The Next Death

Once you recover from your loss and begin to feel like your life is almost manageable again, you will be confronted with the possibility of the next death. The realization that someone else close to you will die, and the process will begin all over again.

For me that person is my mother’s father, my Grandpa Bud. He’s 88 years old and lives 2,000 miles away in Minnesota, which makes handling his care very difficult. He’s resided in his house alone since my Grandmother died in 2005. In the last three months he’s had two major medical scares.

Bronchitis and pink eye. Confusion and slurred speech from overdosing on his meds — he was taking double to catch up — and now hospitalization for pneumonia and arrhthymia. When he walks around, his heart beats too fast. When they give him drugs to slow it down, his heart beats too slowly.

There was talk of a pacemaker. And for days, I was a nervous wreck. Would he die alone in the hospital with no one by his side? My mother would have been there by now. My father flew out for the bronchitis and confusion to get his meds back on track, to order Meals on Wheels, but now this. “We can’t go back for everything,” my father says, a man bound more by duty than love.

I felt in my gut I should go there. That I’d never forgive myself if he died. But given my job situation (no money) and the fact that for the first time in months full-time work have become available through Christmas, I felt frozen here. Was it the selfishness of wanting to finally get back my life or the fact that I have no way to afford a last-minute plane ticket?

My mind flashed to the conversation I had with my mother in a hotel room in Las Vegas in Sept. 2008 — our final trip together. After a night of fine dining and Cirque du Soleil, she tearfully said to me, “I’m not afraid to die. I’m just afraid of leaving my dad behind.” I promised her I would always look out for him and love him like she did. That she didn’t have to worry.

I could in no way anticipate what that responsibility entailed or how trapped and helpless I would feel in the face of it. Never knowing if this medical emergency was “the one” or just temporary. Offering not a hand at his bedside but phone calls on his nightstand trying to show that I cared. Attempting to contact the doctor but not even knowing the cardiologist’s name. Having to trust my Grandpa’s word on what the doctor said is wrong with him because I’m not there.

These are worries you don’t usually deal with until you’re middle-aged, when you have money, a stable career, the ability to fly back with ease for a family emergency. I have the love. I lack the means. And this was something even my mother couldn’t anticipate.

But I keep calling. Everyday. Because that’s all I can do.

My Grandpa’s being released from the hospital and into a nursing home for rehabilitation in two days to regain his strength before they let him go home. To sleep in his chair. To forget to eat dinner. To wake up thinking it’s morning when it’s night. And that’s when I’ll realize how good I’ve had it these part couple of anxious weeks. Because no matter how bad it got, at least I knew someone was there.

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