At the End

Sunday evening. Mother’s Day. I come home to a call that Grandpa has gone to the emergency room. We fear his aortic aneurism has burst. I wait for news, for this fear to be confirmed. We’ve always thought the aneurism would carry him off one day, but we thought it would be faster, snuffing his life before the ambulance can arrive. At the hospital, they wonder if something else is wrong, maybe his kidneys. The CT scan shows it is indeed the aneurism, but it’s a slow leak, so maybe they can operate. Grandpa’s surgeon comes in specially to perform the surgery. He promises nothing but a chance. Grandpa jokes and tells stories through the pain no drug can touch, oddly more lucid than usual. I’ll try to hold that in my mind, overwriting the last days of respirators and sedatives. He quotes bible verses at the Chaplain and talks of bygone days. They wheel him to pre-op, and we take turns holding his hand as they prep him and start to slide him gently into sleep. The nurses take him away and we’re left in the waiting room. Mom is tired and worried, but she stays positive. She’s a rock, as always.

Hours pass, we wait. And wait. Coffee, tea, muffins, wandering the emptied hallways waiting for word. Hour three. The head nurse brings us word he’s still alive, still holding his own. There’s still hope. Hour Five. The surgeon arrives. He tells us it’s a miracle, but Grandpa survived the risky surgery, his heart never stopping once. Recovery will be rough, but the worst is over, we think. We wait some more until he’s arrived in the ICU. One a.m. and we see him settled, beginning to wake up, and even get a flash of recognition when we bring our faces into his window of vision.
The next morning, he is cantankerous and the nurse sedates him to keep him quiet. The old bird has a bit of fight left in him yet, I guess.

Days of sitting in the ICU follow. It’s surreal, a clean quiet room, where nothing changes except the coming and going of the attentive nurses. Beeping and whooshing of the breathing machine keep the ringing out of our ears, while we watch him sink. Wednesday afternoon, we discuss how long we should keep him alive via machines as his body slowly shuts down, one organ at a time. How long to we cling to a person who is no longer with us. The surreality of such a decision nearly overwhelms me. An afternoon spent trying to part the veil of the future and chart the kindest course through mortality.

Thursday morning, he fades quietly away, leaving to search for his life-long love. It’s impossible to think they won’t find each other in some calm Hereafter, drawn inexorably together by the rightness of their partnership. On Earth, they are missed even as their lingering presence shades our lives and relationships a delicate blue.

Life goes on, wobbling into a new normal without them. We live, laugh, and love guided by the spirit of two powerful personalities entwined with ours. Time will heal the hurt, but their memories will never fade.



  1. Sarah Cifani said,

    May 17, 2013 at 7:22 am

    Thank you. Love to you. Aunt Sarah

  2. Rebecca Quirk said,

    May 17, 2013 at 8:18 am

    Very eloquent!

  3. Ellen said,

    May 28, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    Your Aunt Sarah was right. It brought me to tears. Thank you, Aunt Ellen

  4. Judith Bartlett said,

    June 16, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    reading it today, one month after his passing helps me to start the grieving process. It is so hard to process the death of someone who has always been there, and in the last 2 years I have spent so much time being there for him. Too much never gets said, too many regrets for things undone, but Happy Father’s Day in heaven Dad, thank you for your gift of writing about this. Love you, Mom

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