I Won’t Let You Die Alone.
My grandfather is 99 years old. Soon, that sentence will read “My grandfather was 99 years old.”
That is a fact.
He has been in skilled nursing care for a few weeks following a hospitalization for both bladder and kidney infections. He was there for a few days while it cleared up and was sent back to his retirement community with a catheter and good prospects. He found out last week that he would have to have the catheter permanently.
Later that week he came down with pneumonia.
Life doesn’t always give us a chance to breath between the punches.
They did X-Rays and found that he had a mass in his lung, but couldn’t say more until he got a CT scan. That was yesterday.
Today, my mother called to update me. This was highly unusual as they have been estranged for many years, but that is a different story for another day. The fact that she had spoken with her brother about his health told me all I needed to know before she did.
He has developed lung cancer.
Not surprising considering he smoked for 70 years. Not surprising considering he’s 99. Not surprising considering his health has started to decline more rapidly this year.
Yet…it was surprising. He’s been saying for at least 10 years that “This is the year” and “I don’t know how much time I have left.” He’s told me that for nearly a decade. The last few years I’ve reminded him how long he’s been saying that. It’s almost like a charm to hear him say it — like knocking on wood.
When I heard the news this afternoon, I felt that charm break. This is it.
Steps are being taken to get him into hospice care so that he no longer has to share a room with an incontinent man. So that he can spend his days in comfort in his own apartment.
Part of that comfort for him is me — his only grandson. Not only that, but I am the closest relative. I’m the only family member that can be there for him right now when he needs people around him the most. When he was hospitalized, I made a point to be with him as much as possible. I’ve been through enough hospitalizations myself that I couldn’t let him feel like he was going through it alone.
Up until today it was about seeing him through this illness and getting him back to independent living. Now, it’s about being there for him in this last part of his journey.
I’ll admit it. I’m scared.
I don’t know what I will say to him when I see him tomorrow. I don’t know how well I can balance this with my life while having to drive an hour each way to see him. I don’t know if I’m strong enough.
What I do know is that I will be there for him. I will find the strength somewhere — from my friends and family mostly I’m sure, but there is another reserve inside me somewhere. There’s a piece of me that’s been hiding for a while. A piece that has looked at death head on and come out stronger and wiser. I haven’t needed it in a while, so it has been covered up and neglected.
I need to write to lighten the load and to strengthen my heart.
Writing is like archaeology for the soul. We uncover pieces ourselves that we forgot or sometimes didn’t even know were there.
Whatever the case, I will be there. I need to remember that even just that — just being there — means the world. Though we all face the moment of death alone, the journey to that door need not be solitary. I’ll walk with him until the end.
You will not die alone. That I can promise.