My grandpa has been married to my grandmother for 38 years. He served in the United States Marine Corps. during the Vietnam war. He goes fishing every Sunday as long as the weather permits, and when it doesn't he likes to sit in his favorite armchair and watch cartoons or science fiction movies. His favorite foods are creme filled donuts, pizza, Twin Kiss cheeseburgers and my grandma's homemade chicken pot pie. He loves Autumn dearly, and she absolutely adores him. She likes to go fishing with him in his little green boat. They don't catch anything but I don't think it makes any difference.
Earlier this year Grandpa was diagnosed with melanoma. At first it seemed like nothing to worry about. He had surgery, the doctors performed a skin graft on the side of his face and they said he was in remission. But then they found more cancer. It spread to his lungs and his liver. From the first diagnosis he had the most incredible positive outlook. He was sure that everything would be just fine, and told us not to worry about him. After he went into the hospital I spoke to him on the phone and he sounded just as happy and healthy as he ever was. I felt comforted by his optimism, and tried not to cry too much when I thought about it.
That was about two months ago. Yesterday afternoon we drove up to Lancaster to visit him in the hospital. My grandmother had called the day before to tell us he didn't have much time left. My mom flew in from California, and I decided that Autumn and I would stay at my grandparents' house for a few days to help out and be there for Grandpa (Adam had to work and couldn't stay). Before we left, I sat down with Autumn in her room and had to tell her that Great Grandpa was going to die soon. I told her he would go to a place called Heaven where he wouldn't be sick anymore. He would be very happy there and he could go fishing every day if he wanted to. We wouldn't be able to see or hear him, but he would see and hear us and we could still talk to him. She cried, and she made him a card that said "I love you Grandpa."
When we arrived at the hospital I said hello to my grandmother and my great aunt Darlene, and stepped further into the room to see him. There was a man lying on a bed who looked to be twice as old as my Grandpa. He was bald and emaciated with swollen feet and a bloated stomach. He slept with his eyes half open and his mouth agape, the sounds of his labored breathing cutting through the quiet beeping and dripping of the hospital room. I looked from this man to the other side of the room, searching for Grandpa's bed, but all I saw was a tan faux leather sofa and a window. There was no one else in the room. No other bed. I stood there for about three more seconds before I had to run out of the room and sob into Adam's shirt.
No. No. I whimpered like a child. No. That isn't him. That can't be him. He was fine. He was just fine last time. How could that be him? No, there's been a mistake. No. He looks like he's dead already. I can't do this. No no no no no.
Ten minutes later we were both able to pull ourselves together enough to enter the room again. Autumn was sitting on my grandmother's lap, talking to Grandpa. He was awake now and, though he didn't have much control over his facial muscles anymore, he was smiling at her. Grandma would later tell me it was the first time she'd seen him smile in weeks. She showed him the card she made, and her Superman temporary tattoo, and played with the fish Beanie Baby sitting on his side table. I talked to him a bit, but for the most part I just didn't know what to say. But when he talked I listened, and when he said he was hot I fanned him with a piece of paper until the nurse brought an electric fan. I felt angry and helpless. How could this happen to MY Grandpa? He was supposed to live forever. He didn't deserve this. It wasn't fair. But I just sat by his side and tried not to cry much, and when it was time to leave I kissed him on the forehead and told him I love him.
That evening after saying goodbye to Adam, Autumn and I went back to my grandparents' house, made a few phone calls and went to bed on the air mattress in my old bedroom. Around 3:00 this morning my mom called to tell me he had died. The first thing I did was smile. I found so much comfort in knowing that he isn't suffering anymore. He's finally free of his ill and broken body. If Heaven is a place where we can do what makes us happy, he's up there catching the biggest fish he's ever laid eyes on. I know that in whatever life there is after this one, he is better off. And I am so glad that he spent his last day smiling.
I try not to think about the broken man on that hospital bed now. That's not the way I want to remember him. This is how he should be remembered.
I love you Grandpa.
In Loving Memory of
Bruce W. Farst
Bruce W. Farst