Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Good Land

The conference call was scheduled for March 22nd and we knew that the news could not be good. When the doctor asked to speak to my grandma and her three daughters about my grandpa's health situation, my immediate thought was that we needed to start preparing for his passing. The conference call confirmed our suspicions - medically, there was nothing else the doctors could do for Papa. The news was not shocking; my grandfather had his fill of medical issues for years. Despite the somewhat expected nature of the news, actually hearing that the end was in sight was difficult. Immediately, we set plans into motion to get back to Milwaukee. With Sarah still on maternity leave, Katie on spring break, and Matt and I having flexibility at work, we booked our flights from Wednesday to Sunday.

The next few days were tough. My strong Papa had become incredibly weak, needing assistance to stand up or sit down, and a walker to move about the house. His face was badly bruised from falling when his walker got caught on the carpet. His voice, once loud and clear, was raspy and muted. The fluid building up in his body caused him to cough regularly. There was an oxygen tank in the living room, with tubes long enough to reach every corner of the house. He slept for long portions of the day, obviously exhausted from what he was experiencing. All the while, we still saw the same man we have loved for years and years - my happy, funny, calm, and wonderful Grandpa. We spent each of our days in Wisconsin with that tremendous man, watching Marquette basketball, talking about the Brewers, helping him get from his favorite chair in the living room to his favorite chair in the den, showing off his great-grandchildren, sitting by his side as he napped.

For the last several years, my grandfather had been uncharacteristically emotional at our departure. My guess is that his emotions stemmed from the uncertainty of ever seeing us again and his refusal to be ready for such a scenario. Our flight home was scheduled for early Easter Sunday morning. As we left his house on Saturday evening, we said our goodbyes, knowing that they could be our last. We filed into his bedroom where he lay peacefully. He was calm and composed. At first I was unsure if he understood that we were leaving and not returning until May. He smiled and kissed Carson and Mackenzie, then said goodbye to Sarah, Katie, and Matthew. I was the last one to leave the room. I had no idea what to say to a man that I have loved and emulated my entire life. I finally told my Papa that I loved him so much and that I would see him soon. With the emotion of the moment, I don't quite remember what he said, but it was something to the effect of "I'll always be with you." With heavy hearts, glistening eyes, and memories running through our brains, we left for the evening, each hoping that we would see him again.

When we landed in Denver the next morning, the text messages were waiting on each of our mobile phones.

"Call me right away - Dad." 

Papa had passed away that morning as our plane was leaving the ground in Milwaukee.

Our trip had been tiring, emotional, and rewarding. I am so thankful that I got to say goodbye one last time. And during those days, I witnessed some truly remarkable things.

I watched the quiet strength of my younger siblings. We found ourselves in an unfamiliar and uneasy place - watching the difficult last stage of one of our beloved heroes. We all could see the strain that the situation was placing on our grandma and our family and Katie and Matt were rocks for all of them. They helped, they supported, they were strong for my grandma.

I noticed the beauty of my grandparents' relationship. Each day, my grandma used every last ounce of her strength to make sure that Papa was comfortable. Her focus was on the love of her life and his eyes were happy when she was around. They were married for nearly 65 years, dance partners for a little longer, and what they shared I only hope Sarah and I can achieve some day.

I witnessed all the reasons why I know that I married the right woman. Sarah had no obligations on our trip, yet she threw herself into the situation with such care and compassion that my heart swelled with love and pride for this woman who for some reason chose me. She translated the medical terminology into lay person English. She comforted my grandma when grandma was overwhelmed. She helped my grandpa stay comfortable. And throughout all her assistance, she corralled Mackenzie and Carson so that I could have my final moments with my Papa. Few people in this world could have provided the support, love, and care to my entire family that Sarah generously donated during those days. It was incredible to watch.

Until the next post,

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