My Own Two Hands

My mother called me early on a Friday morning. I’d just got into work, at that magical work hour where you’re the first person in the office and nobody is there to bother you. Eerily quiet, fantastically alone.

My grandfather had suffered what doctors thought was a massive stroke. That’s not the word she used, but I think that’s what it translates to. I bolted from my desk and went to meet my mother to be by her side while she was by her father’s side. I was the acknowledged favorite of all the grandchildren. The one he’d held as a baby, the one who he sought out to give advice to. I don’t know why I was special, but I felt like I needed to be there as he died even though everyone ultimately journeys to death alone.

I watched my grandmother die years ago, and the scene that greeted me when I walked into his room was eerily reminiscent. His breathing was labored, he had a raspy death-rattle that’s hard to describe and even harder to listen to. My mother was frozen, not able to move on from the experience of the shell that once held her very loving father.

I whispered into his ear and stroked his bald head. “You are so loved,” through tears, “you have been the best grandfather I could ever have asked for.” We sat like that, my grandmother wheeled in and yelling at him not to leave her in a dementia-induced rage, for hours. I wet a sponge on a stick and gently moved it over my grandfather’s parched lips. I challenged the doctor to give us a reason why an IV fluid drip was still inserted in his body. He’s dying, right? Why would we keep him like this?

I had packed my lunch in my backpack, and spoon fed my grandmother a piece of cake I’d baked all by myself. It probably didn’t pass muster from an ingredient and baker standpoint, but my mother didn’t say anything. We looked at old photos and I tried to make my grandmother laugh. I heard making dementia patients laugh was a good idea on NPR. Worth a try.

Before the sun threatened to set, I said my goodbyes. I didn’t think I’d come back on shabbos, but ended up driving a borrowed car and sitting alone with my grandfather in his room until 1pm. I repeated to him how I felt. I left, not thinking that it would be the last time, but that if it was I was at peace.

The phone rang shortly after shabbos ended. My kids were in Hallowe’en costumes and the older one was finding it hard to control her limited patience in leaving to trick or treat EVERYWHERE.

I didn’t say Baruch Dayan Emes. I think my response, at first, was “ok.” I didn’t want to learn about arrangements, I didn’t want to hear that he had “passed”. I screamed into my pillow. I’m not necessarily grieving, I can’t honestly say that a man dying in his 90s after a long and wonderful life is tragic. It’s not. But I screamed from emotion and I screamed to release the love, as cliché as it sounds, that I had so that it would float out into the universe.

I held his hands for hours as he died. I told him everything I needed to say and repeated things I’d said to him when he was more alive and more lucid. There’s no flowery post here – I don’t regret a single part of my relationship with my grandfather. No words unsaid. Nothing left unresolved.

We should all be so lucky to complete our lives like he did. I know his memory will be a wonderful gift.

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