Over the last few months if you’ve been paying attention to my posts/stalking me then you’ve probably noticed that things have been off with me. At first glance you could imagine that I had a tough time writing, was a little overwhelmed with teaching, or that a pretty girl wasn’t talking to me. While it was business as usual for most things, the situation in my life was in the midst of a big change as my family’s focus was shifting rapidly to someone whose time was running out.
Loss is something that we all experience. It’s a fact of life. Over a year and a half ago my maternal grandmother passed away. I revisited my previous blog post going over those emotions as my family and I face a new test of wills (if you want to go through that whirlwind flashback of feels here you go). My paternal grandfather is no longer with us. It’s been a week since that moment and I feel that if I don’t write this down now then I’m not sure when this will whenever get written. This is not the raw despair I felt last time, maybe it is because of that previous experience, maybe because I was more present this time, maybe it’s something completely different that I can’t explain but maybe I can figure out while writing this.
Grandpa Mariano, aka Nano is the prototypical grandpa figure. A few months ago I mentioned to a cousin how he was looking more and more like the old guy from Up which was this weird realization of “awwwww” and “oh…” The man used catch phrases at regular intervals which for a while used to drive me up the wall but I must admit that I’m gonna miss. That and his violin playing for every birthday is going to be strangely absent for all us grandkids. It’s always been Nano and grandma, married for over 62 years, raised four kids through adventures in Columbia as he ran a sugar cane processing plant before returning to their hometown back in Puerto Rico to still be an engineer with way too many ranks in appraise, and a penchant for taking pictures of everyone, especially a photo or two when you were dozing off after a big meal. Grandpa had an eye to figure out value and if you didn’t see it he could take a picture of it, not as the front we show with our planned smiles but in our unguarded moments that feel so fleeting. He captured these memories like a Pokemon Snap perfectionist and he then gave you the shot. I’m sure that he kept the local photo developing place in business single-handedly even as the world transitioned to digital cameras. He did get a digital one and that just turned into constant pilgrimages to the local Walgreens to develop pictures to keep sharing what he saw. I hope that I inherited that vision for my own forms of analyzing stories and speculating on what can happen next.
Throughout the years, grandpa’s health was declining in ways that could be expected. The stairs were getting to be too much so he moved with grandma to a nearby single story house. His reaction time was slowing down so after a bit of spirited debate, he stopped driving. He started using a cane but never really relied on it. Over time the pangs of age translated into an accumulation of “ácido viejúrico” as he would call it. The loose translation would be geriatric acid but that doesn’t do the term justice. He was getting slower but that was nature and it was expected. But what happened next was also nature but it caught us by surprise.
You see, like every Romaguera, my grandfather had a pretty voracious appetite. Plates that were even a challenge for me he could scarf down in an impressive manner. But then a few months ago he suddenly wasn’t that hungry. The man was diabetic so I thought he was just being more responsible with his food intake. But then the leftovers portions were getting bigger and so too were our worries. Tests were made, doctors were visited, family was called. To make a long diagnosis short, the treatment would be extensive and ultimately deemed to be not worth the sacrifice of quality of life for whatever time he had left. That realization was like a punch to all of our stomachs, a heavy blow of a harsh reality. Still, this was not the time to spread despair of falling skies and woe. As grandpa said almost to the dear end when asked how he was feeling, “aqui en la lucha” (here in the fight). And so, we were there in the fight, knowing what the outcome of the battle would be but we faced together as a daily struggle, not as a dwindling march to the end.
The changes in his condition were swift but each one gave just enough time for us to adapt accordingly. Over the space of less than two months he shifted from occasional cane, to necessary walker, then wheelchair, then mostly in the house but with kinda the power to move from wheelchair to his favorite recliner, and then to being in bed. I’m sure that I could theoretically help lift him out of the bed but the nurses advised that the strength to do so could easily injure him in his frail state. Nothing worse than being bedridden except for that with some cracked ribs so we went with caution. Luckily, my uncle and aunt basically moved back into the house from far away to help with everything as things were looking extra grim. He was the handyman of grandpa’s four kids and thus the only one proficient to handle a lot of the changes that needed to be done. As the only grandkid around I became an assistant of the “please explain everything, I know less than John Snow” variety. Still, I helped and we changed the layout of the house slightly to make things more accessible.
There were changes, perhaps the biggest one was the choice of getting grandpa into hospice care. If things got bad there would be no hospital this time. It was a lesson we learned from grandma, the doctors there are there to keep you alive. If your breathing shortens or your heart rate goes down then they are there to bring it back to normal. The ensuing process becomes extended and you can’t very well get them out of the hospital at that time. Part of the awareness of grandpa’s situation was that no ambulance coming. Nurses and doctors would come to help and ease the transition (for the patient and for the family), nothing more.
During the last few days, I held his hand and witnessed how his grip became weaker and his warmth diminished. For a long time I wanted to do something to ease whatever pain he was in. Maybe something to liven his spirits. But as time went on I realized he didn’t need saving. This was a part of life. There is a safety that comes with distance when facing death. You don’t go through all the logistics and changes, you just hear the reports. Proximity on the other hand leads to grim realities and doing all of the hard work but in the end it leads to a sense of ease. In the end, grandpa led an amazing life and he left it surrounded by loved ones. My grandmother had been praying for a long time to St. Joseph, patron of good deaths as she would say, so that he would leave us peacefully and so he did. Like a candle, his light grew dimmer as we realized that it was no longer shining. It was tough but the family has been at peace fairly consistently during the ordeal. We have cried as we should but we kept going on. Hell I even went to teach the next day and didn’t even break down.
Luckily, no one else was being observed at the funeral home because that place was packed. Grandpa and grandma always took care to visit and give condolences to people during their tough times in that long life a lot of people wanted to return the favor. Over the past few days a lot of people have been saying “sorry for your loss”, people I have never met before and may never see again but they wanted to share that emotion. The only response I can really come up with is some utterance of appreciation. One week later and I am still strangely fine, maybe I’ll break down soon enough. Maybe not. It’s a weird feeling as I catch myself calling the place grandma and grandpa’s house. We are changing our definition of normal, especially as we help grandma get through not having the man that was always next to her physically nearby. It’s tough, but we’re here, en la lucha.