By: Deshna Ubeda
My Granddad recently passed. It was an amazing gift to be able to be present for part of his passing. The full circle of life became so evident- to me it only makes sense that the circle would continue to revolve. It doesn’t come to some halt- some place where souls are distributed. Little by little he was stripped of his body, his mind, his fear. He died in peace- thankfully. It had not been a peaceful three years.
When I walked into the hospital room, he was laying on his side in a fetal position, cradling himself, curled up. He looked up at me and smiled- such a bright smile- for a man diminished so. I was shocked that he might recognize me in such a state. The pain in his leg was really bothering him and it was obvious he was seeing a reality that was not visible to us. I wanted to keep him smiling as he had when I looked into his eyes and told him, I love you. So, I asked him if he remembered playing golf. Again, that youthful twinkle touching his eyes, and he said, “oh yes, I remember.” I said, “you were so good at golf!” “Yes, I was.” Smugly. I said- to keep the conversation going, “I remember sneaking cookies from the kitchen while you were sleeping.” He laughed and said, “I remember the time you were playing golf and it was pouring and you said, I am not going to quit!” That’s strange, I thought- what is he referring to? I have never played golf and if I had I certainly would have quit in the pouring rain. It occurred to me then that the smile he was giving me was not a smile that I had ever received from him. There was flirtation in it and a boyish confidence that I hadn’t seen in my granddad.
I looked over at my Dad and saw him smile gratitude through his tears. He had been through so much over the last three years with this man, this man that was once his strong father and had slowly but surely become his grumpy un-thankful teenager. But it didn’t decrease the love he felt for the man and I could see his anguish.
For lack of anything better to say, I said “I love you so much.” There was that smile again, with the one corner turned up. “I love you too, he said.” And then, “You probably should look at rings and pick out one you like.” Hmmm…was he referring to grandmas rings? Because those treasures had long since been dispersed to the family. Finally I realized then, that he wasn’t smiling or talking to me. It was a very strange feeling to look into my granddad’s blue-grey eyes and know that he was seeing my grandma, not me. Did I look like her at some point? I don’t know. But something about me, or the way I was talking to him triggered that reality for him.
Over the next hour we slowly regressed, talking about “our” golf times and his fun in the club with his friends and about the great life “we” had together. We time traveled back to before they were married and again, he told me to go pick out a ring. He said, “I am trying to make an honest girl out of you.” And “there's a big stack of papers over there for you to sign.” I promised him I would pick out a beautiful diamond ring and that I would sign all the papers.
Then we went back a little farther and he said, quite seriously, “You know, its time that you decided whether or not you love me.” “I do love you!” I said bravely. And my dying granddad caressed my arm in tenderness.
I said, “You know, I will be ok. You can go now. I’ll hold your hand and you can go. I’ll be ok without you. Do you know that?”
“No, I don’t know that.” He said sadly…lost. “I will.” I said. Hoping he believed me, hoping he didn’t look too clearly at me and see the blatant act. That he wouldn’t suddenly see me instead of her.
He was quiet for a while. “Its easing out little by little,” he said. I pictured his spirit lifting out of the tired old pained body.
“Do you see a light?” I ventured, after all, it was the first time I had watched a person dying.
“No, not yet,” the man that wasn’t really present and wasn’t seeing reality, so clearly replied.
“I’m ok. So, you don’t need to worry about me anymore. Ok?”
“Ok.” A pause. Was he going? No. “Its over there somewhere, on the shelf.” He pointed to the invisible shelf that did not exist in the sterile hospital room. “Ok, thanks,” I said.
“I’m just so tired. I’m just going to stretch out here for a bit and take a rest.”
“Ok, that’s a good idea. You take a rest. I’ll be back in a little while.”
“Where are you going?” he asked, confused and scared. I looked at my parents in trepidation. I couldn’t leave him like this, could I? If I am her, I need to stay right? I laid my head on his chest and heard his heart beating quite loudly and strongly. Maybe he isn’t dying, I thought. He’d be there in an hour. I hoped. “I’ll be back.” He held my hand, her hand, tightly. Not wanting her to leave.
Surprisingly, when we came back, after a nourishing snack and a strong drink, an hour and many tears later, he looked right at me and there she was again. My grandma, a lovely lady whom had long ago left us leaving only traces of herself, was there- young, healthy, in love with the man who lay before her. What could I do, I had no choice but to continue with him on his strange journey.
“Hey honey,” I said.
“Dad,” my dad whispered through blurry eyes. “She called him Dad.”
“Hey…Dad.” I said. He laughed quietly, his eyes were heavy and darker, more distant. He looked toward me but mostly past me as he held my hand. “Where did you go?”
“We went to look at rings!” my dad said.
“Good, good. She likes the gold one with the three diamonds. She told me.” He said to the space between us all. I sat down next to him, he brushed his hand along my arm and lightly over my breast. I had gotten mine from her, so… I looked back at my mom with raised eyebrows. Umm… ok, I can do this.
“Hey, you know what? Freddy’s in love. I have noticed for a long time.” He said happily.
“Who is he in love with?” No answer. He had time traveled again, I think.
“I just want to rest.”
“I bet. You have been through a lot.”
“It hurts so bad!” he looked at me fiercely, the anger we had seen much of in the last few years reining once again. I rubbed his arm and leg.
"The nurse will be in soon to help with that.” The gaze softened.
“We can hold hands and go together, you don’t need to be afraid.” I said, tears betraying my words.
“Ok, I just want to stretch out and take a little rest.”
“That’s a good idea. You rest. I love you.” I kissed him on his cheek and on his soft forehead that smelled of soap and old skin.
“I know you do… I am going to put my arm around you, you lay down with me and let’s take a rest.” He used his right arm to lift his left arm around my back. I lay down with my head on his chest. He closed his eyes. I could tell he wanted to go, but something was holding him back. I lay there, crying, saying goodbye. Smelling the smell of dying, feeling his heavy, still strong arm around me, hearing his heart quietly beat its unwillingness to let go. It was time for me to go. I felt sorry to be leaving him, to be taking her away from him. But it was time for me to go.
I said goodbye, knowing I was really saying goodbye. I said goodbye, within my own heart to the granddad I once knew. The granddad who fought over the remote with me, who told the same stories each year, who had a belly laugh, and a winning confidence. The granddad who opened his home to me and my silly friends, who clipped coupons and always found the deal. Whose old heart never betrayed him, who loved his wife for more years that I can imagine living.
He passed the next day. He had left the years of his early love and gone back even further, crying out for mommy, crying out in fear and aloneness. Thankfully, the angel that is my mom, found within her the spiritual guide and prayed aloud in his last moments. From within her she found the song that would finally lull him to the next dream. He took his last breaths as she sang Amazing Grace. How sweet the sound.