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Miniblog #325: The Surreal Juxtaposition of Grandpa Dying & Dad Starting Chemotherapy

by Carson T. Clark on March 7, 2014

I’m still in Minnesota. The whole family thought Grandpa Ben’s passing was going to be a quick process.1 Instead he’s slowly fading in hospice care. In some ways I sense it has been harder on his children (my aunts and uncle) than on Grandpa Ben himself. He’s ready to be with the Lord but they’re having to put their lives on hold in this indefinite waiting.1.That’s why I pulled an all-nighter a week and a half ago to get here. If the family weren’t from a Lutheran heritage, I’d say it feels like limbo. For them the waiting is excruciating. The truly painful part, I think, is that he’s being an obstinate, self-centered, insensitive father to the very end.22.I say that with no bitterness, contempt, or anything of the sort. It’s a sad but true reality. It’s a tough pill to swallow. Grandpa has never been what you might call a “gentle soul.” Both his sight and hearing are impaired, so most people don’t think he knows much of what’s going on around him. I disagree.33.Several nights ago I stayed with him until 1:00 AM, just talking to grandpa about life. I never told him I was there nor was I thinking he was hearing a word. But as soon as I got up to go he rolled over and said, “Carson… toilet.” The man clearly knows much more of what’s going on than he’s letting on. Unfortunately, he won’t communicate with any of us, which is preventing those important, final conversations. In his final days he has turned all the more inward.4 Looking at his body it’s amazing he’s alive. He’s so gaunt. His BMI is about half of what it once was. Bones are jutting out everywhere, especially his shoulders, ribs, and hips… Death is near. We still don’t know when it’ll happen, though.4.As a grandson it’s far less painful. Indeed, it’s precisely what I expected from a strong German man on his deathbed. Of course, I don’t have those same painful memories. It could be at any moment or he could, against all odds, survive another couple of weeks. Who knows? For my part, I don’t feel like I need to be there for the funeral. I’ve been able to spend time together in the nursing home. He knows I’ve been there and how much I love him.55.That’s the important part. Meanwhile, the emotional and circumstantial juxtaposition is extraordinary between my mother’s dad who has embraced death and my dad who’s committed to doing everything humanly possible to preserve his life.66.That’s the part that has been difficult for me. I’m have having these simultaneous, diametrically opposed feelings and experiences. Tough to get your heart and mind around. If grandpa doesn’t pass by next Tuesday I’m going to be driving down to Oklahoma to be with my dad, whose chemotherapy starts next Wednesday.7 It might end up happening that mom and I will be switching places with her coming up to Minnesota for the funeral while I go down to Oklahoma to help dad. The whole experience is a bit surreal.7.I want to be there to help him through that first round.

Dad and Grandpa

  • Pat68

    I know the feeling. When my father was in hospice, I remember telling a cousin that it’s like waiting for someone to die, and literally, that’s what you’re doing. But it’s not morbid; it’s just the way it is.

    Also, as to your grandpa’s tough sticktoitiveness, a hospice social worker told us that generally how someone is in life is how they are in death. My father was not a talker and he was that way until the end. He didn’t want visitors when my mother would ask him about having certain people stop by. Our last night with him, he was really just working on dying. His breathing was labored and his lips seemed to move just a bit as though he was talking with Someone, but not looking at us. When my mother and I left, he sat up in the bed and said, “I love you guys” and that was the last we saw of him. He died the next morning–alone. My father, though married and raised a family, was alone in life and alone at the end.

    Blessings to you and your family, Carson, as you walk this path–ministering to both the living and the dying.

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