Dealing with Death

On the 30th of March this year, my grandfather told us he had arrived back from the hospital with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. On the 18th of June, as I was sleeping on a mattress in my grandparents’ lounge, he walked up to the pearly white gates of heaven’s door and was gone.

The first two words out of my fingertips in reponse to his diagnotic message were: “Yaaaaay Gimpa!”. Of course, I was so resoundingly positive because he had been unclear. Being the man he was, never wanting to make a fuss, he said this: “The diagnosis is a cancerous growth at the apex of the pancreas. The way ahead fortunately looks very promising.”. My response was so because I didn’t think he had cancer. We didn’t know he had four to six months to live. We, nor he, knew he would be gone within three.

With our original flight plans, my sister and I wouldn’t have made it to his side in time. Fortunately, we got to spend three incredibly difficult but special days at his side. He only consciously acknowledged us once and that was okay with me. I read to him and I spoke to him and I will never know whether he heard me or not, but that’s okay too because I believe in the energy we give out and I can trust that he felt mine beside him.

This has been my first experience with death. Today wasn’t a good one. My mama comforted me with these words: “We will be all things, sad and really miserable, and nostalgic and cry and then happy when we have the fond memories. It’s all so complicated and we have never had this before so I think we just have to ride this one out, as each feeling hits and always remember two things. One that he did not suffer for long. And two that we are truly blessed to have had him in our lives.”

Sometimes the people I envy most are those who have faith in something — something that tells them they get to spend an eternity with their loved ones in whatever comes next. I don’t have faith in much — I don’t know if I get an eternity. I don’t where my loved ones go. I don’t know where my grampa is and I don’t know if he can see me. My grandfather, Stewart Anthony Smyth, exists now only in our hearts, memories and photographs. And maybe that’s all.

Gimpa, sometimes when I am on the beach, I watch the ocean and I think to myself that you will never get to see the splash of waves again. Your passing has made me look at the world differently. It’s as if, through your passing, you have lent me your eyes and now I see things with twice the intensity. The colours are so beautiful at dusk and I wish you could see them. Perhaps you can, albeit from a different angle. But I can’t be sure of that. I can’t be sure you can see me and I can’t ever know that I’ll see you again. I can only know that you were a good, good man and you loved a beautiful woman and played half the role in creating a remarkable family that loves you and is so proud of you. We are proud to have your blood and your heart. I will never pick up a book again without thinking of you and the great expanse of your mind. I will always honour that part of myself because you gave it to me. You’re my silly Gimpa and you will always have my love, if only in my heart, memories and in photographs. I’m hoping in eternity, too, but we’ll see, I guess. We’ll see.