I can still remember so many of the phone calls that took place just weeks before March 6th, 2011. My grandpa, who had been healthy at Christmas had gone into the doctor in January and February for some minor ailments and was suddenly given a diagnosis that left him with roughly six months to live. I got the call that said six months and my heart sank. I was living 1,000 miles away and I just wanted to be there. I needed to be home.
With the six months prognosis, my parents and I had scheduled for me to fly home in two weeks to be with family, see my grandpa, etc... I envisioned a few more trips in my future over the remaining months as I didn't want to see him just one more time. I'd need more time.
Within two days, I got the call that he had roughly two weeks. My ticket was going to be moved up a week to get there in time. Within in 24 hours, I got the call that he had roughly six days. Six days??????????? Are you sure? Six, as in 1,2,3,4,5,6??? But I had a huge event that I was chairing that weekend! How could I leave? How could I not leave? I remember calling one of my best friends, in total shock, to tell her that I was flying out tomorrow and the event was in their hands. I thought they'd be mad. Instead she said "I'm coming right over" and she within minutes sat on my floor with me as I cried. I remember trying to pack for my visit and a funeral, all while packing up 5 months of event prep work and supplies to leave behind. Six days????? Six days.
The remaining days with my grandpa were some that I'll treasure for the rest of my life. Thanks to an amazing boss, I was cleared to be there as long as necessary. It was such a blessing to be given that time to sit next to his bed in my grandparent's den. I sat there with my family for days. I slept next to my mom in a tiny bed, but it didn't matter. I even got to see him request his last beer, which is ironic as he rarely drank and RARELY drank beer. My uncle ran to a bar, bought like three beers and seven of us sat around his bed with our shared beer in dixie cups as he sipped his through a straw. We laughed and he smiled. It was the simple things, yet they were way more than simple in our hearts.
There are also two moments, aside from the beer, that I can still feel to this day. One haunts me and one comforts me, however but both are ingrained in me.
The one that haunts me and makes my throat tighten as I type is one moment of transparency when the truth of what was coming was evident on my grandpa's face. He was breathing quickly, his eyes looked frightened and a few silent tears rolled down his cheek. My mom asked him if he was in pain. He shook his head no. She then asked if he was scared. He silently nodded his head yes. I remember feeling like I couldn't breathe either. What do you do? Say? How do you comfort someone who knows his fate is days away? And then what I remember is my mom asking "can I pray for you, dad?" He again nodded yes. So she prayed. She prayed through her own fear and over her own tears. She remained strong for her father who in that moment couldn't be stronger any longer. I was so proud of her and in awe of her courage and faith. And when the "amen" came, there was less fear in his eyes. I'm guessing there was a bit more of it in ours, but less in his and that's what mattered.
And lastly, if you've ever gone through the stages of death with someone, you know that one of the stages is "busy work or tying up loose ends" while another is their bodies wanting to travel or "catch the train or bus". Just like the handbook hospice gave us said, grandpa started fidgeting with his hands, almost as if he was tying things in knots or jostling keys.
At one point my mom and I were sitting on either side of him and my mom asked "what are you doing, dad?"
"Grabbing my keys" he replied.
"Where are you going" she asked (knowing he had no keys and couldn't get out of his bed)?
"I'm going wherever you guys go."
To this day, I'll randomly hear his voice say "I'm going wherever you guys go" and I know he's there. It's the most comforting moment that I was given by him in those last few days. He may not have even been aware of what he was saying, but I knew what it meant.
He's in our hearts, our memories, and at every family gathering. He's there. He's got his keys and he's gonna go WHEREVER we go. Wherever.
We miss you, Grandpa Howard. Always will.
Grandma, Grandpa and their children.
Lighting lanterns in his memory. It was a gorgeous night and sky.
Grandma with her lantern.
The blue heart, made out of one of his shirts, that I wore on the inside of my dress
on our wedding day. He was right there.