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Saying Goodbye

by Rundy on September 9, 2009

(I didn’t edit this for quality of writing. Maybe some other day)

There were a lot of things I wanted to write before this, but life never goes in the neat little order we desire. I wanted to write about how Grandpa and I would laugh together, the foolish games we would play, and how I would tease him. I wanted to write about the laughter and lightness we made in the midst of the darkness. I wanted to write about the long goodbye. I wanted to write more about the struggle of feeding him, and caring for him, when it was growing increasingly impossible to do either. But that long goodbye has slipped by, and if I have failed to write about the things I have done, at least I have done them. I can write about them another time.

Today I will write about saying goodbye. Yes, Grandpa has only a few more days left. If I said he was dying that would be true, but not very precise. He has been dying for a long time. More precisely, he is nearly dead. It may be a few hours, or at most a few days. His mind has given up, and all that remains is for his body to catch up.

This may seem sudden, but it wasn’t, not really. One thing I have not written about much is Grandpa’s increasing failure to eat. I always meant to write more about it “sometime” but I never made time for that sometime because it was the most painful thing to write about. The struggle to get Grandpa to eat enough has been going on for more than a year, and it is a struggle I have been slowly losing. I knew this would happen from the very day I started caring for Grandpa, but the knowing didn’t make it feel any less like torture as he slipped–inch by inch–down that path. While it often felt like he couldn’t possibly eat worse than he had the day before, his eating began to grow precipitously worse over the course of the summer. If at the beginning of the summer I had to patiently work with Grandpa to get him to eat three meals a day, by the end of the summer he was only eating one meal–and that only if I fed it to him myself. The course of events was pretty obvious. I concluded that he would not last through the winter.

Grandpa was becoming too tired to live. I could feed him breakfast, but beyond that point his mind was too exhausted to eat. He didn’t want to eat, he didn’t want to be fed. He just wanted to close his eyes and rest. The fight to throw off the web of confusion was becoming too much, and Grandpa was ready to give up.

Then he did. At the end of August I caught a mild cold, and I passed it on to Grandpa. Grandpa became a little sick, and the cold made him more tired. His body recovered from the cold, but his mind decided it had finished the fight. He slept, and didn’t want to wake up. He woke up for increasingly brief periods of time, increasingly unwilling to eat or drink, and slipped into a semi-comatose state. Perhaps his last most coherent words were, “I don’t want it! I don’t want it! I don’t want it!” when I tried to feed him some chocolate pudding. What did he want to do? He wanted to sleep, to rest quietly, and to not be troubled with the troubles of life anymore.

I knew it would come to this, but that knowledge doesn’t make it easy. One of the special cruelties of this is that Grandpa has such a healthy body that if his mind had not been afflicted with Alzheimer’s he might have lived to be a very old man. So, even though his mind has shut down so that he does not interact with the world, and does not remember how to eat or drink, his body still continues on. The last time he really ate or drank anything of substance was on Friday the 4th of September, and we are now to Wednesday the 9th. Over the course of the succeeding days I have managed to coax a few dribbles of liquid down his throat–first with a spoon, then an eye-dropper–but still his body keeps going. He breathes regularly, quietly, his eyes closed, his body slowly consuming itself in a determined effort to keep going. One could call it a coma, but sometimes, for a brief moment, he opens his eyes a bit, and if you are lucky he will drag them into focus to look in that instant at the world, before letting his eyes drift back shut. He is still conscious of sounds, he recognizes voices, and he even smiled when someone laughed in his hearing. But the world is too much for him now, so he mostly just lays there, waiting for it to end.

The most painful thing for me is that he can still feel pain and discomfort. If we have him propped up carefully with pillows supporting various parts of his body he appears to be mostly comfortable. But whenever we have to move him to change his diaper his frail body–and especially his lifelong problem with back pain–flares up and he spasms and whimpers in pain whenever he is changed. I feel like we are putting him on the torture rack whenever we must do that. And then I wonder if he is thirsty. He doesn’t look uncomfortable when he is just laying there, breathing, but I can’t help thinking about how it might feel to be laying there, no longer able to communicate, slowly starving and thirsting to death. What if his throat was parched and he wanted a drink and was laying there, silent, wishing someone would give him a drink? So I give him some water with the eyedropper and he chokes because he can only swallow by reflex now and when he chokes he feels like he is drowning and the expression on his face makes me sorry I gave him something to drink.

Oh, cruel, cruel world.

What does all of this have to do with saying goodbye? It is when you have the few days when someone is clearly dying, but not yet dead, that you have time to ponder what it means to say goodbye, and how exactly do you do it. You sit there and you stare at the sleeping face, and you wonder what you could do, what you should do. Somehow, however true “I love you” and “Goodbye” might be, they somehow don’t feel like enough. How can you distill a life down to a few words?

But as I sat there, I realized that you don’t. You don’t do anything different. What you say is only as good as what you do. All your life you are saying “Hello” and “Goodbye” in what you do. The substance of your deeds toward each person is what defines whether you have given them a good “Hello” and “Goodbye.” If your deeds toward others are deeds that say “I love you” then no better “Hello” or “Goodbye” can be said. Do you want a life of no regrets, a “Goodbye” that says what you want to say? Then make sure what you do toward others says “I love you” and then whether today it is for “hello” or “goodbye” it will be the best you could give.

