Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Ramble: Grandpa, Hospice, Cleveland, Waiting

Peter, 2008

That was the last really good picture anyone was able to take of my grandfather.

Grandpa was brought to America as an infant aboard the Lusitania's sister ship, the Mauritania, so his father didn't have to give him or his older brothers up to mandatory military service in Europe. He subsequently volunteered for WWII and ended up flying with and repairing PBYs in lieu of a dream of war photography (he was promoted on his first day in the field because he could type).

Grandma and Grandpa (right couple), 1945

After the war, he became a Cleveland firefighter, then fire inspector, raised a family of three kids who brought him 10 grandchildren, half a dozen great-grandchildren to date.

Grandma passed away in '96, but he lived strong, independently, taking up woodcarving and pursuing his love of photography in a world that was turning dauntingly digital in front of his eyes.

A few months ago, circulation issues suddenly decided to reveal themselves, and his leg was amputated below the knee. Then above the knee. Then his "good" foot didn't look good, but he was getting around. And diagnosed congestive heart failure kicked in. That's what sent him to hospice.

And now we wait. For anyone who has not been in a hospice situation with a loved one: that's what you do. Hospice is there to make dying as comfortable as possible. I'm glad to report that he is comfortable.

Doctors have told us everything from "it could be hours" to "he's doing well" and back again. For those not initiated, that is also normal.

I was very lucky on the two trips I took to see him lucid for much of the visit; other family reported hours of sleeping, raspy breathing, and terrifying apnea. It was foggy, iffy, and it could be funny ("Have the children been gathered and locked in the basement?" WTF?), but it could also be deep, meaningful ("See, we belong here, but we also belong to the infinite. Sometimes you just don't know where you should be.").

Methadone will do that to you. But the worst thing is to dismiss it as I heard so many times: "He's on medication." Yes, he is. But he's trying to talk through that filter right now. I've taken 15 bong rips and been in a similar state, grasping for words, cognizant of the mistakes I was making, employing self-deprecation and reminding folks I'm fucked up.

My grandfather is the most principled, relaxed, wise, and truly Christian man I know. He is the closest thing I've ever met to what is said about Jesus.

About 8 years ago, I spent many an evening for hours at a time with a Digital Audio Tape Recorder, Grandpa, and some coffee. I gathered his story from when he came over, and his life and times and stories and wisdom. I edited the audio, burned it to CD, transcribed it, added pictures, and bound copies for my entire family. None of that NPR 3 minute BS, this was 3 hours of awesome, of geopolitical European history, of Ellis Island immigration and quarantine, of taking railroad coal and your own piece of America, of defending America and raising an amazing family. And of solicited wisdom. Full-on, audio-lovin', war and wisdom.

Back to reality: My father had some great conversations with him, some candid ones too: he understands he's going; he wants to go; and superhero/super-American/super-Christian doesn't find himself worthy. Which, of course, proves his worthiness. He literally told my father he didn't know how to let go, should he be taken.

So we pray, send thoughts, try to help him beyond the veil.

So I've rambled enough and if you've read this far, thank you. We wait because it could be hours, it could be days. We don't know, so we wait.

And I'll leave you with the words of a very wise man I never would have guessed had it in him: "Only his spirit knows when it's time. And when it happens - it'll be perfect."

I've volunteered: I just hope I can make it through a eulogy.


Now let's get back to diggin' up Palin trash!

1 comment:

Mike Testa said...

Your grandfather looks like a happy person. Both of my grandparents died in 2003. My parents had died long before that. I am left with all these wonderful old photos but I don't recognize many of the people in the pictures. I wish I would have taken the time to sit down with them and record their "life story". I wish we would have gone through the pictures together too. I bet it would have made them happy.

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