Remembering Grandpa Great
It didn't hit me fully that this time Grandpa Great wasn't going to bounce back like he usually did. The last time I saw him in the hospital it was because his dog Tilly had bitten him on the hand by accident and he had to come all the way to Billings to have it looked at and fixed.
We joked and smiled that visit. He even got out of bed and did his trick to show he was fit as a fiddle and ready to get back to the farm. Grandpa Great stood on his right let, lifted his left and clapped under his bent knee. Hopping onto his left leg, he repeated the motions and finished with a big smile and said, "See. I'm good to go."
This time was different. I knew it was going to be bad, but part of me still kept hope that even at 93 he would somehow just continue on. The, "Do Not Resuscitate," bracelet on Grandpa Johnnie's right wrist is what made me realize that I needed to prepare for goodbye.
I sat with him in the hospital just before Thanksgiving. We talked about his family. We talked about how he had to ride to school on a horse both ways as a boy and was only late 3 times. We talked about the births of his children and how when he was just a boy he traveled on a train alone to have his tonsils removed and paid for the procedure by washing dishes before returning back to the farm. He told me about all the places he'd been in the states and was astounded when I told him I'd never been to Fort Peck.
"Next year we'll have to go check out Fort Peck and I'll show you all the antique tractors," he said smiling at me from his hospital bed. He was energetic and lively, filled with spunk despite the intense pain.
For a moment I believed him. I was caught up in the story of being there with him in my imagination. I could feel the sunshine on my face, I could hear the tractors and smell the food. But, the shaking of his hand in mine brought me back to reality.
I smiled and said, "I can't wait, Grandpa Great." I leaned down for a hug, and he held me close and whispered into my ear. "Thank you for coming to see me, Brookie, I know it was a long drive." I pulled away and looked into his eyes. It was the first time I ever saw tears in them, instantly I began to cry. "This is the hardest part about all of this, isn't it," he choked out between tears.
I knew he meant dying.
The hardest part of dying is saying goodbye and not knowing if it is really the last time. Sure, each goodbye for anyone may be the last, but when you know your time is limited it becomes real.
I looked down and through the tears I promised him I would see him again at Christmas and I did.
I held his hand again as we sang Christmas carols and he tried to sing along and tapped his feet to the beat.
I left Christmas Eve telling him Id see him again soon, this time knowing it might not be the case. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see him again before I left.
I called on New Years Day, just to see if maybe I could have one last conversation with him. I knew that he had started sleeping more and more. It sounded like while he was awake he wasn't as responsive as when I had last seen him in person.
I've never been good with goodbyes, especially with those I love the most. I've been pretty spoiled to have my Great Grandpa with me my whole life. Trying to play matchmaker, always teasing and always having good advice for what life threw my way.
I didn't know that goodbye was going to be the last one, but we left it in the best way.
"I love you grandpa great," I said.
He smiled. "I love you too, Brookie."