Timeline of Goodbye
Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock…quietly moving, whispering for reasons unknown. I awoke at 4:38, never having been fully asleep. I had been listening to the breaths, but more importantly the silent pauses between them; dozing off when I heard them, jarring awake when I didn’t. I glance around the room; my husband was no longer sleeping in the cramped plastic chair to my right, my mother sitting up straight beside the bed, and the nurse standing there. Still in a half daze I hear her say “should we call mother?” The nurse response “yeah, I would go ahead”. Less than 15 minutes later he had left us, gone to his heavenly resting place. 3 months after the death sentence, 7 days after we last were together, 15 hours after the phone call, and 10 hours after I rushed to his side, my granddad was ripped away from me.
January 6th, 2010. Granddad was having surgery to go in and remove the cancer. The cancer that my doctor husband and surgeon father in law had told me was really rare, so rare that it was unbelievable that he would even have it. Cholangiocarcinoma, affects and effects only 2 out of every 100,000 people, one of those being my favorite man in the whole world. Surgery was supposed to begin mid-morning. I called Granny on my lunch break, she answered with a cheerful hello. Surgery hadn’t started yet there was a delay with the schedule. I got off of work early that day, a super rare occasion as I am usually there until well past the time I usually get off. I pick up my phone, call my Granny again. He had just gone back and the surgery could take up to 3 hours. I chat with her and apologize for not being able to take off to be there with her and she tells me all the people that are there with her to reassure me. Suddenly she has to let me go, there receptionist has called her up to the desk. I finish my 2 minute drive home, unload my car of things to do for work, walk up the sidewalk, open the door, the phone rings. They opened him up, and the cancer has spread everywhere. Literally nothing they could do. Here I am home alone, my husband hours away and I have just been told that the one person who has never abandoned me in my life will not live much longer.
Happy Birthday! We silently walk into the church frozen from the wind. The smell of the familiar brought me home. Coffee – not just fresh the ever lingering smell, old lady perfume, old men’s aftershave, the same smells that greet me when walking into this church since days after I was born. With my Granny by my side we walk past the familiar faces, with their sympathetic smiles, knowing that although my Granny comes with 4 extra people this Sunday that one of them is missing. We find our pew, the one we always sit at, so often in fact that it probably has butt prints like the couch. The service begins more familiarity. The pastor starts the ritualistic prayers, and then offers up to the congregation for their prayers of petition and in an unplanned unison I hear the whispers “Bill”. My knees crumble, and my heart and voice cry out, “Lord, hear our prayers.” After church we rush to Granny’s house. He has been alone for 3 hours now. Being the man he is he is dressed to greet me, “Happy Birthday”. The smells of my birthday lunch by request fill the house. We sit down and I get to ring the crystal birthday bell, just like I have done since I was old enough to hold it. Ting, ting ting. The warmness of the house is full, not because of the heater, but because of the people and the love that are in it. Happiness and memories are exchanged with burst of laughter, and tears for joy and happiness. After the meal we notice as he asks to be excused for a nap, that his food was barely touched. The highs we have just felt have been reduced suddenly. A few hours later it is time to go. As my husband busily loads the car, I sit next to my Granddad on the couch, my arm linked in his and my forehead resting on his shoulder, my body begins to shake and the tears begin to fall, slowly, then faster. He places his steady hand on forehead “Darlin’, don’t cry” “I’m trying Granddad, I love you.” “I love you too.”
The next Sunday, again after church, I hear the distant laughter as my daughters play with the neighbor girls. My cell phone rings, it’s my Granny’s cell phone. Finally she’s called me back; I have been trying to reach her all morning. “Mandy, where at the hospital and the nurse says it’s time”. NO! My heart is pounding, pounding out of my chest. Its rhythms are palpable through my whole body. My eyes have started viewing things through a trance, slow motion, yet too fast. I scream into the front yard “Chasity, Trinity, we have to go now!” I am calling my sister to come home. Calling, ring, voicemail, hang up, call, ring, voicemail, hang up, calling, ring, voicemail, hang up. Text her, call me now! She calls, “Kimmie, Granny just called, it’s time to go”. My feet pounds up the stairs, all my clothes are thrown into my suitcase. Pounding back down the stairs out the front door, open the trunk, throw the bag in, never noticing that the front door still stands wide open. Suddenly, I am snapped back into reality as my sweet blonde haired, blued eyed baby looks at me, “Momma, don’t cry, it’s going to be okay.” What have I been thinking? I have two beautiful babies who are watching, pull it together. I wipe my eyes of their salty tears, straighten my clothes, stand up a little straighter, and pull my hair into a tight bun. My sister pulls into the drive furiously. Her tear stained face is visible from yards away.
Driving into the western setting sun with tears streaming down your face is no safe trip. The beauty of that afternoon is one I will never forget. I have never seen so many shades of red as the sun that day. Somehow, within a few short hours, the beautiful late winter early spring, crisp clear day turned into a stormy night. We pull into the hospital parking lot, right next to my Granny’s car. I step out and am again hit with the chill that races through your bones. In a pace that can only be described as a reluctant saunter I walk through the doors into the dimly lit hallway, the bank of elevators on my left. I glance over the sign, hospice, 4th floor. My sister and I stand side by side. My knees are trembling, my palms are sweaty, I roll my phone over and over in my hand. This has to be the slowest elevator still in operation. It stops. The door opens to the right; I walk out casually, turn to my right and march down the hallway in a daze. I open the door, walk 3 steps in, and I see him there with my faithful Granny by his side, Bible open, holding his hands. I turn and run out, finding the closest chair and collapsing into sobs. My head down, my feet in the seat and my knees pressed up against my chest, I plead with God. The tear ducts are dry. I stand up and try again. I walk in, 3 steps, 3 more, my Granny meets me with an embrace. I replace her in the chair next to him. I lean over and kiss his cheek. I brush his soft gray hair away from his clammy forehead. I hold his hand, and he squeezed it back. He knew I was there, and for that I have peace.
As I sat paralyzed in my seat at the funeral, and the pastor spoke of how amazing my Granddad was I reflected back on the previous 3 months. How I could never imagine that he would leave me ever, especially not in such a cruel way as I see it. He was supposed to just fall asleep one day, pain free. I reflected on my birthday, and how I had asked him just to hold on until my birthday, and he had. I thought about his, and God’s perfect timing, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to be there with him that weekend. I flashed through the drive there, with the comfort of my sister in the passenger seat singing with me as we drove so I wouldn’t cry. Through all of this, I praised God that I was able to be there and hold his hand as he took his last breath, knowing that one day I would be able to see him again. “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. . . . For I the LORD thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.”
Isaiah 41:10, 13
Isaiah 41:10, 13