Dear E & V,
It’s been over a month now since your Grandpa died, and a few months since I’ve last written to you. I’ve struggled to find the motivation to write these letters because I’ve been battling a sense of despair with my current career path; Grandpa’s death has motivated me to find ways to spend more time with you and make a more meaningful impact on the lives of other people.
But I can’t forget that having a positive impact on YOUR life is what is most important to me, which is why I will continue to write these letters to you. So: let’s talk about death and grief.
You WILL someday have to live through the death of someone you love, that is something that you share with every other human being on earth. Almost every person you meet will have been touched by grief in one way or another.
Your Grandpa was the closest loved one I’ve lost in my life, which also made it the hardest. I watched him die. I painfully watched as he stopped being able to form sentences and walk on his own. I painfully listened as he talked about how he just wanted to die. I painfully comforted him as he cried while talking to his mother and played with you for (what we didn’t know at the time) the last time.
I went away for a conference on July 12th. The previous day I watched Grandpa sleep most of the day because of the pain medicine he was on. When he was awake, he was refusing to drink and eat. He was ready, and I thought I was to. That would be the last time I’d see him with open eyes.
When I got back on the 14th, the hospice nurse had visited and said he probably had another day or two left. At that point I’m not sure how alive he was. He was breathing, but that was about it. On Monday night I got a call from your Uncle and my Uncle (who was helping take care of Grandpa) saying I should come over as soon as possible; the nurse didn’t know if he would make it through the night.
Throughout most of the day on Tuesday he was hanging on, but he was in rough shape. I don’t know if he could hear us but we kept holding his hand and hugging him and telling him how much we loved him. Then it happened.
I was outside playing with you, E, when your mom came out with you and your brother at about 2pm and told me I needed to get inside.
I walked in and Grandpa’s breathing was slowing to about once every minute. It got slower and slower until it stopped. I was holding onto his shoulder when it happened.
And then I cried. Even knowing this was going to happen, that the prognosis for a glioblastoma brain tumor is almost always fatal, I cried.
I still cry sometimes when I see recent pictures of him, or things around the house he used to use a lot, or places he used to sit.
I get angry that he was only 61 when he died. That he barely got to spend anytime with you. That I can’t hug him or talk with him anymore. That I can’t ask him for anymore career advice or for help on some house project or joke around with him.
And sometimes I laugh. I laugh when I hear the stories of his goofiness from his coworkers. Sometimes I smile at the memories I and others have of him. When I remember his kindness, his silliness, and his love.
That’s part of the way I cope with his death. I also cope by living in the moment and appreciating the time I’m spending with you or your mother or grandmother. I cope by giving back to our community as a firefighter because I know Grandpa was always one to help others even if it meant sacrificing his health or comfort.
I could dwell on his death and the unfairness of it all, but what will that accomplish? It won’t bring him back and it certainly doesn’t do justice to his memory and all the good he brought into this world.
The thing about death is that it’s going to happen to everybody. Grandpa wasn’t the first person I’ve lost in my life (though he was the closest), and he certainly won’t be the last. There’s a good chance I will outlive many of those I love, and so will you. People try to fight death and the thought of their own mortality with superficial distractions. That’s all a mid-life or identity crisis really is — when people distract themselves from their hollow lives with fast cars and expensive vacations. But in the end they go back to their same hollow lives because it’s easier than facing their mortality.
Death is only scary and sad if you think the life is wasted. Your Grandpa achieved many great things in his time on this earth. I would much rather him have lived and died than to never have lived at all. I have a feeling that if we could speak to him now he would say he would gladly go through the awful death that he did over and over again if it meant that he got to live the life he lived over and over again. If it meant he got marry your grandmother all over again; raise your uncle and me all over again, and hold you in his arms all over again.
And that is a beautiful thing.
I am a Father, Husband, Cowboy Philosopher, Volunteer Firefighter, and Professional Dilettante. I am nothing and I am everything. But when it comes to our relationship: I only wish you wonder and happiness.