I remember spending a lot of time hanging out at the hospital. Sitting in the TV room, watching whatever show was on. Running to the small kitchen on the same floor to sneak some packets of crackers and water to eat, or walking down to the cafeteria with my mom to get some lunch or supper.
I always thought it was temporary; that my grandfather would eventually walk out of the hospital himself, drive home and start the tractor up like he used to. But the first day he was booked in to the hospital, all the adults knew it was the beginning of the end.
At 6’4″, my grandfather was a giant to my brother and I. He and my grandmother owned a farm. They raised cows, horses, and the odd stray cat or dog whenever they needed a home. My grandparents raised all six of their children there; my mom being the youngest.
My grandfather hayed in the fields with his tractor, and my brother would often go out with him. On those days I would stay inside with my grandmother either helping her cook or watch cartoons.
Sometimes my grandmother would pack a picnic and we would all jump in the van and meet my grandfather out in the hay fields and eat together, my brother and I collecting abandoned golf balls hidden among the hay.
We would have big family dinners at my grandparents’ home, those times seemed very traditional looking back now. My cousins and I would normally be outside playing, but sometimes if homemade rolls were made, we’d hide underneath the kitchen table and tear a fresh roll from the batch. The taste of melted butter and warm bread always reminded us of home.
The women would fuss and gossip in the kitchen. (We lived in a very small community, everyone basically found out everything eventually) The men would sit and chat in the living room, drinking and watching TV. It seems stereotypical now, but it was comfortable back then.
It was early 2002 when my grandfather was booked in the hospital. He was losing blood and no one understood why it was happening. They did tests on him, when they figured out he had liver disease, and he was deteriorating.
I was 7, my brother was 10. We would visit him almost every day. I can barely remember much, except that I gave him a kiss on the cheek before we would leave. Eventually, he began to lose weight. He skin became slack, and it would be difficult for him to breathe. To my 7-year-old self, he was still Papa, but he was slipping away, faster than I could have imagined.
Papa died on April 28, 2003 from liver disease.
My brother and I were at my aunt’s house the day he died. My parents were visiting him at the hospital. When they came to pick us up, while we stood in the drive way, they told us he had passed. My brother and I broke. My brother crumpled to the muddy ground, I cried in to my aunt’s arms. It was too soon.
I only have flashes of memory from the funeral, mostly because I stayed there for only 30 seconds. I walked up alongside my family, and the moment I saw Papa’s smiling face in the casket, I broke down crying. I remember my dad carrying my out of the church as I kept saying over and over again, “I can’t do it. I can’t do it.” I stayed the rest of the time at my aunt’s while the funeral proceeded. I still don’t know if I regret not staying for the funeral. Just seeing his face in my mind now brings me to tears.
To this day I hate hospitals. The seclusion of the rooms, the dripping sounds of the IV, and I can still hear the slow breathing of Papa as he lay sleeping in the hospital bed. I know he is now without pain, but we are without him, which I believe hurts just as much. From that day, our lives completely changed. Some for the best, and some for the worst. I just know that I will cherish what memories I do have of him and make sure that any children I have will know what kind of a man he was.