Thursday, November 13, 2008

My grandfather is dying. He has Parkinson's, and several moves have been made to accommodate him. For a while, he was the sort of old man who walked a great many places: Up to the gas station every day to buy a copy of the Philadelphia Inquirer, or to the library further down the street. Or to the lake for fishing. By the time I was in high school he didn't walk around so well, using a walker to support him, not very often going beyond his yard.

Past that point, as I went on to college, my grandparents sold their house, probably for a decent amount of money, considering the neighborhood they lived in: Near that lake, a short walk from a booming downtown. He was in a Rascal scooter, he couldn't climb the stairs, and so they were moving to an apartment complex with elevators. Pretty much any kind of walking was impossible, but I guess the little bit of movement between a bed and the scooter was manageable. Then that was left, as my grandmother couldn't take care of him on her own, so into my aunt's house they went.

According to my grandmother, after each move he deteriorated, partly due to the shock of the new surroundings. The last time I saw him was supposedly a good day. There was another person, from outside the family, who came to take care of him, to carry him into the shower and wash him. He was slumped in a chair, tired, bothered by the wind and cold, and seeming pretty much to have no bones.

Tomorrow he's moving into a hospice. I hope he lives to see Thanksgiving, so I can see him one last time, but I do not expect him to make it to Christmas, and even my grandmother- who is pretty much the salt of the earth, and sort of classically optimistic and not really given to talking about things that are upsetting- halfway doesn't expect him to see me come to visit on Thanksgiving.

My grandfather is like a lot of old people in some sad ways: Afraid of teenagers he saw walking the street and generally politically conservative. These are the sort of things that feel like they fade into dementia, since they're based on sort of inarticulate fears. But that is not what the thing itself is, not what I see on his face or hear in his voice in these final fading moments. What is there instead is this love, for me and my grandmother and his two children, that's huge and deeply sad for him as he has the very real feeling of dying and losing these people. There is this cry he has for my grandmother pretty much every time she walks out of his sightline, which my grandmother explained to me with something almost cynical. "He's calling for you," I said, and she responded "he does that every time I leave the room," in this tone like she had to ignore it in order to even kind of function, to leave the room to order a pizza. The new town she finds herself in is pretty much unknown to her. She doesn't have the autonomy to leave the house to run errands like she did in the apartment. She doesn't leave the house, but every time she leaves his side he says her name as a pleading question.

He is maybe the grandparent I am the least close to. On my mom's side, I have these Jewish grandparents, that are people with great senses of humor and general easygoing natures. My paternal grandmother, as mentioned, is incredibly nice and has been the one most likely to spoil me, in the various meager ways someone like me could be spoiled as a kid: Water ice in the summer and a few bucks for comic books when I was a kid. Fresh fruit brought to me. My grandfather fits into a certain stoic mold, and while it's true I could've gone fishing with him it's true I never really got the appeal of such a thing. And for the fact he is so unemotional it is his unconditional love that bowls me over the most, that freaked me out real hard on the phone in the summer of 2005, when I was living a life that felt like shambles in Olympia, Washington. Talking to him a couple hours ago he said he thought about me all the time, and then put my grandmother back on the phone. He is collapsing, he cannot follow the train of thought that makes up a conversation, and all there is is love.

I hope he is not afraid of death.

1 comment:

Vanessa said...

i actually was just reading this biography on jane addams where she discusses how elderly women at the turn of the 20th century where often carted away once unable to work at a factory. they were removed from their homes and "unburdened" from their things and sent to institutions for the elderly that were wings of insane asylums or hospitals that were underused. here without their things, or their daily rituals, what they had left mentally and emotionally unraveled. apparently, it is crucial to be able to repeat your daily routines, and jane addams opinion was much in keeping with your grandmother's that it can be shocking to be moved to a new environment when familiarity was a comfort and enabled you to age without feeling like you are being pushed out the door. i wish you and your family the best.