My paternal grandfather died just a bit over a week ago; his funeral was a week ago today.
He'd been in the hospital for about three months, at first just for something that could be treated; he was diabetic, though not insulin-dependent, and he developed gangrene in one of his toes. Unfortunately, even after the toe was removed he developed gangrene in his lower leg; it was amputated below the knee and all seemed to be going well with his recovery and physical therapy, though most of us couldn't visit him for most of that because someone in his ward had a MRSA infection. He and Grandma were trying to figure out where they'd be living when he was discharged as their actual home is in a small town about an hour's drive away from here, though a few years ago they started renting a tiny apartment in the city for overnight stays. Neither place is really equipped to accommodate someone in a wheelchair full-time, and at the time we never would have thought that he wouldn't actually be going back.
Then, in the middle of November, he caught pneumonia.
When it was obvious that his situation was getting dire, he was moved to a private room on another floor and the whole family received permission to be at the hospital at any time. Like pretty much everyone else, until last Wednesday I'd been spending the major part of my time either at the hospital or in transit between home and the hospital. It was a mess of worry, sleep deprivation, occasional panic punctuated by small moments of humour (because everyone in my family has some form of sense of humour, and even when we're preparing ourselves for something like the death of someone we all love, we can't ever resist the temptation to make each other laugh). But as awful as most of that was, the very worst of it was seeing what Grandpa's illness was doing to him. I'll spare you the grisly details, but if you're really all that curious, look up pneumonia's Wikipedia entry and imagine someone you love experiencing the worst of it. It was utterly heartbreaking.
And yet, even as I hated to see him suffer so—I don't know how many times I prayed for Atropos to cut his thread just so he wouldn't have to keep going on the way he was—I learned an entirely new kind of respect for him. I had always respected him as a person, a grandparent, a veteran of World War II, and an extremely knowledgeable historian, but in his final days, even when he could hardly move and had mostly lost the power of speech, he fought to stay with us (the nurses were actually astonished at how long he managed to hang on) and he found other ways to communicate with us. And his sense of humour was certainly intact; when he could still talk, he joked that the weekend when he got pneumonia would have been a lot easier if he'd had a 40-ouncer behind his pillow. His strength and stubbornness, even when he was so ill, is nothing short of inspirational to me because he never gave up.
The last week has been pretty difficult. The wake was last Thursday night and his funeral a week ago today; I was one of the pallbearers. (My bagpipe-trained muscles came in handy; even as thin as he'd gotten with his illness, that casket was heavy.) I haven't slept well since Grandpa got pneumonia, and I've been terribly worried about my grandmother, my dad and my aunts and uncles. But as we adjust to a world in which we can't see Grandpa anymore, I suspect that it will be the small things that will hurt the most—hearing a joke he'd have enjoyed, reading a book about local history to which he contributed something, or even just looking in the mirror (I strongly resemble both him and my maternal grandmother) or driving past the hospital where he died. I feel like crying at the weirdest times lately, as well as some that aren't so weird, and even though I'm glad that he's not suffering anymore I do wish that his relief hadn't come at the cost of his life…even at nearly 87 years of age, he had so much he still wanted to do.
So if I write a little less frequently than I usually do, or if my musings sometimes seem a little more downbeat than usual, this will probably be why. I have my reasons—probably more than most people who believe this—for believing that death isn't really so much "the final goodbye" as "see you in another time and place", but even so, I'm still grieving and it will be awhile before I'm really back to being myself again.