Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My Grandpa, My Hero

This past week has been awful. Grandpa passed away last night in his sleep. That's the important news..now let me back up and start from the beginning. Thursday night (Oct. 14th), Mom called to tell me he'd had a heart attack and was at the hospital but that they were just making him comfortable and not taking any drastic measures. That's never good news. Plus, she usually waits a few weeks to tell me that anything has happened, so the fact that she called me the same day was alarming. He'd been in the hospital a few times during the past 6 weeks for angina, but they'd just run tests and send him home. I decided I was coming up here to visit for awhile and left early Friday afternoon.

Friday evening, he was talking and being his usual self..goofing off, telling jokes and war stories. Saturday afternoon, the 16th, I was on my way to a friend's house to visit when Dad called to tell me that my uncle had called with news that Grandpa had taken a turn for the worse and they only expected him to live a few more hours. I whipped the car around and drove the 5 minutes to the hospital. Mom and her brothers were at the VT football game b/c they thought he was fine. When I got into his room, he was napping but I took his hand and he looked over at me and smiled. We chatted for a bit and other than his hands being cold, he seemed ok. I thought, "What was all the fuss about? He's fine." The nurse told me I should've been there all morning b/c he perked up as soon as I got there. His family is his strength. I updated everyone else and they arrived shortly afterwards. I had a good 45 minutes with him all to myself. He told stories, we laughed, he held my hand. That was around 3:30 and we stayed until visitation ended at 9. He even got to see his great granddaughter and that just made his whole face light up.

Sunday, we went to visit and he seemed more tired. He was still smiling, laughing and telling stories, but I could tell he was very tired...and the fact that we have a huge family who didn't want to leave didn't make it better on his energy levels. I'm not saying the family shouldn't have been there, I'm just saying it took a toll on him. He had a larger than life personality and always loved to be the entertainer. We should have given him time to rest instead of staying in the room with him the whole time. We couldn't help it though. We love him so much we didn't want to be away from him. He was so much fun to be around and the greatest story teller I've ever known. I'm sure it made him happy to have all 3 of his granddaughters together in one room though b/c we all live so far apart. I had planned to leave on Monday to head home b/c he seemed to be ok despite being tired. I thought that was due to having people in his room all day visiting. He did have a weird episode where he started coughing and then just stared off into space while jerking, like a petite mal or focal seizure. It lasted for about 30 seconds and then he was fine. It was really scary.

Monday, I packed my stuff to head home and was going to stop by the hospital to visit for a bit before I left. Once I got there, I found out he'd seen a woman standing above his bed looking down at him. He didn't know who she was but it took him a minute to realize she wasn't real. Then, he saw my Uncle CG standing at the foot of his bed. He's been dead for several years, so i was automatically put on alert. While this could have been due to morphine, my paternal grandmother saw my grandfather just before she died and my Uncle CG saw his mother shortly before he died and I've heard of countless other instances where this has happened. So, I stayed.

We were there most of the day and did our usual shifts in his room so we wouldn't all be in there at once overwhelming him and I got a bit concerned because he had no appetite. Grandpa was always a hearty and voracious eater..so much so that we'd get done with grace and he'd be halfway through his plate. =) Any activity at all just completely exhausted him...even just cutting up his food..which is what started the episode Saturday where they thought he wouldn't make it. They made a decision to move him up to palliative care so he could rest better. The rooms are bigger and he'd have a view. There was no way he could go back to the V.A. b/c he was beyond the skilled nursing there. We had to accept that he wasn't getting out of that bed. Just shaving his face exhausted him.

Once he was moved, we stayed until around dinner time. As we were sitting there talking quietly so he could sleep, he choked in his sleep and started coughing again, which sent him into another seizure like state. It was more violent than the first time, but didn't last as long. Once he was out of it, he started trying to vomit..but it was stuff from his lungs. Mom got upset b/c this was the worse we'd seen him. They gave him more morphine and we decided to let him sleep, so we left..agreeing that the next day, we'd just hang out in the lounge instead of in his room. I had a very fitful nights sleep. I was so worried and I just knew it was going to happen this week. I kept thinking, "he's 90 with congestive heart failure and a bad aortic valve....and he won't eat. He's never not wanted to eat. And he was quiet today. He's rarely quiet."

Tuesday morning..today..the 19th...I got up a little after 9am and went downstairs to see if there were any updates. I got to the den and Mom was crying. She told me he'd passed away in his sleep during the night. She got the call around 1:50am. They told her it was peaceful and quiet. He just slipped away. He'd fought for so long and had been living on borrowed time for more than a year...he just had no strength left. I found it interesting that he was in room 1040..my department's 10 code for "fight". Before that, he was in room 518..which is my street number. There's nothing interesting about that, I just thought I'd throw out the parallel. His funeral is Thursday with full military honors. I will forever miss his war stories. He survived 35 missions in WWII as a tail gunner for "Double Trouble" and he survived Korea. He was a machinist, a coal miner and held other jobs, but most importantly, he was a father and grandfather. He loved making people happy by making them laugh. He was always ready with a hug and a smile.

I was so lucky to grow up in the same town as them. Countless trips to Dairy Queen with Grandpa. Countless weekends at their house or dinner at their house. Every holiday at their house. Banging on the organ or piano making a huge racket and they'd never say a word. I remember one time I was about 15 and Grandpa stopped by the house around noon to ask if we wanted to go to Dairy Queen. My response? "I just woke up." With a kind of dejected look on his face, he just said.."Oh...ok." and then left. He drove all the way across town to spend time with us and I turned him down. I could've asked him to stay there or I could've gone with him. Why didn't I go with him?!?!?! That's time I'll never get back. I will regret that for the rest of my life and I can never tell him how sorry I am. I just felt like I had more time. I wasn't ready to say goodbye...so I didn't, and I should have.

He'll never know how extremely proud I was to be his granddaughter and how proud I was of the passion with which he served his country. He'll never know just how much I loved his stories or how much I'll miss his big bear hugs. Could he even understand how much I love and admire him for his strength, determination, loyalty, generosity, selflessness, charm and kind spirit?? For his hearty laugh, his jokes, his stories, his quick wit and his ability to wiggle his ears? He did that for me this weekend too. It'd been too long since I'd seen him do it. Once upon a time, I'd ask him to do it every time I saw him. I'll just miss everything about him. He was a ladies man right to the very end. His nurses at the V.A. even came to see him. He was always so flirty and I found it so entertaining. He could charm anybody. I could write so much more, but it's after midnight and the next 2 days are going to be very long and tiring, so maybe I'll finish this up later. I just wanted to write all this down so I could remember it. I love you, Papaw and one day, I'll see you again. We can go get ice cream at Dairy Queen.