Happy Trails

Shapeimage_2 Gramp taught us
something this week.  He taught us how to die.  We had rushed back to
Grand Rapids when we got the call from Mike’s Mom.  Gramp wasn’t doing
well – he had one more shot with a new antibiotic, but Mom wouldn’t
know anything until the weekend.  He had been through quite a bit in
the last month, but prior to that, was doing well.  And, Gramp was in
love.  He just wasn’t one of those crotchety old guys waiting to die. 
But we jumped on a plane anyway.  I’m just so glad we did.

Mike
accompanied his mother to the hospital that weekend, to find out if the
antibiotics were working.  They were not.  Mike watched his grandfather
make the decision to be moved into hospice where he would be kept
comfortable, but not treated.  He wanted to die on his own terms.  As I
would later learn from my husband, he really respected Gramp’s
decision.  Gramp, at the end, had the courage to accept that it was his
time to die. 

How
do you want to die?  It’s not a question one thinks about.  Do you want
to be alone?  Surrounded by friends and family?  Just family?  Is there
any way to know the answers to these questions in advance, or is it
something you figure out during the process of death?  We were both so
prepared for the birth of Raines – classes, creation of a birth plan,
and even though it all went awry, we felt much more prepared to go
through the whole process.  I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t the
same for death.  The folks at the hospice center, who deal with death
every day, handed out a booklet to educate us on the dying process.  I
never realized that there was a process to death.  Apparently, it can
start several months prior, with the person slowly withdrawing more and
more from this life.  They talked quite a bit about the dying person
straddling two worlds – ours, and the one they are going to.  And in
many cases, the dying person will “see” people who have died before
them.  This is also part of the process. 

Gramp
must have known, somehow.  While he was still in the hospital – before
the antibiotics failed, a physical therapist came in to work with him. 
Gramp sent the therapist away, telling him that he had more important
things to worry about.  So I think Gramp suspected.   Perhaps by the
time Gramp needed to make the decision to move into hospice, he was
already well into the dying process. 

So
Gramp moved into hospice.  In hospice, he allowed all of us to come and
see him.  We brought Raines.  Despite the late hour, Raines smiled and
cooed and jumped and shrieked and talked and talked and talked.  He
made Gramp’s hearing aid act up.  Gramp chuckled and talked back a
little.  It was funny – seeing Gramp so old at the end of his life, and
Raines so new at the beginning of his, yet both looking a little
alike.  Raines has Gramp’s eyebrows.  Later on, after hearing about
Raines’ reaction, Aunt Jude remarked that “Raines’ soul knew”.  Perhaps
Raines knew in the same way that Gramp knew before the rest of us —
with that part of our brain – or gut -  that is only accessible when it
really matters.  Maybe that is our soul.  I’d like to find that out
someday.

In
the end, Gramp’s final gift to us all, whether he realized the impact
on us or not, was that he allowed us to be a part of his dying
process.  We were there when he made his decision to stop fighting.  We
were there as his breathing worsened.  We were there as he would slip
in and out of his deep, deep sleep – the sleep the hospice workers
described as transitioning to the next world.  And, in some way, we
were all part of his last breath.  Gramp helped us understand what it
is to die – what it is to have the courage to completely let go.  That
knowledge, that new understanding, isn’t complete – and probably won’t
be until we are in Gramp’s shoes — but that knowledge is something
that we can all bring to our own deaths.  It makes the thought of
letting go a little less scary.  Thanks, Gramp.  What a wonderful,
final, gift.

“Happy trails to you, until we meet again.”

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