Thursday, January 25, 2007

Not Quite An Elegy

My sweet grandpa died a year ago today after years of struggling with Alzheimer's disease, heart problems and, ultimately, cancer. Oddly enough, we were grateful for the cancer diagnosis as it qualified him for hospice care and allowed him to die peacefully at home, surrounded by family.

Poppy took great pleasure in being a grandfather. It is invaluable for children to feel that they can provide such sheer delight for an adult. Because my mother was an only child, my three sisters and I had our grandparents all to ourselves. We thrived on their attention. Poppy wrote and illustrated books for each of us. He taught us how to cast our Snoopy fishing rods from the rocky shores of Beaver Lake. In winter he would tie our sled to the trailer hitch of his old Bronco and drive us on the unpacked snowy trails. When he watched us by himself he would turn the kitchen into Poppy's Cafe which served only three dishes: cold cereal, salmon patties and strawberry smoothies, all of which we thought were absolutely delicious. When he drove us into town, Jessy and I would agree to try not to talk to him because he had to look us in the eye when he was talking and we were sure he'd plunge us off the side of the narrow, steep Ozark roads. We watched the Kentucky Derby on television every year, placing bets on our favorites and somehow he always let me win, changing his bet at the very last minute if necessary.

Watching him grow weaker and sicker was really hard, but not as hard as watching him lose his sense of humor. It was when he wouldn't catch on to my jokes that I realized he didn't want to live much longer. Those last few days, as he slipped further inside himself were amazing, in a way. It felt like Poppy was retreating, going deeper and deeper within until he couldn't hear us or respond in any way. His skin changed, becoming mottled and cold. Even his breath seemed to come from somewhere further inside, released in soft puffs. And then there was just one last faint exhalation that didn't even sound like a breath at all, more like a long forgotten sigh.

Tonight I'll make his favorite meal, fried fish, and try to remember his stories.


5 of 9er said...

Beautifully written. :)

Jeannie's New Mid Life said...

Thanks for your beautiful words. My grandmother has Alzhiemer's and I haven't seen her personality in so long, which I have come to terms with, I know that just holding her hand is magical now and I do it as often as I can. This year at Thanksgiving she squeezed my twins hands and looked hard into their eyes-she had twins girls too.

Alannah said...

Jeannie, you just got me all choked up again! Mental diseases are so bizarre, how it can change a person's personality, or the original personality only comes out once in a while, like the sun piercing through clouds. See, even talking about it makes me feel cheesy and poetic.

Jeannie's New Mid Life said...

I am so sappy especially when it's the subject of grandparents-. But my mom is a Hospice nurse-she has dedicated her life to working with families, and she is amazing in her ability to handle the emotion of this kind of work where so many say they couldn't do it etc... Her first major? Theatre-!?