It’s Never Too Late to Live!
Growing up I never really had to opportunity to know my paternal grandpa. I only saw him a few times as a child, and then did not see him again for 20 years. I cared for him the last summer of his life, and in that summer, I discovered I was related to a wonderful man. I was blessed to share those weeks with him and will remember him always. He gave me history, I gave him life.
We all get older each day, but sometimes, as we age, we forget how to ‘live’. This point was really drove home for me one summer when I cared for my aging grandpa. He was in his late 90s and had some really serious medical problems. Mom and dad were moving from Washington to Missouri that summer and wondered if I could take care of him while they packed, moved and resettled. They felt it would be too stressful for him to be with them during the move. I was excited at the chance to get to see my grandpa again. I could vaguely remember seeing grandpa a couple of times in my youth - fond memories too. Other than that I hadn’t seen him for the past 20 years. I felt a bit sad at not knowing who he was and thought this would give me the chance to get to know him.
I realized how close I’d come to not ever getting to know him when mom handed me a horrid set of papers. It was grandpa’s ‘death warrant’ - medical papers I had to carry with me always to legally allow grandpa to die. Besides being incredibly old he had a paper thin heart that was barely beating and very fragile bones. If someone had tried to resuscitate him with CPR they would have only broken his ribs into his lungs and heart causing him a very painful death. It had been decided that when it was his time, he would go with dignity. I put these papers into my purse very nervously, hoping I would never have to take them out again till mom and dad came to pick him up in a few weeks.
My hopes were further dampened the next few days as I watched grandpa. He seemed to be an empty shell waiting to die. He’d get up in the morning and I’d help to make sure he got into the living room. He couldn’t walk unaided more than a few steps. He only got up to go to the bathroom, eat, or go back to bed. He’d just sit there on the couch for hours staring blankly at the TV screen. It didn’t even matter whether the TV was on or off, he’d just stare at it. Mom had said all he does any more is just watch TV, to just let him and if he seemed to be having a spasm or heart attack to pop a nitro pill under his tongue. She told me it would be easy to care for him as I only had to ‘watch’ over him. I watched grandfather wither away like this for a couple of days. It was heartbreaking. I tried to talk with him but he just didn’t seem to be there. He couldn’t remember hardly anything from his life but bits and pieces, and he couldn’t understand anything I tried to talk to him about. Conversations tended to frustrate him.
We finally decided to try to ‘wake’ him up - to take him places, and do things with him. We started by renting a wheelchair so he could get around, then we went to Walmart for our first stop - a new set of clothes. I don’t think he’d bought himself clothes, except for undergarments, for over 30 years! Just any old clothes wouldn’t do either. On no, told grandpa we were getting ready to go to a really special place and he needed special clothes. He looked at me with such a confused look on his face and I just smiled and pushed him to the summer wear. We picked out a crazy plaid pair of shorts, a Tazmanian Devil t-shirt, a big straw hat, some ‘cool’ shades and a pair of flip flops. Grandpa laughed. He laughed even more when we got him home and put them on him! He couldn’t believe himself in the mirror. I do have to admit, it was quite a sight to see him dressed up in such fun beach wear.
We headed out the next day to a water park on a nearby island. They had some fun wheelchairs you could exchange temporarily for regular wheelchairs. Their wheelchairs had giant yellow air tires that floated the whole chair in the water. It’d tip easily so you had to keep a really firm hold, but oh my, grandpa was in heaven. Little children came from all directions wanting to sit on his giant yellow wheels. Everywhere he looked children were laughing, playing, splashing - and he was in the middle of it! He smiled and laughed. My brother and sister had come with us and we’d made a family affair of the day. Everyone was having such fun. We even got really brave at one point. I challenged grandpa to go down the kiddie slide. He laughed and said he was too old! I told him “Nonsense!” My sister, Carol and I took him gently by the hands and helped him to walk up the steps. There were 4 slides side by side, and we got on a slide on either side of him to slide down ‘with’ him. My brother, Ronnie, stood at the bottom of the slide to catch grandpa to be sure he didn’t fall or go under. We made sure to do the full sound affects and screamed ‘WEEEEEEEEEEE’ all the way down that little 5 foot drop. I wouldn’t have believed all the laughter that came from that dear old man.
