’t hardly communicate with anyone. And I’m sure he’s in pain (though he won’t admit it). And what makes all this even harder for me to deal with is that the last time I saw him (last July), he was fine (to my knowledge). And now I live on the other side of the continent and am buried in work.