This weekend my grandfather died.
He had struggled with advanced dementia and rapidly declining health for years. I think all of us had become so accustomed to his frail confusion that we thought he would live on indefinitely. But a week ago, he was sent home from the hospital with kidney failure and a hospice nurse. My mom called to prepare me. “Do you want to come home? This is it and it could be very soon.” I briefly despised her for her dark outlook. Meanwhile my grandmother—clearly cut from the same cloth as me—still believed that he would recover. She sat next to him, feeding him soup and pudding for days. She discussed vacations they could take in the spring. Gifts they ought to buy for the grandchildren for Christmas. She could see improvement, she told everyone. I believed her, too. Because I wanted to believe her.
On Saturday morning, the hospice nurse declared the end was near. She implored my grandma to allow her to administer morphine, because my grandfather was in terrible pain. She could not be convinced. Morphine would mean that he would be less coherent. And wasn’t he getting better, after all? Morphine would mean that defeat was being accepted. Defeat could not be accepted. And therefore, there would be no morphine.
My mom—who has always been jealous of my ability to charm someone into anything (a skill she swears I’ve inherited from my father)— was unable to reason with her. So she called my uncle. And somehow, my Uncle George, a real badass and all around tough guy, was able to calmly and kindly convince my grandmother to accept the reality of the situation. An hour later, moments after my uncle promised to take care of my grandmother, my grandfather died.
My grandfather, Lester, was really my step-grandfather. My grandma, Sandy, had scandalized her entire middle class 70s neighborhood by divorcing my philandering biological grandfather (actually a pretty cool dude in his own right). She married Les a few months before I was born. They were the quintessential grandparents. They took twice yearly cruises, bringing back flower-bedecked dolls and gleaming conch shells for their favorite (and only) granddaughter. During the years I was in the hospital receiving chemotherapy and radiation, I was able to barter painful medical procedures for fabulous gifts and prizes from my grandparents. Whenever a particularly frightening test was scheduled, my mom handed me the phone to call my grandma. Smurfette dolls, Cabbage Patch Kids, and trips to the National Aquarium: these were the rewards I received for allowing needles and scalding chemicals. Continue reading