Death has touched my family with its greedy fingers. No longer does it claw at my neck, but still it stays near. It's fingers have effected each in my family in their own way. I will always wish it hadn’t come, or that it could have waited a few years. That those fingers could have been kept at bay. However, there is hard truth that will always be reality. Death will claim all of us in the end.
January 28th, 2010. The evening before, we had all sat together joking over dinner; laughing, unaware of what would happen tomorrow.
In the midst of laughter, Grandpa spilled his cup of water all over the table while passing food to my brother.
With familiar mock anger Grandpa had exclaimed, “Thomas*, how could you spill my water?”
My brother, understanding Grandpa's humor, laughed along. Upon questioning Grandpa had jokingly claimed it was all my brother’s fault. Because the food was being passed to him when the glass had been tipped over, Thomas must be blamed. Laughing along with the general merriment and Grandpa’s kindly sarcastic words, I had gotten a towel, cleaned up the water and righted the glass.
After dinner we all separated to go to our own beds. My Nanna and Grandpa retired to my family's rental “cottage” right behind our own house.
That night, I slept well until the sirens came. I had awoken to see flashing red and white lights dancing on the walls of my upstairs bedroom as a car turned into our driveway. The siren stopped just moments after waking me.
Within those moments of waking, and grogginess I had realized that something was wrong. I slipped out of bed and then went into my sister’s room. She lay in her bed, eyes open and frightened. I had beckoned to her, wanting her to come with me, or at least to me. She clambered out of bed and came. I slipped my hand around hers, and together we had went into the hall and down the stairs.
We went through the living room, family room, and dining room as we traveled to the back of the house. We went to the window facing the back property. The window that locked on our Grandparent's front door. My brother had already stood, watching the car outside. It was an ambulance. We watched until a man opened the door to the back rental. He held the door open as a couple of men, along with my mum, carried our Grandpa out on a stretcher.
That morning the ambulance left with my Grandpa. Our parents came running over barefoot. They came just long enough to tell us that they were taking Nanna and following the ambulance to the hospital. Before leaving they slipped on shoes, and hugged my siblings and I, and said they would send someone to be with us. We knew that they would most likely be gone until mid-afternoon.
I was left with my siblings. We sat ourselves at the table in a sort of daze. My sister was worried and scared, so I tried my best to comfort her. I promised her that Grandpa would live. I promised that everything would be all right. I knew that it was an empty promise, but it made her, and me, feel better.
Then we heard a knock on the door.
It was an older woman that we knew well from church. We let her in. She was the one our parents had called so that we wouldn't be alone. I was glad and relieved. Here was an adult. She could make promises that would be kept; she would help my sister be comforted and calm the fear that was rising in my heart. She would help.
So sure was I that she could help, because she was an adult.
Instead, she declared that we needed to do the dishes. She said that service would help us feel better. She claimed it, so we did it. As my sister and I unloaded, the dishwasher, I got more and more upset. I wasn’t feeling better, my heart hurt with fear. I felt my Grandpa missing. So I tried to think of it more as service and not a chore. I couldn’t force down the fear that was still rising. Unshed tears stung my eyes and the kitchen shimmered and swam through them. I told myself that I couldn’t cry. I couldn't let it happen. This would help me feel better, she had said so. My sister needed me to be strong. I couldn’t cry.
The women swept and talked at the same time. I could catch phrases like: “This will help your mom feel better,” “She won’t be as overwhelmed,” “You need to keep out of her way so you don’t annoy her,” and finally, “Your parents should have taught you about death.” I couldn’t listen anymore. I was done with listening to this woman’s incessant chatter of how we needed to prepare, how we needed to help our parents, and what our mother should have done.
“Our parents don’t hide us from the truth.” I whispered.
“Well, yes, but your Grandpa is going to die, and they should have prepared you.”
I was mad; I was upset; I was scared; and this woman who was supposed to comfort us was telling me that my Grandpa would die. I couldn’t control my tears anymore. I let go and ran from the room. I kept thinking: He won’t die! He cannot die! But he might have... he might now...
I cried into my pillow, torn with a fear I had never known. I stayed in my bedroom until I heard the sound of a car driving up the driveway. It was too early; it was only ten o’clock.
When my parents came in to the house, I was already by their side, having met them in the driveway. I was comforted by their presence. I kept saying "But you came home? But you're okay." For a moment I simply needed to know they were back. However, after that moment and when we hugged, I saw it in their eyes. I knew he was dead. I could feel it. They were home too early, their eyes too dim.
Maybe now is an odd time to share this... Maybe Death isn't something to be mentioned around the Holidays. But for those of us who have lost, though we may not speak of it, the holiday's bring Death closest to our remembrance. These are the times we are sharply aware of the missing presence at the table, the missing personality, and the traditions that have changed.
*All names changed for privacy