“One day in the courtyards of your Temple is better than a thousand days anywhere else.” Psalm 84:10 (NCV)
Grandpa’s laugh ended with a snort more often than not. His white hair made his blue green eyes stand out like the sun on a clear day. The way he hummed reminded me of a cheerful song bird. Aromas from his pipe let me know he was near by. Not a care in the world, or so it seemed, Grandpa’s selfless character is unforgettable.
Although Grandpa had trouble swallowing, it took him a year to take the advice of loved ones to see a doctor. A simple doctor’s appointment seemed trivial; it didn’t fit his positive outlook on life. Trying to kill two birds with one stone, his doctor scheduled him for a colonoscopy and a bronchoscopy on the same day. Mom and my aunt drove him to his appointment.
I was working that October morning on the medical unit at the hospital as a Patient Care Assistant. Grandpa’s room was only a few seconds down the hall. I knocked on his door.
“Come in.” I knew I had the right room when I heard Grandpa’s crackly voice and I slowly opened the door.
There he sat in his gown and dress socks pulled up to the bottom of his calves, patiently awaiting the doctor. He asked for a second gown to cover his backside, the hospital attire was not his cup of tea. The apprehensive expression on his face nudged me to say something encouraging.
“I just came by to say ‘hi’,Grandpa,and to wish you good luck. Call me at this number if you get results today. Love you.” I handed my work number to Mom from a scrap sheet of paper.
“Thanks for stopping in. Bye,” he said with a laid back wave.
Hours later, I was paged to the front desk for a phone call. Part of me didn’t want to answer and the other part just knew the tests went fine.
“Hello. This is Mimi.”
“Grandpa has cancer,” Mom whispered. Her tone made it clear that he was sitting near her.
“I couldn’t believe it- the word cancer was linked with my Grandpa?” That only happens to other people.
“It’s esophageal carcinoma and it’s at stage four already. Grandpa told the doctor that he doesn’t want anything done.”
“Nothing done, what do you mean nothing done?”
My occasional shifts on the oncology unit opened my eyes to the agony of cancer both physically and emotionally. My grandpa being one of those people saddened me; it was too much.
“We’re leaving now. I wanted to tell you before we left. Bye.”
I hung up the phone and met them at the elevators. I had to see Grandpa before they left. The dismayed look on his face turned to a smile when he saw me. Reaching out his hand, I grasped it and said, “I’m sorry.”
“I guess I have cancer,” he said peacefully.
“Yes you do.” Tears blinded me as we hugged goodbye. I hurt for him and my grandmother, who hadn’t heard the news.
My grandparent’s 62 year marriage was strong and triumphant. Since my fiancé and I had planned to marry in November, we decided to combine our wedding with Grandpa and Grandma’s anniversary. One hundred of our closest family members made our event intimate. Weak but witty, Grandpa made a heartfelt speech. We’ll always remember.
Fall turned to winter.
He complied with his radiation treatment plans, since they were necessary for his comfort. The treatments at the hospital were two floors down from where I worked. I found a way to take an early break to meet Mom and Grandpa during his appointment. Out of breath from my brisk walk, I sat next to Grandpa in the waiting room.
“You need to slow down, girl!” he said as he patted my leg.
“I just wanted to say ‘hi’ since I knew you were coming, Grandpa.”
“We’re just waiting to be called. You’d better get back to work now.”
I headed back to work. More concerned with my doing my job, his short but sweet words were priceless. Grandpa’s easy going attitude gave me peace. It seemed that I needed him more than he needed me. His calm spirit came from his deep faith in God. Cancer didn’t scare him.
Hospice took over Grandpa’s care in late January. A hospital bed was placed next to the bay window in his bedroom and a wheelchair replaced his recliner. Oxygen and morphine were given for comfort. I remember one visit; he was sitting in his wheelchair looking outside the window. With one hand on his oxygen tank, he looked at me.
“You kids are way too fast paced. Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses once in a while,” he said.
“I’ll remember that, Grandpa.”
By February, Grandpa was bedridden. The cancer was taking his life before our eyes. Holding his dignity tight, I had to beg him to let me brush his dentures one morning. Fading from this world, the chaplain came by to share a Holy Communion service around Grandpa’s bed. A few family members gathered. By the end of the service, we wondered if Grandpa even knew what was going on. The uncertainty vanished when we heard a quiet but powerful song from his bed.
“Oh, how I love Jesus. Oh, how I love Jesus. Oh, how I love Jesus, because He first loved me.”
Grandpa seldom sang and usually hummed. That day he sang aloud. We all joined in. One foot on earth, one foot in heaven, I believe Grandpa was preparing to sing with Jesus.
Dark clouds covered the sky and the wind whistled against the bay window on the morning of March 2nd. I sat on one side of Grandpa’s bed and Mom sat on the other. Grandma went into the other room, I couldn’t imagine her sorrow. The jerk in his body and irregular breathing led me to give him one last dose of morphine. Please Lord, take him home. Mom and I each held one of his hands; we encouraged him to run to Jesus.
“Keep running to Jesus, Grandpa. Don’t stop. We’ll take care of Grandma, just go!”
In his last breath he said, “Wow.”
Sunshine filled the sky and the wind quieted. Grandpa’s life with cancer had ended. His new life had begun. Nothing could be better than singing with Jesus and Grandpa was well prepared.