March 6, 2009

gentle on my mind

I have a sort of love hate relationship with the months of February and March because they denote the last few weeks of time spent with my grandfather before he slipped peacefully away from us at the end of his courageous tour of duty (more than a battle) with cancer. He was first diagnosed with Colon Cancer in 2003. He had surgery to remove a very large tumor and then took two courses of chemotherapy to reduce the risk of recurrence in the colon and elsewhere. He didn't like the way it made him feel. Not that he ever complained or appeared sickened by it. He just decided that he would not take a third round, explaining to us that the doctors had told him "they got it".
We all spent the next two years sharing his enthusiasm for gardening and the plain old family time that no one took for granted anymore. Rarely did we give the cancer a second thought. By this time both he and my grandmother had licked different types of cancer. We were home free. Not.So.Fast. In early January 2005 he began having severe pain in his side. Ironically, it was identical to the pain his sister in law was experiencing. Shortly after her diagnosis of liver cancer, it was confirmed that he too had liver cancer that was a result of the colon cancer metastasizing there. He quickly became jaundice and the pain was severe enough to send the strongest 81 year old I've ever known, to the hospital. That was February 4th of 2005. The cancer doctors jumped into full swing, however the cancer was blocking a duct of his liver. They could not operate and they could not give chemo until his bilirubin levels were at a much lower level because his liver would not be able to metabolize the chemo and it would do a lot of harm and no good. So, my grandfather spent 3 weeks in the hospital WAITING for the levels to come down. We spent together time and alone time with him at the hospital. My family literally took over the hospital family room for 3 consecutive sundays in order to continue our traditional coffee and donuts. My sister's little girl was 4 weeks old and he was more interested in her than the donuts. She learned to "talk" to her old gramp way ahead of she knew if she was going to get her chance she had better get at it. The writing on the wall became more and more obvious. He was not getting better. Nor was he going to. The doctors kept plugging away, keeping hope alive in all of us. The nurses (read~angels) were the brave souls who finally confirmed our fears and encouraged us to talk to the doctors. We found that the doctors who battle cancer WILL NOT STOP the battle until the patient or the family suggests that possibly they've done all they can. And why wouldn't they. Who wants to be the one who extinguishes hope and instills the reality of a NO WIN, truly life or death situation for people who love each other. The only way you can wrap your head around believing such an awful truth is if you come to the conclusion on your own or as a family. And this cannot happen, until you have watched an entire staff of specialists work what you hope is going to end in a miracle. In our case, my grandfather's case, the miracle was in the gifts we were given after he decided he wanted to be home. Before he left the hospital, he asked each of his nurses to sit with him while he told them how important their work is and how amazing each of them was to him during his prolonged hospital stay. He quietly grieved his own impending death and outwardly gave the most graceful end of life performance. His home was filled with brave visitors, who all knew they were coming to say goodbye. They prayed with him, made amends if they needed to and all heard positive messages from the man who had always seen and praised the good in all of us. Our last week with him was no different. He was the kind and gentle man he had been his whole life. We watched mets baseball spring training, my sister's basketball game tapes, cooked good food, searched out vanilla peanut butter ice cream of which he ate just enough to taste, he talked about regular stuff and he talked about the really important stuff, mostly with his daughters. Three of them. He told my grandmother how beautiful she was each time she walked in the room and made a fuss over the kids just as he always did. We listened to his old records and he told us which were his favorites and why. We played dice while he still could. He encouraged everyone to have a colonoscopy. He commented on the beauty of the early morning sun rising over his fields. I was lucky enough to be one of the people holding his hand as he passed on...I can't think of a better gift from god. As my mother urged him to run to greet his mother, a warm, peaceful feeling swept through me and remained an entity in that room for a measurable amount of time. It was real and precious. I can still feel it if I sit quietly enough and really remember. Cancer is A LOT of things sad. But it did allow a perfect, seemingly orchestrated, good-bye. Grampa began his next journey, absolutely knowing how loved and important he was to all of us. We'll be looking for him on Sunday...the 4th anniversary of his passing and my grandmother's 84th birthday.


Mark W said...

I can only hope that I have as much courage, grace and dignity at the end of my life.

Cedar ... said...

What a beautiful tribute to your grandfather. I look at his photos and can see the love in his eyes. I would have enjoyed visiting with him. Thank you for introducing him to your readers.

Aunt Janie said...

Do you look for signs from up above
Those signs you know are sent with love? I do.
Do you look for that sunrise in the morning or a penny shining bright
Rainbows stretched across the sky or stars twinkling in the night? I do.
His kindness and his caring, they continue to comfort me. I am grateful for the title of daughter #3.

reneƩ said...

this brought tears to my eyes corin.
what an incredible man he was!

corin said...

To all: thanks for allowing me to share him with you, one might think that after 4 years this was an inflated tribute. The truth is that no blog post could possibly convey how truly wonderfully blessed we were to have him as our grandfather.

Anonymous said...

I miss you Grandpa!<33