Last Wednesday, my baby brother, Seth, called and asked me to go to the nursing home with him to see our grandfather. Papaw had been doing very poorly for about a week. Me, my older brother, Aaron, my younger brother, Malachi, and my dad had went to the nursing home about a week before to sign DNR forms and instruct them on how we wanted Papaw’s care to go. We were expecting that to be the end, but then the doctor said he thought Papaw was going to pull out of it. By Tuesday, they had told us that he was not going to get better. And yet he lingered.
So on Wednesday, Seth called and told me that Dad thought all of us grandchildren should go and tell Papaw that it was okay for him to go on home. I loaded up all the kids, and went to my parents’ house to pick up Seth and leave the kids there with Dad. While I was there, I discovered that my tire had a hole in it, and Dad and Seth changed it for me. We were later than we intended to get to the nursing home. When we finally got on our way, we made it about three minutes down the road before Seth got a phone call from our parents. The nursing home had called to say they thought Papaw only had a couple of hours.
Me, Seth, and our niece, Keinzie, got to the nursing home and went to our Papaw’s room. He looked terrible. Even worse than the last time I had seen him. He was skeletal and asleep. His bed was lowered all the way down for safety reasons, so I got down on my knees beside his bed, stroked his white hair back from his forehead, and told him that I loved him, thanked him for everything he had done for us, and told him it was okay to go on home. Seth repeated these sentiments, and we were both bawling our eyes out. Papaw’s eyes were open and he looked in our general direction, but I don’t think he could see us. He had lost most of his sight when he had a stroke a few years ago. In his weakened state, I don’t think he could see us at all. A nurse came and told us that they were going to move Papaw to a private room. Seth and I continued to talk to Papaw until the nurses came to get him. As we went out into the hallway to let them work on getting him moved, Mom, Dad, and my Aunt Gail (my Mamaw’s sister) arrived. There were many tearful hugs.
The nurses got Papaw settled into a private room, and we were joined by other family members. Over the next twenty-four hours, family gathered with Papaw. We thought he would go quickly, but he lingered. We talked to him, held his hand, played some of his favorite songs for him, and generally just kept a vigil. The only response we ever got was when we played music, he would look in our general direction, and, at one point, he seemed to be squeezing my hand. He never got any more alert, though.
We wondered if he was waiting on Mamaw to come. My Mamaw June has Alzheimer’s and hasn’t known any of us for quite some time. She’s like a small child. My mom and Aunt Gail went and got her and brought her to the nursing home. She wasn’t sure who any of us were, but she seemed happy to be with us. When they brought her in the room, we told him that June was there, and he leaned toward her and made the only sound he made throughout the entire time (with the exception of crying out in pain when the nurses moved him). It was almost a whimper. We told her that Papaw was her husband and that he was very sick. She asked some questions, but was mostly distracted by everyone else. She didn’t know him, but she was happy to tell him anything we told her to tell him. So we had her tell him that she was June, she loved him, and that it was okay for him to go home. We had her tell him that she would be okay.
I just about lost it as I was trying to help her understand. It’s very much like dealing with a young child. I told her that Papaw was very sick, and he wanted to go home and see his mom and dad. She said she thought he should go on home then and that she wanted to go home and see her Mommy, too. I told her that he wanted to know if it was okay with her for him to go. She leaned over him and said, “It’s okay with me. Go on home.” Then she looked at me and asked me who was going to come and get him. My heart broke in two then. I wasn’t sure what to say, so I told her that his Mommy and Daddy would meet him and take him home. She just smiled and said, “That’s good.”
After that, we waited. Mamaw stayed for a while. She sang “Amazing Grace” to Papaw. She can’t remember a single one of us, but she remembers every word to that song.
We wondered why Papaw lingered at death’s door for so long. My dad is his only child, and us grandchildren were his family. Jason and Malachi, my brothers, had been by a couple of days before to say goodbye before they left for California and New Jersey. Me, Aaron, and Seth were all at the nursing home with him, as was our dad and Mamaw. The only one of us who hadn’t been there was our brother, Lucas, who was working in New Orleans. During the night, Lucas got a layoff from his job, and headed home. He drove all through the night to come and be with Papaw. At about ten thirty on Thursday, Lucas made it. He got to say his goodbyes to Papaw.
At about two thirty, I decided to go home and take a shower. I had been at the nursing home for twenty-four hours with no sleep. I was tired, and we weren’t sure how much longer it would be. Shortly after I stepped out of the shower at home, my mom called me to tell me that Papaw had gone home. I was devastated to have not been with him, but comforted to know that Dad and Lucas and Seth were with him when he passed.
On Sunday, we laid my Papaw to rest. It was a very nice funeral, and I think Papaw would have liked it. I was honored to give the eulogy, and the honor guard was at the burial. It was a very moving tribute to a man I loved very much.
I’m really going to miss my Papaw, but I’m glad to know that he is in a better place where he doesn’t have to suffer anymore.