July 26, 2010 was a horrible day for me. I sat at the hospital that evening with my mom, my dad and my sister, all so exhausted and sad, sitting in my grandmother’s room by her bed with her as she passed away. Her heart was failing her and the doctor’s had said she needed open heart surgery if she stood any chance of surviving. She had agreed to the surgery knowing that her chances of survival were slim but without the surgery her passing was imminent. As it turned out she was too weak and her heart was already so enlarged that she was unable to recover from the surgery. Her heart simply wasn’t strong enough to continue moving blood throughout her body and she was slowly going into septic shock. Her feet and hands were already turning blue from lack of blood. It was heartbreaking. She was lightly awake at times and she knew she was going to be meeting God soon. We all told her how much we loved her and she smiled at us one last time and shared a prayer. The doctor’s gave her morphine to ease her pain and help her sleep then removed the supporting machines and within an hour her heart gave out and her soul went to Heaven.
It was sad and heartbreaking. I’ve never felt such hurt and yet it’s a night I would not trade for anything in the whole world. I cherish those moments very close to my heart. I’m grateful that I had that final evening with her. I’m grateful that she knew we were there with her and she was able to hear me tell her that I loved her. I was able to see her smile one last time and say one last prayer. I have comfort in knowing that she was at peace and I held her hand throughout her very last moment.
I wish I had the same moments with my grandfather.
My grandfather, my Papa Virg, passed away on January 2nd, 2013 at nearly 3am. My mom called me at 9:30am and gave me the news. He was in West Virginia, at the hospital alone, when he died. It breaks my heart to think of that. He lived in West Virginia for his entire life and I’ve lived in Florida for 26 years. My family used to visit him and my grandmother at least two or three times a year every year. He loved his family more than anything in the world and to think of him passing away so quietly in a hospital room alone hurts. It’s not the way it should have happened.
My grandfather was a rowdy character. He is one of 14 brothers and sisters, a few of which have already passed away. He was born in December of 1933. Can you imagine? A family of 16 in the 1930’s? My…oh my. The Great Depression hit in 1929. I can only imagine how his family handled that many small children. To this day quite a few of my great aunt’s and uncle’s are hoarders (not to the extreme of the t.v. show) but they can’t bear to part with things that still have value. It’s ingrained in them from their childhood. My grandfather married and had four children, three boys and then a baby girl. He served in the army during the Korean conflict. He saw harsh combat. He was never the same after Korea. About all veteran’s you hear the phrase, “All gave some, some gave all.” My grandfather returned with his life but he lost a part of his soul. He developed a horrible alcohol problem after Korea and struggled with addiction for years. He once wrecked his car off a mountainside in West Virginia. He nearly died. The doctors had to cut him open from throat to pelvis, transfuse 98 pints of blood and perform 13 surgeries to save his life. He wore a back brace and a band around his abdomen every day and night for the rest of his life. He was a survivor.
He drank. He swore. He would sometimes lose control during alcohol-fueled rages. I remember nights when my brother and I would fake being asleep because we were afraid of getting in trouble if he saw us awake when he got home from a night out drinking. He would be unreasonable. I remember beer bottles being thrown and breaking against the wall. I remember screaming and shouting and RAGE. I remember war-fueled nightmares and terrors. I also remember the last time I saw him in a drunken rage and his promise to get sober. He did. He kept that promise. He was, all in all, a good man who loves his family more than anything in the world but had a hard time coping with the memories of war. I remember special gifts from him and I remember him sneaking me out for pizza when I was a spoiled little 6-year old princess who didn’t want to eat the meatloaf my mom was cooking for dinner. I remember gardening with him and canning the vegetables we picked. I remember building scarecrows and painting and coloring. I remember a grandfather who used to sing some of the silliest songs like:
“Way down south in the Bowling Green, a bullfrog went a-riding on a sewing machine, the sewing machine got to going too fast and the bullfrog got nine stitches in his…leg.” He would always set it up like he was going to swear and say “ass” but he wouldn’t. Ever. It was always a long pause followed by “leg”. I would giggle til I cried.
“AshLilee (not my real name but go with it anyway. Sub your own name if you want. Three syllables though so add your middle name or draw it out if you have to, ok? Three syllables is mandatory).” Let’s try again…”AshLilee was a good wo-man (pronounced Woah-Man), washed her face in a frying pan, combed her hair with a wagon wheel and whipped Gary Riggs (a good friend of my family’s) all down that hill!” Now…without all of the parentheses it goes like this…”Oh, AshLilee was a good woman, washed her face in a frying pan, combed her hair with a wagon wheel, and whipped Gary Riggs all down that hill!”
He would also say, “Aww Hell!” about everything. Sometimes sheepishly, sometimes with frustration, sometimes out of boredom but it was always the same phrase. “Aw hell.”
He was 80 years old when he died. He lived a really great life. During the last three years he was suffering from dementia and his mind was going. One day day my Dad, Jeff, went to visit my grandfather. My grandfather looked directly at my Dad and asked, “How’s Jeff doing? You seen him lately?” It was heartbreaking. He was looking directly at my Dad and asking about him like he didn’t know who he was talking to. My Dad showed him a wedding picture from the day I married my husband and my grandfather replied that he had never seen me before but knew exactly who my husband was even though he’s never met my husband. Sometimes he would sit in his room alone and talk to people he thought were there with him. Sometimes he would forget people had died and ask about them. Sometimes he would ask about my grandmother and why she never came to see him. He didn’t understand that she had died in 2010.
Then there were other days he would be coherent and remember everything. It was on these days he would sometimes talk about being ready to go to Heaven, meet God, and see my grandmother again. He was sick. His mind was failing him. His memory was failing him. His body was shutting down.
I last saw him in 2011 and he barely remembered me. The last time I saw him when he was the man I remember him was in 2008. That’s where this picture came from and while, admittedly, it’s not the greatest picture of either one of us it’s an amazing picture to me.
I wish I was able to share his final moments with him. He had his flaws but he was a really great man and I loved my Papa. It’s going to take a long time for my heart to heal from this loss. At least I know that there is a little bit more laughter in Heaven because there sure are some silly songs being sung up there right now.