Yesterday it happened again. I had a missed call while I was on the phone to someone else. I heard the familiar beep beep of the other line and then again for the voice message. I didn't even have to listen to it to know. It was time. The family was being summoned to the hospital to say their final goodbyes to my Grandfather. The wait was almost over.
I run to the bathroom and furiously rub away my makeup. Bright red lips are too perky for ICU. Tricky and I jump in the car and make our way to the hospital. Partly to say goodbye, but mostly to support my Dad.
Since having his operation last week, my Grandfather never regained consciousness. He would show some signs of improvement but with each step forward he would take two back. His body was failing, even with so much intervention. The decision was made to remove life support.
We gather around his bed. His wife, his five children, two of their partners (one is my Mum), three of his grandchildren and one sweet little Tricky boy who senses that something is up. He is unusually calm and happy to be held. All these people, most of whom Tricky hasn't met before, smile at him with sad eyes and he smiles back. He never smiles at strangers. Maybe he knows they are family?
It has been years since all the children were in the same room and we are all aware that this morose family reunion should not have happened this way. Not like this. There should be food and wine not ventilators and catheters.
We hug and we cry. And we wait for it all to happen. For the show to begin. For the show to end. For death to come.
My Dad holds his father's hand. They have the same hands and it's difficult to tell which is which. I look around and notice that they all have the same hands.
The Priest arrives. All the identical hands join in a circle around the bed and the Last Rites are read. Tricky decides now would be a good time to giggle. I cringe and apologize and everyone else just smiles at him... he is a welcome distraction. A bundle of life in stark contrast to the shell of a man who lays upon the bed.
The nurse, an absolute angel, stops the medication. One by one we go to him and say a few words. When it is my turn I walk to his side with Tricky on my hip. I hold my Pop's hand and lean in to kiss his forehead, mumbling some last words in his ear. I call him mate and then immediately wonder why I said it. It's sounds stupid and foreign and I hope that no one else has heard me.
I stand back up and without any prompting Tricky looks at his Great Grandfather and waves bye bye. He knows. My Dad crumples and his body is racked with heaving sobs. My Mum holds him and weeps, memories of a much earlier time haunting her.
We wait. We share memories of happy times, practical jokes and a warped sense of humour. I have forgotten that he was once funny, it seems so long ago. I mention the Easter, when I was only young, that he handed me a large, heavy, gift wrapped box that had me so excited... only to find a tiny egg and a brick inside.
The sobs of "what a great man" and "I'll miss him so much" anger me. These are the people who complained loudly when it was their turn to finally help out when my Dad couldn't do it any more. The people who hated helping so much they rang my Dad five short days after his open heart surgery, when he was still in hospital, to ask when he could drive again so desperate were they to be rid of the old man. Who after only six months of helping him have forgotten who it was that took care of it all for years. But now is not the time for bitterness... that will come, I just know it.
After almost an hour he is ready to go, he is ashen. The nurse asks if we'd like the breathing tube removed for the final few minutes. Everyone solemnly nods. Take it away, let him have his last few minutes on earth with as few tubes as possible.
The wait is almost over. The final drabs of life drain from his face and he is gone. A doctor quietly comes in to confirm it. She warms her hands before feeling for a pulse and apologizes to him, by name, for their iciness. If it wasn't so sad I would laugh. Warming your hands to touch a corpse has to be the height of compassion.
The formalities of death are over and the time is noted. 1:20pm. I stroke his tattooed arm and kiss his forehead. Still warm. I wonder how long it takes for a body to go cold and panic that I might have asked out loud.
My fear from last week has eventuated. I have watched someone die. Witnessed their soul leave their body. I am overwhelmed and it is hard to process. I am the first to leave the room, making my excuses that Tricky needs to go and I head straight for the bathrooms where I scrub at my hands as if the stench of death is on them.
And now we wait again. We all know it won't be long before we are back here, going through the same motions, with the wife he has left behind.
|Four Generations: My Grandparents, my Dad and I with a two day old Tricky|