The next weekend we went on yet another great adventure! This time my brother, Ronnie, and I took our grandfather to a medieval re-enactment event with some of our friends. We dressed him up to blend with 14th century English attire. He kept laughing, thinking how silly we all looked, until we arrived and he saw that everyone was dressed rather oddly. He looked about for a while in utter amazement. I talked to him and realized his mind really wasn’t all there. He thought we’d somehow gone back in time and place. He couldn’t figure out for the life of him how we’d done that? I thought it best not to try to explain it to him and to just let him have fun. He was old and dying so what did it matter if he didn’t fully understand things about him, as long as he was smiling and laughing I didn’t figure it mattered. He watched in amazement as Ronnie battled a fierce warrior (fencing contest). Then, to his utter amazement, the Queen herself came over with her attendants to greet him! He couldn’t hardly speak. He just stared at her, breathing in long deep breaths. She introduced herself and told him it was truly an honor to have him visit her and her people this day. He nodded and smiled as she took his hand and bowed deeply before him. As she left to return to her seat he just kept muttering ‘a queen, a real queen’ to himself. I was so tickled at how much he was enjoying it that I thought I’d do one last fun thing to really make his day. I went over to a friend of mine and ask her if she’d come say hello to grandpa and give him a big warm welcome hug. She laughed and winked and told me that she’d make sure he got a ‘good’ hug.
At this point it might help to have a ‘visual’ of my friend. She was quite the sight. Long flowing hair, near to her knees. Her English garb had slits way up the sides of her dress. The bodice was unique too, her bosoms nearly exploded from the old mediaeval style - and she had VERY ample bosoms. She sort of resembled a ‘wench’ you might see in an old pirate movie. She presented a sight that would bring a smile to most any man’s face. She came over and greeted grandpa, bent down slowly, then hugged him like I don’t imagine he’s ever been hugged before! Grandpa grinned from ear to ear, then while still grinning he grabbed at his chest. He kept grinning as he clutched at his heart and gasped for breath. It was half an hour and 3 nitro pills later before we were sure grandpa was going to live! Oh man, I’d hate to have had to explain to dad why grandpa died with such a big smile on his face!
By the time mom and dad came back to pick grandpa up he was laughing and chattering away each day. He’d even started playing my boys in checkers and was beating them most every game! Mom and dad couldn’t believe when they saw him! They’d brought my Grandfather Wells to visit for a couple of days before taking them both back to Missouri and we all had a great time. We took both grandfathers to visit an old historic fort nearby and mom couldn’t believe her eyes when not one, but BOTH grandfathers followed me as I got up and walked on the edge of the parking logs behind the children. The children were laughing and balancing along the logs so I did the same, and my grandpa Hughes insisted that he could do it too! He had a bit of assistance on either side, but sure enough, he walked the logs. Grandfather Wells couldn’t be outdone by that ‘old coot’ so he got up and walked the logs too. Mom just laughed and clicked her camera. She didn’t figure she’d ever see such old fools acting so childish ever again!
We ended that evening with a seafood feast. I’d asked grandpa what his favorite food was and he’d said seafood, so I fixed EVERYTHING seafood! We had fish, shrimp, scallops, stuffed crab and more. It was the stuffed crab that got grandpa. Turns out he’d never had stuffed crab and didn’t realize you only eat the stuffing. I was getting drinks for everyone after dad said grace, and heard ‘CRUNCH’. I turned around, wondering what that crunch was? Grandpa was chewing and he made a horrid crunch sound with each chew? I couldn’t figure it out till he reached down and picked up the crab for another bite. Then I realized he was eating the stuffed crab, shell and all! I reached over quickly to stop him and told him he didn’t eat the shell, only the stuffing inside. He seemed surprised and replied: “I’m sorry. You’d just gone to so much trouble to make this dinner for me. I didn’t want to not eat something you had made. I just want you to be happy because I love you.”
I cried to think that my grandpa loved me so much he’d suffer through eating a crab shell for me rather than chance hurting my feelings. I don’t imagine there are too many grandpas out there that would crunch through a crab shell for their granddaughter.
I talked to grandpa many times while he was staying with us that summer, and while none of the conversations were whole enough to really understand what his life had been like, it was enough to know I had shared good moments with my grandpa. When grandpa left my home to return to Missouri, he did so with a smile and a twinkle in his eyes. Grandpa died a few months later. He had new memories to think about those last few months though, not just faded memories of long ago that he could barely piece together - but new memories - memories of children fighting to sit on a great yellow wheel chair with him, memories of a queen bowing before him, memories of his grandson fighting in a great tournament, memories of museums and parks, and memories of laughter with his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren. I was sad to hear when he died, but I knew that when he died, he was ‘alive’.
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