What conversation do you need to have today, and with whom?
I lost my grandfather in 2007. It wasn’t just losing him that was hard, the weeks that preceded his death were incredibly traumatic. He’d lost his sight years earlier, but in the end, Lewy-Body dementia was the thief that stole him away entirely.
They say people suffering this type of mental decline can become the opposite of who they previously were in their life. Maybe they used to be quiet and reserved, and now they’re quite the chatterbox. Perhaps they used to be quick-witted, but now they’re withdrawn and moody.
The most kind, gentle, and loving man turned into a person no one ever would have recognized. Agitated and aggressive, physically trying to escape the confines of their apartment that he no longer recognized as their home for several years.
I was there the day the police were called, not in defense, but for assistance. What a foolish move, in retrospect.
They aren’t trained to assist in situations where mental health is the underlying problem. So they took him away and *chaptered him. He didn’t need a psych evaluation — we knew what the problem was.
It took four days for my grandmother, aunts, and mother to receive the authorization to regain custody and relocate him to a hospice facility, where he passed two days later.
I tell this story because through all the trauma, pain, and difficult times the man I knew, loved, and held dear returned to say goodbye before he passed. Overwhelmed by emotion at the time, I didn’t know there were so many questions he would leave me with unanswered.
So some days, especially when life is hard, I sit and speak to him. I bring every hardship and trouble that weighs on my heart.
If I could talk to him today, this is how it would go.
How is it going now that Grandma is by your side?
She waited 12 miserable years to be with you again. Not cancer, memory loss, or cancer a second time could ever compare to the pain and sorrow she felt being without you. She told me all the time.
How did you do it? You’d been married 57 years when you left us. In a world where nothing good seems to last, how did you make love last for almost six decades?
My love didn’t last. I don’t know if it ever actually began.
How did you know she was the one?
Do you keep watch over my girls and me? Am I doing it right?
Because I absolutely feel like I’m failing sometimes.
You were a father to 5 daughters, and I still don’t know how you did it. They’re so curious, and spirited, and well, pretty damn sassy. You see me discipline them, but I also smother them with love. I’m trying to find the balance between instilling values and good ethics to take them through life, but I also want them to know it’s okay to not be perfect — to make mistakes.
Ps. The little one likes strawberry milkshakes the best, just like you.
Are you disappointed in how my life is turning out? I certainly know I am.
I don’t know where I learned that boundaries weren’t important. Or how I failed to always see the reality that some people just don’t have good intentions. Your little eternal optimist’s light has faded.
Did you hear me all those years crying and pleading with you on the bathroom floor to send me a sign. To help guide me in what to do.
Thank you for never fulfilling my prayer to take me all away from it all. Instead, filling my heart with resolve to put one foot in front of the other.
Do you remember March 17th, 2019, 6 days after mom was diagnosed with stage IV cancer? The people at church surely thought my sister and I had lost our minds as we sobbed for the loss of normalcy we took for granted.
In the church, you were married and sent home again. I wasn’t sure I was up to going to mass that morning, but I did. To beg for her illness to be mine. To pray for your protection. Plus, it was Saint Patrick’s day, a special day from your parents' homeland— your favorite.
Grandpa, do you hear these questions and all the uncertainty I hold in my heart even when they aren’t spoken aloud?
I could be wrong, but I think you do.
My heart tells me you do.
Until we meet again with all my love,
Authors Note: *Chaptered refers to emergency detention initiated by law enforcement. Behavior manifested by a recent act or omission that, due to mental illness, he or she is unable to satisfy basic needs for nourishment, medical care, shelter, or safety without prompt and adequate treatment so that a substantial probability exists that death, serious physical injury, serious physical debilitation, or serious physical disease will imminently ensue unless the individual receives prompt and adequate treatment for this mental illness.