Thursday, April 14, 2011

Grandad

I haven't written for such a long time again. Time is an issue, but I also feel that I haven't had much to say. But today is different. Today I have alot on my mind that needs sorting out, and I've found in the past that sorting out is much easier when I write it down.

On Monday this week, I witnessed the death of my Grandfather. He was going to turn 95 this month, so he had a good, long life. He wasn't ill, or in pain (other than the usual things that affect us all as we get older), he was just really old.

His death has impacted me deeply, and I'm still not entirely sure why. We were never close, in fact I always had the feeling that he really didn't care much for me at all - but I wish we had been, and I wish he had. I last saw him many years ago, before he moved into the retirement village where he spent his final days. The retirement village is in Cape Town, a place I rarely go because of the distance (1400km / 874 miles), family (having 4 children is a little hectic), and finances (finding a place to stay in Cape Town is an expensive exercise and my sister's home is too small to accomodate us all). But most of all I guess, I haven't visited him because I really didn't think he'd care. If I had ever heard from him over the years, or if I had thought for one minute that he missed me and wanted me to visit, I would have. But I never did - not once.

Therefore, I was suprised at myself when I heard he was dying and suddenly had a huge urge to see him. I discussed it with David, and he agreed I should go - even though I really wasn't sure if it was a good idea or not. In fact, David encouraged me to leave immediately and not procrastinate. I'm so grateful that he did. I made arrangements for my children, and got on a plane for Cape Town the very next morning. My Dad was in Cape Town already (he and my Mom live in Durban which is 1640km /1019 miles away), and he arranged for me to stay in the hotel he was staying at, and collected me from the Airport.

I dropped off my luggage, and went immediately to see Grandad. It was quite a shock to see him. He was really thin, and was just lying on a small bed in his room and staring vacantly into space. His breathing was terrible, with almost panting breathing interspersed with not breathing at all, and his mouth just hung open. But I could still tell it was him. He still had his trademark mane of snow white hair that I always remember him having.

My dad tactfully left me with him, and I spent a very long time sitting talking to him. At first it seemed silly and awkward talking to someone who didn't seem to know I was there, but the longer I talked, the easier it became. I began to get the feeling that he could hear me, because at the sound of my voice he would move his hand slightly, and once I thought he actually tried to speak. I told him about Jesus, and how it's never too late to turn to Him. Grandad had loved to travel, and I told him of how I'd travelled to Switzerland (his favourite holiday destination) many times, and that I wished I'd been able to share my experiences with him and maybe compare notes. I told him that I hoped I would meet him in heaven one day, and that we could then catch up on all that we never had on this earth. I held his hand. I spent time with him.

The following day I went back to visit again. He was worse. I wasn't sure that he knew I was there at all. My Dad had things to sort out, so I just sat with him and held his hand. It was Sunday, so I sang to him, all the old Hymns I could remember. His breathing was worse, but it seemed to me that it became more regulated when I sang, so sing I did. At first I felt a bit of a fool, but then I decided that it didn't matter, I was doing it for him, to comfort him, and that's all that was important.

That afternoon I visited again, and again I sat and held his hand and sang to him. He looked worse, his mouth had a bluish tinge. When I think back on that Sunday, I will always remember the singing, and when I try to sing any of those hymns now, my throat blocks up and I just can't. I sang "How Great Thou Art", "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus", "What a Friend we have in Jesus", "Jesus, Name Above All Names", and others that I couldn't remember all the words to, but hummed the bits in between. I told him about my family, and how I had also fostered a child (my Dad was a foster child to my Grandparents), and how I had adopted her, and how I had a step-son who I had also become a mother to as his mother had died when he was small. It was a special time, even though I wasn't sure he could hear me. I realised while I was sitting there, that it was the first time I can remember ever holding his hand, and that made me sad. I told him, and I sang some more. I prayed for angels to surround his bed so he wouldn't be afraid.

The next day when my Dad and I arrived the nurses were busy washing Grandad. I was there to say goodbye. My flight back home was leaving at 12hoo, and I wanted to see Grandad one last time before I headed to the airport and back home to my family. When the nurses finished and we walked into the room, I immediately sensed a change. He looked much worse. We said hello and sat down. In an instant I realised he wasn't breathing. The horror of that second of realisation cannot be described here. I went cold, and started to shake. I had to tell my Dad that his father was dead because he hadn't noticed. My Dad didn't believe me at first (denial perhaps), and I had to tell him another 2 times before he checked Grandad's pulse and called the nurse. The tears just came. I couldn't stop them. I stayed with Grandad, and started phoning people for my Dad so that he could go and fetch Grandad's elderly sister, and call my uncle (my Dad's brother) in America.

I stayed with Grandad. Even though he was dead, I didn't want to leave him alone. Nurses came and went, and I sat quietly and cried silently for my Dad, for my uncle, and for me. My sense of loss was devastating, not because of what we'd had, but because of what we didn't have.

This heartbreaking experience has caused me to re-evaluate my life in a way I never have before. It has caused me to think about life and death, and the meaning of everything in between. Has it caused me to question my faith? No, nothing can. But it has caused me to question my life and the way I live it. Seeing death first-hand, for me, was profound, earth-shattering and life-changing. I want to be better, do better and feel better, because I have realised that I am here for such a short time.

Will these feelings last? I hope so. Will time cause me to forget what I witnessed this week? I hope not. Grandad may not have been much of an influence on me while he was alive, and perhaps he didn't care too much for me, but I loved him, and in this strange way he has influenced my life dramatically. At a time that would be deemed to be "too late" by most, he has rocked my world. Thank you Grandad! I really hope to see you in heaven one day, and I really hope that my presence in your final hours made a positive difference to you, even if it was just a tiny one, because it certainly made a difference to me.

1 comment:

The Sassi Wench said...

This is very sad. I'm so sorry you didn't connect in life. It really makes you think about those of us who are still around, and how important it is to make the most of your time with everyone, and how very precious life is.
xoxo. K.