Monday, October 6, 2008


This will not be a martial arts post today.

This past Friday I went home to be with my grandfather, Poppy. He's had this insidious thing known as cancer and went downhill very quickly last Wednesday. Not wanting to die in a hospital bed, he went home on Friday morning, where they began the morphine. When I arrived that evening he was taking quick breaths in through his mouth, his false teeth were gone (I never knew he had false teeth! Apparently he lost all of his teeth when he was 19. Go figure...), and he was unresponsive. I sat next to him and held his hand, softly murmuring in his ear that I was there and that I loved him very much.

That night will be in my memory forever. The women of the family were there, tending to him, touching him, giving him more morphine and ativan to keep him as comfortable as possible. In the past month cancer had spread to his spine, making for a very painful existence. Poppy should never had gone this way. He was an extraordinary human being. So compassionate, so full of love and life. Always joking, whistling, saying "This is the happiest day of my life". Aw, I'm so sad.

This whole journey with death has really had an impression on me. It has made me notice how circular life is: birth to death, which is really another birth.

My grandmother had called a priest that night, being that Poppy was Catholic, since she felt that he would have wanted that before passing on. It was the most intense moment of my life so far. We all gathered around him. I was holding his hand and had my other hand place on top of his head. The tears were streaming down my face as the Father read the last rites, Irish brogue and all. I have never been so present, so in the moment, as I was at that time. It was beautiful. We all should experience that; it was humbling.

Throughout the evening my mom, aunt, sister and I would take turns sitting with Poppy. My grandmother went to bed. She had had enough. I spent most of the night on the couch in the same room as Poppy, and my mom was in the recliner next to me. As I lay on the couch, listening to him breathe, all I could think of was him taking his last breath. Every time he gurgled and coughed my mom and I would sit up straight, our bodies tense, the only thought, "Is this it?"

When morning came I decided to go back to my parent's house to try to get a little sleep. My aunt needed to go home as well, but before she left she told Poppy that it was okay to go. Not five minutes after she left Poppy did let go. My grandmother had been sitting with him and noticed that his breathing was very, very shallow. She walked out to the other room to ask my sister (who is a R.N.) to come and listen to Poppy's heart. When they returned to his side his heart had stopped.

A little while later my mom, sister and I dressed Poppy in his clothes. We put on his Redskins T-shirt (his absolute favorite football team. They better win the Superbowl this year!), his underwear, his jeans with the ironed crease (yes, he ironed his jeans. I believe he even ironed his underwear), his sox. Then my sister and I rubbed Nivea cream on his arms. He used to call it supercream. It smelled so good. Then my sister, brave soul, put his teeth back in.

It will be very hard to not have Poppy in my life. He was someone you could look up to, someone who you wanted to mirror you life after. It's sad when the world loses someone like that.


Steve said...

Deepest sympathy! :(

Steve said...

Wow, very well written. I'm sure this will stick with you for a long time. My grandpa died in 1997 and it still is carried with me. I think it's amazing how you all took care of him after he took his last breathe. We should be treated like this from loved ones and not looked as just a dead body. God bless you all for your loss.

Martial Arts Mom said...

I am very sorry for your family's loss. I am very happy that you were able to spend his last hours with him. What an honor for you! And I'm sure, even if he was unresponsive, he KNEW you were there. May God bless and comfort you in your time of sorrow.