My grandfather died in the early evening of March 25, 2020. I imagine as the sun was setting, the last rays of light took with them his final breath, the last rays of hope of his seven surviving children and loving wife.
My grandfather did not die of the Coronavirus. In fact, a few weeks ago, he was alive and well, without the usual ailment that one would find plaguing an 85 year old man. But two weeks ago, he was admitted to a hospital due to a stomach ulcer, and afterwards, was released with a list of medications but no energy to take a sip of water, let alone food.
Last Wednesday, he was re-admitted to the hospital due to dehydration. Because of the Coronavirus epidemic, no one was allowed to visit him. We hardly spoke to him and calling the hospital led to dead ends at times, because they had many more problems of their own. I think of what it must have felt like to sit there alone without a face to recognize, without a warm hand to hang onto. To spend the last week alive in isolation, without a breath of fresh air.
At least when he did speak on the phone, he still joked with jubilee, telling my grandma that “there are a lot of beautiful nurses around” as my dad bantered with him, begging to switch places rather than stay at home “with these two oldies.”
It was Sunday night when he was diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer that had already metastasized. Although my aunts and uncles asked the doctor not to tell him, my grandfather already knew, as my father’s brother, who happens to be a nurse at the same hospital, told us that my grandfather had asked him, “Why have I been moved to the cancer wing of the hospital?”
My grandfather was never a fan of medicine and hospital beds, and had already told us a few weeks before that he did not want to undergo surgery when it came time. “Was he warning us of what’s to come?” my mother later wondered. There was no chemotherapy or radiation therapy to be had. So, per his request, they brought him home on Monday evening via ambulance. Home – where my grandma and aunts and uncles went to see him.
On Tuesday night, my mother called me sobbing, telling me that he was almost gone. That he had no words left to speak and his eyelids failed to even open anymore. She was on her way home and I asked her if she would like to stay with him but she said she was going home to rest.
Wednesday evening, my father called Mike’s cell phone and the minute I heard my mom wailing like the sirens of the sea and making gutteral sounds that could only come from the bottom of hearts, I knew it was over. She was the only one of the seven surviving siblings who wasn’t at his side when the sunset took him away. She was his baby, the favorite according to her own kind, and she wasn’t there.
Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is to let go when someone we love is near. Maybe it was easier for him this way, to leave silently without the tether. My mother learned to understand that, but of course, at that moment she cursed the gods and herself for the choices she’d made.
He didn’t suffer emotionally, ignorant of the cancer growing within him. He didn’t suffer physically as he peacefully rested his eyes during his last few hours. Every surviving child got to see him one last time between his arrival home and his final destination. It was the best case scenario one could hope for, considering.
Yesterday evening, before getting the call, I read the Little Blaque Blog, the words of Erin Rose Belair. It couldn’t have come at a better time.
Into the Blur
by Erin Rose Belair
It is one thing to say, we take this for granted. It is another thing to live in the knowing, to taste it, to have life so close you could reach out and touch it. If only…
The rest of my day is decided by how I spend my morning. I move carefully forward because if I slip, the entire day is lost to fog and worry, and pacing the room so quick I may wear the rug thin. If I make it through the morning hours without reading the news or asking why, then I know I can make it to sun down.
I keep myself busy by doing everything carefully. I untangle my hair in a hot shower. I make coffee slow and drink it even slower. I read poems to the dog and count the waves that come in. I am more grateful for this view than I have words for. We have so much more than we ever realize. I watch the waves come in and count clouds. I miss my mother. I set the table for no one.
I wonder what we will say about all of this later. I wonder sometimes if there is a later. How it will sound on our tongues, some strange fever dream we all slipped into? The lines are more blurred by the moment, night and day, day and night.
I name the days by the things that stand out. The day the bird flew inside. The day they took away the beaches. The day I slept fourteen hours. The day it rained so hard the windows rattled and blurred the horizon. The day you made a table. The day I learned to make bread.
Sometimes the fear is palpable and I envy people I talk to that don’t carry the weight like I am. I try to prioritize, narrow my focus, control my panic but it does little. I open the windows. I cry at night. I worry there is no going back. I worry even worse, that this is not the worst of it, that today will be something I covet in the weeks to come.
Everything that used to seem important feels like a forgone notion.
What I really want is to spend a summer in Maine and eat lobster, and drink white wine, and watch my daughter out the window in the yard of the house we rent for all of July. What I want is to be afraid of things like mosquito bites and too much salt in the salad, and whether or not you still love me like you used to.
It’s all a blur. Maybe we’re there already. Maybe this is all a dream. Eventually we learn not just how to endure it but how to thrive and stay alive in it as well. We still have to make something out of all this.
Every day I’m on here, spinning life as a gift. Every day, I implore y’all to just take things more in stride. Every day I preach that too many of us walk the world asleep. My mother didn’t expect it all to come so suddenly. It was why she was not there by his side.
Or perhaps, as the one closest to him, she knew, too. And she could not bear to see how it all unfolds. I wish I could have done more to shake her awake, but I couldn’t. Words, they only do so much.
But it taught me a valuable lesson in that sometimes, people do walk the world asleep. We do take things for granted. The freedom to walk outside, the ability to visit the dying and sick, the warmth of sun on the sand. We worry about when we can work again, when the kids can return to school, when the parks will re-open. We rush to our phones and laptops to connect, distant yet closer, until tomorrow, but our eyes glaze past our own loved ones, the cat sleeping on the couch, the parts of ourselves we’ve already spent too long ignoring. Even with the opportunity to stay home, where everything most dear supposedly lives, we fight to get some part of ourselves out there, on social media, in the workplace, via selfie and Skype call. Maybe a few times in our lives, we will wake, even for a second, to spot the present moment passing by, as if scenery on the long train ride which we call life.
I suppose all we can do is hold each other and lift each other and do our parts as best we can. I’ll be there today, offering words, even though I know they can’t possibly take the pain, or make the forgetting go more quickly. I can only use them to pass the time by, to fill each second with memory, love, or whatever else she needs right now, until the seconds burst one by one. But as a girl who processes things with words, words are all I have to offer. Words are all I have to write.