I just returned from a trip to Green Bay to see my grandparents. It was supposed to be a vacation, but that didn't really happen. What happened is that we arrived to find my 84-year-old grandfather struggling for his life. It all started a year ago when he got pneumonia. The infection never really left, and he's had a number of problems since then, including a collapsed lung and kidney infection.
Usually, our annual trips to Grandma's house are filled with barbeques, golfing trips, movies, and shopping. This year, we all stood by as Grandma attempted to convince Grandpa to eat just one cookie. Drink just one cup of coffee. Get out of bed for an hour. Brush his hair. He couldn't hear much of anything, and had pretty much lost his memory.
I watched as Grandma brushed his hair for him so that he could be in a picture with us. I felt the way that she loved him through 60 years of children and dinner and vacations together. I turned my head to let my tears fall privately, so as not to upset anyone. Our family continued to perform the usual behaviors, watching TV and chatting about the weather, while constantly trying to bear the weight of Grandpa's lingering illness.
In private, I could not stop sobbing. My 14-year-old brother hugged me and said that it would be alright. My mom came into the room and asked my brother if he wanted to talk about anything. Little did she know that I, the older, more mature sibling, was the one in distress, struggling to make sense of it all.
The worst thing about the trip is that I couldn't understand why. Why does Grandpa have to go through this? After 84 years of life, he is reduced to laying in bed and struggling to breathe. Eventually, I realized that no matter how much I mourn the situation, it won't help his condition. We all want to take his pain away, and take his death on ourselves. But that's just not possible. Everyone is responsible for dealing with their own death in their own way, and making sense of the life they lived. Grandpa doesn't want us to feel sorry for him, because he doesn't feel sorry for himself. He isn't scared or sad or depressed. He just wants to get on with things and make it to Heaven. And I have to let him.