July 14, 2008. Shortly after 4am, he left us. Alone in a cold, sterile hospital room. He hated being alone. But he chose that time to go. Peacefully, quietly, to slip away into the night. Leaving behind the pain. No one could blame him. Everyone saw it coming. Well, almost everyone.
Left behind was a large extended family, who although were somewhat prepared for his death, cracked at the seams. There was no funeral, but a memorial. It was nice. I tried valiantly to keep my mournful sobs quiet from the second row. I passed a box of extra tissue to the row of cousins behind me as the sobs behind me got louder with each sentence from the minister, who was extolling all the virtues of the deceased father if 6, grandfather of 9, great-grandfather to 7.
He was a big man, tall and imposing. With a soft spot for his great-grandkids. He loved animals, especially his dogs. I remember him once rescuing a baby hawk he found while working a garden on some property and he brought it home. He and my grandmother raised it until it could go live on its own. That baby bird would perch on a floor lamp behind his recliner and watch TV with him. I swear it to be true.
When he retired from years of construction work, he became busy in community causes and the church. He was off to meetings all the time and he loved it.
I had finally earned the coveted and much desired seal of approval for my life about a year before he died. It was on Christmas Eve, and I was hosting him, my grandmother, my mother, an aunt and my little family to a nice dinner and gifts. He was sitting at the head of the table and I was busy preparing things and he looked me in the eye and said the one sentence I’d always wanted but until then had never gotten. “You’ve done really well here. It’s a nice place. You should be proud.” His version of “I’m proud of you”. It made that Christmas one of my best.
His slow decline mentally from Alzheimer’s was heartbreaking. He forgot my name, called me by my mother’s or one of my aunt’s. I sometimes feel guilty for not visiting him in the nursing home more during the months leading up to his death, but I simply couldn’t handle my heart breaking every time I could see him struggle to remember me. The granddaughter he had helped raise, who had live with him for most of her childhood. It was just too much for my heart to carry.
His death has left a giant, gaping wound in the family. A family once so close now has fallen into a million pieces. I won’t say his death is the major cause of our separation, but he would never have allowed our family to fall into the discord it has. He was the grand patriarch. With those tight bonds severed, the ball became unraveled and everyone just drifted into their own direction. If he could see the family now, he would be beyond furious. That makes me sad to think he isn’t resting in piece.
But I will always take this date to remember him fondly. I miss him everyday. His laugh, his love. I miss you grandpa. Someday, I’ll see you on the other side.