A Rough Day
Yesterday I had to tell my 87 year old grandfather that he has colon cancer and is terminal. He has at most 6 weeks, but likely it’ll all be over in two. My mom wanted to tell him, but just couldn’t do it, so the task fell to me. I thought it would be easier than it was. He’d had several strokes over the last little while; I didn’t believe he’d understand. So much of what we say to him falls into a blank look on his face. He understands my hugs and when I hold his hand and that has been my only form of communication with him. He doesn’t even repeat his favorite phrases he’d developed immediately after his stroke anymore. The last time he said “outta here” was forever ago.
So yesterday I knelt by his side and took his hand– aged with liver spots and thin translucent skin hovering over his bulging blue veins. I have no idea how long it was that I sat there, staring at his hand while he quietly waited for me to say what I’d come to say.
I decided to be blunt . .. after all he wouldn’t understand. He’d likely just grin at me and nod like he did so often in the last few months. But once the words were out and I started bawling like an absolute baby, I knew he understood and I regretted taking my mother’s place in this. Maybe it wasn’t the words he understood; maybe it was the fact that I’d had an absolute meltdown as I sat next to him. I don’t know, but either way, he knows his heartbeats are numbered. I feel like the grim reaper in some way. I feel as though I’d cut through him with my scythe. He shook his head, his watery blue eyes staring at me–through me–as he said, “There’s no point.”
I have a firm belief in the afterlife. I myself do not fear death. Not that I’m out seeking it, but it doesn’t bother me to consider it . . . not for myself anyway. Naturally, I’m totally selfish and don’t want anyone I love to die because that means I won’t have them right here and right now anymore.
I remember once watching water boiling and noting the steam rising up from the pan. I was little and asked what the steam was. I remember thinking it looked like a ghost. My father explained about the transfer of energy from one form to another. My dad’s one of those brilliant types that you DON’T want helping you with homework because you’ll only end up more confused. He went into a lengthy diatribe that I’m sure was pertinent to my question but I’d tuned him out after the inital explanation of the transfer of energy.
Because I’d related the steam to the ghost, I’d come to the conclusion at that very young age that death was like that–a transfer of energy from one form to another. The water died and became steam. From that point on, I knew that there was more than life here. We would not cease to exist; we’d merely transfer to some other state of being. Our bodies die and we become something else.
But knowing that for myself does not make it any easier for me to have told a man–who doesn’t believe for himself–that he is dying. Death is a dark abyss of nothing for him. How do I explain the steam to him? How do I explain the love I’ve felt from a father in heaven he doesn’t believe in?
This is why i never argue religion with others. I’m fascinated to hear other’s viewpoints but I know I cannot give my own experiences to them. I cannot force them into my point of view and show them the day I knelt down to ask for myself. I cannot show them what happened next. Most of them wouldn’t believe me. And further still, most would think me insane. Grandpa was like that. He didn’t believe. He did think I was crazy.
I am not so sad that he’s dying as I am that he’s afraid right now. I cannot take his fear away. I can’t give him comfort. I cannot explain the steam. I’ve never felt so useless . . .