I believe that there are instances of our life that happen like pictures. With or without a camera those incidents are daguerrotyped into our brains and we’ll never completely get them out. One of those pictures is of my first kiss. Another is the scene in my 3rd grade classroom when a girl got a hold of my journal and read the entries aloud. One that just happened is the face my grandfather made as he collapsed to the floor.
He’s been falling a lot lately and I don’t have anything in my toolbox that can help. I’m not a doctor. I can’t research his symptoms and prescribe adjustments that will result in him living longer. If I could. I don’t know that I would. He’s been ready to die since his wife died two years ago. He wants it to be over and yet his life continues. Well, some version of his life is in the works, but it’s not the whole one. Unfortunately, it’s not even sliced into neat pieces that are conducive to an orderly existence. His mind is split into pieces that leave him calling me by my cousin’s name, calling his daughter by his mother’s name, and calling his sons by names I don’t recognize. Sometimes when his computer tries to reboot itself he is left standing blank in a doorway or just in front of the sink. If my aunt or I recognize the symptoms soon enough we can prevent fall. It’s not always possible.
A few days ago friends of the family, whom I’d never met, were visiting and asked me to describe him in one word. I chose ornery. It was, apparently, a harsh descriptor because everyone looked around the room and silence ensued. But he is ornery. He is stubborn. He is mean. He is sweet. He is loving. He is my grandfather and I am here for him. I quit my job for him. I am living in the basement of this house for him. And me. I couldn’t remain 3,000 miles away, hear about his deterioration, and be okay. I couldn’t be forced to deal with his death from a distance as I was my grandmothers’ and a former student’s. I needed to grieve up close for him and that’s what is happening.
I grieve for him slowly as I walk behind him bracing myself for his fall. I grieve for him in pieces when I have flashbacks to the vibrant grey-haired man of my youth. The one who would scrub my skin so hard in a Jamaican bathtub that I felt as if my whole self would peel off. The man who loved me in my youth but allowed me to be abandoned by his son. The man who always had a drink in his hand, but never seemed to be drunk. The man who loved my grandmother but cheated on her anyway. The man who never said I love you. The man who loved me. I grieve for him in whole pieces when I am away and hear his voice on the phone. When I hear a great crashing sound as I go to bed and run back upstairs to care for him after he has fallen, if he has fallen. The man who I help get in and out of the shower. For whom I sometimes hold my breath as I walk into the bathroom to flush the toilet. The man for whom I adjust old sweatpants that are too big and need to be tied extra tight to satisfy him. The man I sit next to as he stares blankly through windows and relives his hauntings. I grieve for this man constantly these days. I am living in a state of grief. It’s not always as hard as it was today. But I saw his face as he fell and he was so afraid. I was too far to catch him and didn’t see it coming. I will never get the sight of his fear out of my mind.
This post isn’t about death it’s about grief. I want the grieving to be over.