One year ago this Thursday, my Grandpa Bill died.
I miss him.
Alzheimer’s plagued the final years of his life. It was tough to watch his mind slowly lose its grip while his temper grew more intense and his language skills diminished.
He was trapped, but absolutely still in there.
I’ll always remember two moments I had with my Grandpa in his last weeks. The first is one that I carry some shame about, the second was a gift.
The first time I visited him at Resthaven, I didn’t know where to go. I walked around the facility, peeking into open bedrooms and scanning comfy chairs in the sitting area. I was unable to find him after searching for several minutes.
A nurse was sitting with a resident and noticed me turn the corner for the ninth time, so she called me over and asked who I was looking for.
“Bill Rink,” I said, “I’m his granddaughter.”
“Ooohhh, Bill!” she smiled to the man next to her, “Someone’s here to see you!”
I completely froze as she turned his wheelchair around. From behind, I hadn’t recognized his frail figure. He lost what looked like dozens of pounds, he was wearing sweatpants (I’d only seen him in Sunday best), and his glasses were gone. He glared at me, which had never happened before.
He didn’t know who I was.
The nurse told me to take him for a walk, so I started pushing the chair. He couldn’t see me – because I was behind him – and became agitated. He mumbled incoherent phrases and forced his feet into the ground so we couldn’t continue down the hall.
“Bill!” I said as the wheelchair hit me in the gut, “Stop that!”
Instantly I felt gross – his name was Grandpa.
He became more frustrated; it wasn’t his fault. I got in front of him, crouched, and met his gaze.
“Grandpa, it’s okay. I know the way.”
And he smiled.
This time when I went to visit, Grandma was there. She was helping him finish a meal when I walked in and because she’s such a great host, she started moving the furniture around so we could sit together.
Honestly I don’t remember the conversation. Grandma and I did most of the talking / catching up, and every once in a while Grandpa said something out of place.
Grandma did a great job listening to him – you could tell he felt completely loved by her.
After twenty minutes or so, she suggested listening to a CD of favorites that I recorded for my parent’s wedding anniversary in high school. It’s a compilation of church stuff, opera stuff, their wedding song… things they like.
Grandma turned it up pretty loud and just beamed at me for a few songs (apparently the staff at the care center heard this CD a lot).
As we listened, I noticed Grandpa become more calm. He stopped fidgeting, and his brows relaxed. He didn’t say anything, and for a moment he was the Grandpa I remembered from Christmases and birthdays and Thanksgivings; attentive, caring.
At the end of the song, he looked me in the eye, put a hand on my knee, and flashed a thumbs up.
I smiled – he remembered me.
And he smiled.
Grandma, some aunts and uncles, and a few cousins were there when he died. My Aunt Carolyn saw it coming and called us over.
We all held hands and promised we were with him.
He was ready, Grandma was ready, and the family was ready. So he stopped breathing, and died.
After work this Thursday, the one year anniversary of his death, I thought about visiting his grave. And I still might if I’m able.
But, I’ll definitely play the piano and sing some hymns. I’m not sure what his favorites were, but I’ll pick some good ones because I know he loved it when I made music for God. I’ll picture his smile and his belly laugh, hear the sound of his voice, and remember how proud I am to be his granddaughter.