Dealing With Loss For The First Time
Loss, death and grief are unavoidable parts of life. Everyone will pass at some point. That's the harsh truth we face. At 30, I'm experiencing it in a big way for the very first time.
Not many people make it three decades without losing someone close to them. I've been more aware of that in the last few years while watching people I love lose people they love. Parents, siblings, grandparents, friends.. I've really felt so fortunate that everyone close to me has been alive and healthy.
Even thinking about someone close to me dying makes me cry. I'm highly in tune with my emotions and feelings and easily form deep connections with people. That may cause me to be 'sensitive' or 'dramatic', but that also aids in some of my most favorite self-traits: I'm empathetic. I love people deeply. I've dreaded the day I'd lose someone I love. And this death was a devastating one.
I wrote a bit about my Grandpa's life and our relationship, but it's nearly impossible to put into words what certain people mean to you. He's one of those people, one of those relationships that you just can't fully describe. Outside of a few prior diagnoses and surgeries, Grandpa was 79 and thriving. When I left Seattle in mid September, he was one of my hardest goodbyes because we were so close and he was genuinely a friend that I hung out with regularly by choice. But I knew he was getting older and it bummed me out that I wouldn't be living a couple miles away and hanging out with him every week.
I never imagined that he'd be diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer just two weeks after I left. There was no indication that Grandpa had cancer. He was so strong and so vibrant. It was shocking and devastating to the entire family. Not being there was extremely hard. I'd call and FaceTime Grandpa in the hospital to keep him entertained and tell him all about Boise and just keep his mind off of everything. He acted like nothing was wrong or different and he's just chatting away like we normally did. I'd cry every time we hung up the phone. Seeing him in the hospital was hard and knowing he didn't have much time left was even harder.
Shortly after his diagnosis, I spent a weekend in Seattle to hang with Grandpa. My cousins and I took him to dinner at this place called Thackeray in Wallingford. Grandpa and I had eaten there once before on a night we went to a Broadway show. Since Grandpa was on high oxygen, he couldn't be out of the house for long. He'd gotten his first round of radiation and got to leave the hospital and go home. I hung with Grandpa at his condo for a while longer that night, and went back the next morning to bring lunch and watch a movie. We had so much fun together. He was the best company. So engaging, always interested in your life and life in general. That's the last time I saw Grandpa outside of the hospital.
He developed pneumonia after that and was back in the hospital by the time I got back for Thanksgiving. The treatment was taking too much of a toll on his body and the cancer was advancing. I flew in the day before Thanksgiving and was taking the lightrail downtown for a wax appointment. I had an extra hour so I grabbed an Uber to the hospital to surprise Grandpa. "Hey.. I recognize that face!" Was what Grandpa said as I walked into his room unannounced. He was so happy to see me. We chopped it up and when I had to leave, he wanted to know what kind of appointment I was going to. He was always so interested in details and genuinely wanted to know about your life. I told him I had a brazilian wax and had to explain to him what that was.. "You're getting your p***y hairs ripped out?! Why would you do that??!" That was Grandpa. Vulgar and hilarious in the best way possible. He mad everyone laugh all the time.
We spent a good chunk of Thanksgiving day back at the hospital. Brought in pies and whipping cream and berries and all. Grandpa was never alone. And not because people felt bad for him. People always wanted to be around him. That was such a great day. In all the chaos of one group of family leaving and another one coming, I looked at Grandpa and said "Grandpa! Look at your family! Look at this big family that loves you!" He said, "I know, we should get a picture of this." He loved photos and he loved his family.
We went back to the hospital before my flight that Saturday night and spent some time. It would be the last time I'd see Grandpa. I remember saying "Okay Grandpa, I'll be back in just a few weeks! I'll see you for Christmas- love you!" We locked eyes as I left the room. This is the last picture I have with my Grandpa. We took two, so he could keep one in the room with him. He said "what do you mean?! I'm not staying here!"
He did get to leave the hospital and go home a few days later, but after a week at home, his oxygen levels were not doing well. He had to be readmitted to the hospital. Last Tuesday, I conference into the family meeting happening at the hospital, where they said his body couldn't handle treatment anymore. It was devastating.
I got a call just after my show had ended on Thursday morning. It was my mom, and I had a feeling it wasn't going to be good news. She said Grandpa wasn't doing well, and it looks like he's going to be dying soon. I immediately looked up flights. I had to be there for him. I had to be there for me. I booked a flight that took off an hour and five minutes later, rushed home, threw some things in a bag, got my cats set up and grabbed an uber to the airport. Keke called my best friend without me knowing so I'd have someone to pick me up in Seattle and get me to the hospital, which was so sweet.
As I landed at SeaTac and waited on the tarmac for my bag, my mom called. She said Grandpa was no longer talking much but was present and could hear what was going on. In that moment, knowing I wouldn't be able to hear my Grandpa's voice again, tore me apart. The Lumineers song 'Nobody Knows' came onto my playlist and I sobbed as I rushed through the airport to my bestie Shea who was waiting curbside.
I got to the hospital just a couple hours after getting the call and I'm so glad I made it. He was sedated and not speaking but when I got there and sat next to him and spoke to him, it was like he tried to get up to greet me. He moved his legs and arm to give me a hug, but he just couldn't. I held his hand and he started opening his eyes a bit to see me. He knew I was there, he could hear me and I'll forever remember and be grateful for that moment.
We spent the next few hours just loving on him, telling our favorite stories about Grandpa and crying. I can only pray that my final days are spent like that. Surrounded by people who love me. Really, I pray for a life like Grandpa lived. A life of purpose and love and humor and adventure. My Grandpa was a bad ass and a wonderful human. A wonderful friend. I miss him already and I'm so blessed to have had so many years and such a great relationship with such an incredible person.
Will it get better? Probably. I've never been through this before. They say time heals all wounds but I don't know if this one will ever be completely healed. All I know right now is that I miss him immensely and that this world was a better place with him in it. I love you, Grandpa.