My heart hurts. Physically hurts.
I feel like I’m watching my thoughts; my brain is sitting in a plastic chair in front of a laundromat clear door dryer, watching the different colors and textures tumbling about together.
I’m in Michigan at my step-grandparents’ house. Hunky and Company stayed home and I rode in with the sibs.
My step-grampa has had esophageal cancer for awhile, but the treatments he was getting seemed to be keeping him with us just fine. However, he was checked into the hospital Monday, and my step-mom called all the sibs and informed us now would be a very good time to go visit Grampa in the hospital. No one has said this out loud, but we’re here to say goodbye to Grampa.
I’ve only known Grampa for 15 years. I met him when I was 20 at my father’s wedding. Now wait a minute. I see “only” and “15 years” and it seems like they don’t go together. Throw in “Grampa”, and you have puzzle pieces that don’t together just right. Grampas are someone who knew you before you knew you, and tell you silly stories about yourself that exist before your brain started collecting memories. Other times, (at the risk of getting all Dinosaurs Divorce on you) you meet an old man, and as you’re shaking hands, someone says, “And this is your new Grandfather!” And you mold a relationship from a completely blank slate, one that is missing the sweet foundation of a familiar bond. You are starting with a brand new, unsupple, solid color comforter instead of a heavy, handstitched, sweetly sun-dried scented, love-worn quilt.
I’m at a loss as to how I deal with this grief. When my (blood) Gramma died in 2004, Alzheimer’s had stolen her memory and she didn’t know who anyone was. She was alone and scared in an unfamiliar world, and I imagine death was an appreciated release. I was melancholy and wrapped our memories around me; memories of her rocking me as I laid on her chest and listened to her heartbeat, memories of her teaching me to cook, memories that gave me a sense of peace and belonging that were too few and far between. On the other hand, my step-grampa is being taken away by a cruel disease that robs him too soon of his rosy-cheeked good health. A grampa I have known since I was already an adult, and wasn’t as close to as my other grandparents. So I’m feeling sad, but also a little guilty that I don’t have the same amount of grief as I did with my Gramma. I’m wondering if it’s perhaps because of a lack of memories, or is it that I have a deep-seated notion that I don’t have a right to the same amount of grief?
Anyway, that’s not what is causing my contemplation this evening.
When we arrived, we went to the hospital right away to see him. He can no longer speak because he’s had a series of TIAs (you’ll have to google that later, and so will I). But he wants a hug and kiss from everyone and holds the good arm up around your neck and draws you in tight, communicating more than mere words can convey.
But that’s not really what is getting to me.
Gramma sat on the bed beside him and as he drifted in and out of sleep. As he moved restlessly, he caught her hand and intertwined their hands together and pulled them close, kissing each of her knuckles. Then he’d drift off and let go. Then the next time he roused, before he even opened his eyes, his hand was seeking hers and he raised his arm to pull her close for a hug. He did this often the whole time we were talking to Gramma, getting her caught up on the mundane news of our lives. And as she talked with us, her hands lit on him here and there like a butterfly; caressing his shoulder, adjusting his sheets to keep him covered up, stroking his cheek, rubbing his arms. And every once in a while she would whisper something secret to him, sweet nothings gently imparted, bringing peace and a pause to his restlessness.
And it washed over me like a cold wave crashing on the beach. I wanted my husband. I wanted to squeeze him tight and kiss the end of his nose and his earlobe. I wanted to bury my face in the hollow under his jaw and smell his ahhh, I’m home scent and try to radiate my love to him in a way that passed understanding. And I briefly tried to imagine what it would be like when Hunky and I are old and gray.
And that’s why my heart hurts. Physically hurts. And now my empty arms ache too.