I have said goodbye to Grandpa. I said those words, because it seemed like to not say them was some attempt to deny the reality. But mostly I realized that my best goodbye would be to do what I had been doing for the last three years–saying “I love you” all day, every day, by what I did for him. There could be no better, or fully said, goodbye.

So goodbye Grandpa. I love you. But you already knew that.

A Happier Day, about a year ago

A Happier Day, about a year ago

Comments on this entry are closed.

Lorene Edwards Forkner September 9, 2009 at 5:26 pm

Thank you for your kind spirit, huge heart and willingness to share with us.

Nancy Bond September 9, 2009 at 5:34 pm

Rundy, I only know your Mom through an online gardening community, but I am touched beyond words by what I have read of your blog, particularly your beautiful goodbye. You are an extraordinary young man. Peace to your Grandpa.

Mary Pyper September 9, 2009 at 5:43 pm

Such a gift to give…dignity, care, and love… daily. Peace to you and to your Grandpa.

Mary Ann September 9, 2009 at 5:47 pm

Rundy,

He was much loved and has lead a dignified life and in the end, will go in a dignified and loved way. With your grace and kindness.

Patsy Bell September 10, 2009 at 1:57 am

Some times we live out best and most memorable lives just being there for others. Rundy, blessings to you.

David E. Perry September 10, 2009 at 5:15 pm

Profound, raw, beautiful.

I bow to your efforts, your courage, your willingness to risk sharing.

Namasté

Jim La Femina September 10, 2009 at 5:39 pm

Rundy
You show us all the meaning of love.

Rundy September 10, 2009 at 6:25 pm

Thank you all for your kind comments.

Elva Priolo September 10, 2009 at 7:57 pm

Rundy, Your grandmother Marie and my husband Joe are cousins. You are a remarkable young man and you truly know the meaning of love. You have been a blessing to your grandfather. The photo of a happier time was beautiful. Always remember the good times. Elva

Linda Roth September 11, 2009 at 8:54 am

Rundy, My mother lay in the ICU on a breathing machine after suffering a massive stroke. She was essentially dead, but being kept alive. We had talked many times about life and death fortunately, and I knew what she wanted. She was a devout Christian and believed completely that she was going to a better place. I knew she was in peace. What she needed then was my goodbye, to hear my voice and feel my touch before she let go. It was a long trip by air for me and I had a lot of time to prepare myself. Walking in to the ICU where she lay, my younger brother who was mentally disabled waited beside her bed with an older man who helped him a lot. We hugged and shed a few tears. I went to Mother took her hand and said “I am here now Mom. Everything will be all right. You can go now. I love you.” Literally, she let go that minute. The green line went flat and she was officially dead. I cry now still missing her, but I also feel relief that she was ready and unafraid of death. And if there is an afterlife she is at peace.
I admire you so much for what you have done, and thank you for sharing your experiences with all of us. Linda

Louis Gagliano September 11, 2009 at 9:44 am

Your goodby to your grandpa shows the deep love you have for him and it is another lesson for me of what Love truly is. Jesus taught us to “Love One Another” and you showed us how. Thank you. Lou Gagliano (Your Grandma O’Keefe’s Cousin)

Pat Goodwin September 12, 2009 at 6:57 am

Your essays at times have been uncomfortable to read which of course makes me realize how “uncomfortable” the reality was/is. We readers have no idea what your life has REALLY been like as you cared for your grandfather. Some may say, he’s a young man, he should be living his own life.

Well, you have been. Your choice to care for your grandfather is best illustrated by the picture in today’s essay. The picture makes me wish I could have been with my beloved grandmother semi-paralyzed by a stroke caused by the surgery designed to prevent strokes.

Thank you for allowing us to peek into your and your grandfather’s lives and for the example you have shown.

What is the status of your grandmother who also lives in the house?

Jill Mulderry September 12, 2009 at 8:12 am

Hi Rundy. I am Jill; I work with Lachlan and Teman. I feel like I know you already too, as Lachlan gave me your sites months and months ago; I have followed them. My Grandpa also had this disease; took him in a very different way, however. I wish you peace. You are a remarkable man in a world of so very few. My love and prayers go to you and the whole family. Your Grandpa is so very proud of you – as is everyone.

Ted LaFemina September 12, 2009 at 5:49 pm

Rundy,

Your mom and I are cousins. I was touched by your writing but almost more by the photo shown above. It’s obvious that you know how to love. Your writing here helps remind me that expressing love like you have been doing shouldn’t be the challenge that we sometimes make it. I found that no matter how much you are prepared for it, the moment that a loved one finally does slip away, it still is a shock and it may come with a flood of conflicting emotions. I’ll pray for you that you’ll have peace at that time.

Patty September 12, 2009 at 7:11 pm

Rundy, your grandfather is blessed to have such a loving and caring grandson. We should all be so lucky.

Annie October 21, 2009 at 9:18 pm

how true..how true…it is what we do and not what we say, isnt it?

Love the photo! Priceless!

May God be with you all!

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