I originally wrote this to be submitted for a website discussing grief and how to cope with it. The article was rejected. I still want to share this, thus I am presenting it here.
In August of 2013, my paternal grandfather died due to complications
from brain cancer. The news that he had cancer came at the beginning of
the holidays last year. A few days shy of Thanksgiving, we had all
thought that he had a minor stroke. After a series of tests and a
biopsy, the news came that it was inoperable brain cancer. Of all of us,
it was my grandfather who took the news in relative stride. Once the
initial shock of the news wore off, he set to work learning everything
he could about what was happening to himself and doing everything he
could to see to it that his wife of 60 years, my grandmother, was taken
The hardest part of it all for me wasn't his death. It
was witnessing the way the chemotherapy made this formerly hale 84 year
old man into a frail man who was in near constant pain. My grandfather
fought his cancer with the same good humor and determination that he
brought to bear on stubborn problems with his farming equipment, his
beloved airplane, and the challenges that came up as the patriarch of
our family. It was inspiring to see, even as it was heart breaking to
watch as his body failed to keep up with his indomitable spirit.
day my grandfather died happened to be my eldest son's birthday. We got
the phone call from my parents that my grandfather had developed sepsis
the night before. I had a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach
just as I had the day before my grandfather had gotten his diagnosis of
cancer. My intuition was screaming at me that this man I loved dearly
was actively dying.
In the middle of the night, August 21st, I
drove to the hospital. A queer sense of calm flooded me as I looked at
that moonlit night. I found myself reminded of one of the last times
that I had gone flying with my grandfather. It was a night flight with a
waning gibbous. The stars shone like diamonds and the moon hung in the
sky like a disc of hammered silver. The hum of the airplane's engine and
the roar of the propellers was muted to a tolerable level by the
headphones we were wearing.
As my grandfather explained to me how
we were using instruments to navigate, my teenage self was enraptured.
It was the closest I had ever come to fulfilling my childhood dreams of
becoming an astronaut. When my grandfather let me take the stick and fly
the plane for a minute, I was speechless with delight and wonder. That
memory wrapped around me as I drove to the hospital to help keep
deathwatch, though none of us dared say it out loud.
hospital, my grandfather was heavily sedated and beyond the reach of any
of our abilities to communicate with him. He lay in the bed with a
sickly pallor over him. I spoke to my grandmother and my aunt,
desperately hoping that I was providing them with some form of comfort.
As the minutes ticked by, the paper mask I wore to protect my frail
grandfather from my germs grew hot and stifling. My body became restless
and a part of me wanted to flee from the room.
I did not want to
be witness to watching one of the strongest men in my life dying. The
child in me wanted him to live forever. I forced myself to stay. I
watched as his head jerked in seizures that were still wracking his
body, despite the medications that were supposed to halt them. When that
became too painful to look at, I looked at his feet. It was a curious
thing to realize that I had my grandfather's toes.
Looking back on
it, I suppose it was my mind's way of searching for something positive
to seize upon. When my grandmother expressed her discomfort with
remaining in the room, then I felt that I had permission to leave the
room. The last time that I saw my grandfather alive, he had just
finished shuddering with a seizure and his heart rate had become
terribly unstable. I went home but I slept poorly.
The next day, I
was frantic with activity. As I was out getting groceries, a curious
feeling passed over me. I felt as though the world had become a touch
colder, despite the fact that it was a sweltering day of near record
heat in the middle of August. When I got home from my errands, I learned
that it was the time that my grandfather had died. The next few days
were something of a blur.
I had so dearly wanted to do more to be
of help to my parents and my grandmother. Unfortunately, there was
nothing I could do and responsibilities to my own family kept me from
being there with them in their grief. When the day of his memorial
services came, I was short tempered and anxious. I had moved from
disbelief and shock into anger.
I had mistakenly thought that I
had passed through that stage already upon learning that my grandfather
had cancer. I was wrong. My husband bore my moodiness patiently and
forgave me my waspish temper. I still hadn't wept by this time. Not in
the course of the many months between November and August had I truly
mourned the situation.
I instead sought to out run my feelings by
way of work and staying busy. It was at my grandfather's urging that I
wrote the first two books of my adult fiction series. It was because of
him that I published my first book. In all of that effort, I struggled
with my feelings. I swayed back and forth between shoving them aside and
mercilessly picking them apart. I poured my anguish and rage into
conflicts on paper. Conflicts that I could resolve with a heroic ending.
sit here a little over three months after the death of my grandfather.
It still hurts, but I find that it propels me forward. The dignity with
which my grandfather faced his mortality lent a heroic ending to his
story. As I continue to 'write' my own story, I find that echoes of his
story come up often. Where this would have paralyzed me and left me a
broken mess in the past, I now strive to be like a resonating string on a
violin. From the depths of grief, some of the sweetest music may be
written. It is this capacity to pick ourselves up and continue on that
honors the dead. It is how they live on through us.