As some of you know, my family and I are having a sad week. My grandpa, who not long ago reached the ripe old age of five-score and one, is currently in the process of ending his days. My uncle and aunt are with him at his nursing home in Arkansas, and he is receiving good care, but more than a decade after my grandmother, Shirley, passed away, Tom will soon be following her.
My grandpa had a full life, and a very long one. Quite honestly, it was far longer than he would have wished. Once my grandmother died, life held little interest for Tom anymore. The last time I saw him, I greeted him as usual, "How are you, Grandpa?" His response: "Death is sure taking its time coming for me." And it was true.
None of us expected him to outlive Shirley (ten years his junior) by so many years, nor could we ever have guessed that he would be granted forty more years on this earth than my mother, his daughter, was able to enjoy. I have often contemplated the bitter irony that she was taken from us at age sixty, when there was still so much she hoped to do, while her father grew weary of life long before his body finally gave out.
I envied Grandpa at my mother's memorial--he was in good spirits to find himself surrounded by so much family, and his threadbare memory shielded him from the knowledge that his only daughter had just preceded him in death. "Who is it that died?" he asked me several times.
That was nearly three years ago. We all knew then that Grandpa couldn't possibly have many more years ahead of him, yet it is still something of a shock that, suddenly, the end has arrived.
We have joked in our family for years that Grandpa is like the Energizer Bunny. He just keeps going and going and going. Even now, days after the staff at the nursing home declared him near the end, his body hangs on, amazing us even while we wish he could finally let go.
So, we wait by the phone, dreading the call we know will come, yet at the same time wishing for an end to Grandpa's long, sad decline.
I'm not sure how much I will be able to post here in the next week. The funeral, though not yet scheduled, will take place in Lake Benton, Minnesota, the town where most of my childhood Christmases were spent. It seems that the family will be returning at Christmas one last time.