I received a text when I was at work, saying that things weren't looking good. It was time I started thinking about saying goodbye. I left work immediately, at the request of my boss (if you ever have occasion to read this, First: weird; Second: Thank you for that, it meant a lot to me), and went to the hospital. On the way there, my thoughts were incoherent, as much as the younger grandchildren would be when they filtered into the room in the ICU a few hours later.
It was mostly the adults in the room when I arrived, save for the oldest of my cousins who, now that I think about it, are adults now. Those who weren't teary-eyed stared, hollow, not at my grandfather, who lay in the bed alternating between gasping and wheezing, with his face mostly obscured by an oxygen mask. It was like something out of a bad horror movie, I thought. Grandpa was in pain, and was the person I was there to see... but I avoided him at first. I talked to everyone else in the room, or at least gave them deep nods accompanied by lingering and meaningful eye contact. Then I turned to him. I admit, I avoided him as long as I did because I was scared. Scared of what I would see, or feel.
I'm a procrastinator, by nature. If there were a Mundane Shit Olympics I would take the silver medal in Putting Important Shit Off, taking second to some Bulgarian asshole that showed up late, still in his stained, torn, pajamas. In the last year, my apartment has only gotten cleaned when I had other stuff I needed to be doing.
I faced Grandpa - and my fear of what I would find, both in seeing him and inside myself - only after I'd done everything else I possibly could have to avoid it. My family encouraged me to say a few words to him, but I kept my back pressed against the wall for a few more moments before I approached.
"Crazy weather we've been having, huh?" I've said a lot of stupid things in my day. I mean, I'm a dumbass, by nature. If there was a Saying Stupid Shit Olympics... What do you say to someone in that condition? He looked at me, and I like to think there was a smile in his eye. There was a laugh behind me, so I knew I'd accomplished my goal. If I can't make people laugh, then what the hell good am I? This has been my belief for many years, and I took comfort in Jess's soft chuckle.
I'm not going to bore you with the minutiae of the rest of the day, the grandchildren shuffling in in waves, some unable to contain themselves and still others not trying to, the sayings of goodbye, or the thinly-veiled announcement that his time had come... because honestly, those are private matters, and if you don't know the feelings I would describe, I want to wish you every comfort when your time comes to experience these things.
After the announcement that he was simply going to fade into a cloud of morphine, into comfortable sleep, and the grandchildren shepherded into a waiting room, it was just the adults again. Waiting. I knew that in a matter of hours I would be able to see the Thestral, you know, the horse things from Harry Potter that you could only see if you've seen death.
It was now, between when it was told to us that he would just fade away and his final breath, that I prayed earnestly for the first time since I left the Mormon church 12 years ago. 12 years after completely renouncing my faith, I prayed - not to god, but to whatever force actually exists. God, maybe, I don't know. I am an Agnostic. A Reverend of Agnosticism, actually, and it was this very moment that I started actually taking that responsibility seriously.
I have discovered - and suppose I always knew - that tragedy cements belief. Whether it's Christian belief, or the belief that we can't prove or disprove the existence of some big (or small) amorphous being that might (or might not) have created (or whatever) all of the cosmos (Cosmos?). People speak in profundities around death that reflect their own belief. "He was a little slice of Heaven," and the like, were spoken frequently. I kept my nonbelieving comments to myself. Always know your audience.
So it was, that with my fingertips barely touching Grandpa's toes, that I prayed to whatever force or being that would listen or heed:
Whether it be the endless fields of Elysium,
Or Heaven or Hel (not to be confused with Hell),
Or the Temples of Gold,
Whoever it is that's going to meet you there,
Whether Jesus, in sandals and robes,
Or Dante, quill in hand and wonder in his eyes,
Or Anubis, waiting to weigh your soul,
If they give you Hell, you give it right back.
Or ask for seconds; who knows, you might be hungry.
Wherever it is you're going,
Whether it's into the loving arms of God,
Or into the endless darkness of Oblivion,
This is just a second, sudden puberty, a transition.
And I hope you have fun.
He faded away, little by little. The screen hovering over his shoulder told us his blood pressure, blood-oxygen level, pulse, and a few other things. We watched his heart rate, his blood pressure, his labored breathing. . . for hours, emotions flaring and ebbing with each statistic drop and doldrum.
At 5:39 PM, he drew his final breath. Everyone else continued breathing, though many among us did so between ragged sobs. I felt guilty, for continuing to breathe, when one of us no longer had the option to. As all good men should, he died peacefully, surrounded by people who loved him.
I watched a man die recently, and I want to thank you for letting me share the experience with you all. Let your loved ones know that you love them, the next time you see them, and every time after that. People tend to leave with alarming suddenness, sometimes.
Bob, Grandpa, If there is something After, I hope you're having fun, or at least learning something. I love you.