“When you can’t look on the bright side, I will sit in the dark with you” — Alice in Wonderland
Death is part of life and a completely natural process. There is nothing to be afraid of, right? “I don’t want to live anymore”, one of my grandfathers said many years ago. The other one said, “Let happen what happens. I am old and had a good life”. Both of my grandfathers were very resilient to this point in their life; they are in their 90s. One was very puissant back in the days being a photographer for a big German company. He never gave up photography either which was amazing. The other one loved to roll around with us on the floor, sing songs, tell stories and build caves and forts with blankets.
I am going through a very rough time these days and need to write some of this pain I experience off my chest. Without going into too much detail about what happened but both of my grandfathers are about to pass away. Strangely, they were both admitted to the hospital almost on the same day which was devastating even though sort of expected. One grandfather has been ill for quite some time but the other one was okay. “I am so confused in my head and I feel this dull pain; I am not sure where I am,” one grandfather used to say when he still recognized Joel and I. My grandmother thought back then that he had already escaped. And so did we. Nothing was the same anymore and things drastically slowed down. My grandparents usually call me once a week and every time I spoke to either of them I heard their voices a wee bit smaller to the point where my grandmothers took care of all the talking. Watching a loved one suffer through pain and agony is horrible. “Grandpa is sleeping most of the day now because he is very tired and cannot be on the phone”, my grandmother said.
When I found out a couple of weeks ago that they are both hospitalized, I was full of premature grief. Or was it grief in anticipation? I am 8000 km away and cannot be with them since I am stuck in Canada. I knew I could provide help and support for my parents because they really need a break. They are the strongest people I know and it is amazing to see how they deal with it all the way they do. They are my pillars; they always will be. My mother and father both put a pretty strong shell and armor around themselves to protect from being too emotional while dealing with doctor appointments like crossing off checklists.
Even though I was never particularly super close to either of my grandfathers, they are people I love who became lights in my life. What happens when the lights go out or the flame gets smaller? One grandfather, for example, has a brilliant mind and a wonderful sense of humor. He said a couple of days ago that he has “a little bit of cancer” but it will be okay soon. He will never get out of the hospital again. I am crying while typing this. These days, his mind is all over the place but he used to answer questions I had about life. He had knowledge, books and so many interests. Initially, he joked about the hospital and how tedious this all is and how happy he will be when it is time to go home. My heart broke yet again.
I do not know how much longer they both have to live but I am actively griefing because I cannot be there, cannot help or see them one more time. My parents say it is better that way and that I should remember them the way they both were but I kind of need to say my own goodbye to them no matter how they look or feel. I speak to my mother almost daily and some days the grief feels all-consuming. Some days, I cannot see or think clearly and I am totally bound by it all. It is almost physical pain. I have never experienced anything like this before and I hate that I am not in control of my feelings. Sometimes it is hard to simply breathe. I speak to my closest friends about some things and how I feel but my friend and his parents are incredible and know the entire story. They allow me to just be in that grief, be me and are supportive with everything else I am going through these days. I am very fortunate and they are my rock here in Canada.
Both of my grandfathers influenced me and added something to my life which is a wonderful thing. Since they have been hospitalized, it has been a lot of waiting. Waiting for answers, waiting for treatment, waiting for possible care and transport to a different department in the hospital, nursing homes, palliative care, waiting for doctors and nurses to comfort them, and waiting for people to tell what to do and how to do it. And then, in the end, you just wait to say goodbye and hope you won’t miss your last chance to do so. I did not travel back home to Germany that often. Maybe once or twice a year but I was always well aware that every time I said goodbye (especially to my grandparents) it may be the last time. When I saw both of them last year telling them I won’t be back home for some time now they both shook their heads like children and told me again, “no, no, no you will be back again soon”. I hugged them, said goodbye, left and believed deep inside that there would be another chance to see them both again.
In June last year, my grandmother told me that my grandfather looked at a picture of his brother who passed away a couple of months ago and said, “I will see you soon and be with you again”. The last time I saw both of my grandfathers was March 2018. I wish I would have a chance to see them one last time. I am afraid of this deep, hollow ache when they pass away. I read somewhere that grief never goes away, but life gets bigger, so sadness doesn’t feel as big. Their little flame is still on and I will make sure to keep their spirits alive.
“You will lose someone and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” — Anne Lamott