Christmas and Death

I’m thirty years old, and all of my grandparents are still living. I know this is an unusual thing. My husband lost both of his grandfathers before we ever met, and three years ago I stood by his side at his grandmother’s funeral.

I know my turn is coming. Two days after Christmas while visiting my family in another state I went to my grandparents house, having received many a dire warning that “things had changed.” My grandpa, the youngest of my grandparents at 87, has been struggling with a bronchial infection for several years. Last week he was unable to stand on his own.

My parents spent the week of Christmas talking to nurses and doctors, securing a wheelchair and a hospital bed. They drive twenty miles every day, and sometimes twice a day, to check on Grandma and Grandpa. I have an aunt who lives in the same town, but my parents are still doing most of the work. They’re exhausted, and my mother’s reoccurring back pain is back.

We arrived at 10:30am, myself, my husband and two cousins from out of town. Safety in numbers. Grandma greets us with a hug and a big smile. She’s completely blind in one eye and mostly deaf, but at 91, she’s holding together pretty well. She’s already told my parents that when Grandpa dies, she wants to stay in their little house by herself.

That’s the language we’re using now, when, not if. Grandpa is lying on his side on his bed, the sheet pulled over him can’t hide how thin he is. There’s a gray adult diaper lying conveniently on the bed. Grandma must be changing him, but I can’t imagine how. Her hands are so shot from arthritis, she can’t peel an orange.

“I don’t begrudge a thing,” Grandpa speaks softly. “Marge and I have been so blessed. I hope the same for you.”

My husband puts his arm around me. I don’t return the gesture.

Later, he asks if I’m okay. “I guess,” I reply. “It sometimes…takes me a while to process.”

Two days later we’re packing to leave. Jack comes running to me, tears in his eyes. My mom follows, looking apologetic. Jack had asked her why his dad and I went to see Grandpa, and my mom gently told him the reason why. Jack barely knows his great-grandfather, other than as the maker of a wooden train in his toy box. But at 4 years old, he processes it in a matter of seconds.

Later that day we’re at a birthday party for my niece. My dad isn’t there. He called mom this morning and said he didn’t feel like he could leave. He called my aunt to see if she could stay in his place, but she was too busy cleaning her house. My mom is furious. “Do you think he told her that today is Allie’s birthday?” I asked.

“I don’t know. He probably didn’t.”

Communication. Not my family’s forte.

At the party, it slowly begins to sink in. Today I’m sitting on a sofa with my siblings, explaining where dad is. Someday it will be one of us, missing our grandchild’s birthday. It could be me, holding my mother’s hand, wondering when my dad will die.

Once we arrive home, we’re busy. We left the Christmas tree up while we gone, we have to take it down. “Where is daddy taking the tree?” Jack asks, watching us as we pack away the ornaments for another year.

“Into the woods.”

“Will the tree die?”

My husband tries to explain that the tree is already cut off from it’s roots, but tears are already welling up in his eyes. We distract him as well as we can.

Later I send my dad pictures I took at the party. I tell him we missed him at the party, but understand why he couldn’t be there.

I don’t say what I’m thinking, that we’ll see one another soon. For the funeral.



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