Never Goodbye, Just a See You Later – Part 1

Written by on February 24th, 2015 –

Loribelle 19.2Hello again SLM Community! I am so sorry to have seemingly been absent so long. I promise you guys that you weren’t far from my thoughts. Time seems to have gotten way from me; nonetheless, I have returned! In doing so, I am finally sharing an article I had been somewhat hesitant to let go of as it is about someone who was so very, very dear to me.

As most of you are well aware, I am a woman with an amazing support network. I have a large group of family and friends who have helped me throughout my life and my MS journey. I am blessed to come from a large family with many grandparents, aunt and uncles and other relatives. I was fortunate to have a team of people that always had my back and I could go to for anything. I’ve been lucky to share close relationships with my grandparents; something I am well aware of that not everyone gets. It is through that blessing that I have experienced some of the ultimate highs in this life and some heart shattering lows. I am going to split this post into two (please click here for part 2) as this story encompasses more words than just one post can convey. So please bear with the split and know this story comes from some treasured parts of my life!

In past posts I have briefly touched on my family life. I grew up on a beautiful family property in a quiet small town. There were two houses on that family property- I lived in one home with my parents and siblings and my grandfather lived in the other. There was a stretch of land between those two houses and a well worn path that I walked far too many times to count. As one would expect, I grew up having a close relationship with my grandfather. I visited his home on an almost daily basis. I would deliver the mail from the shared mail box and we would chat about our respective days. His partner of nine years taught me to crochet, how to swing dance, made my prom dress and took me to the community theatre. I went on long walks with them both and even on camping trips. Though the term wasn’t used then, I think it was more glamping than camping. After all a luxury motor home is hardly what one would call, ‘roughing it.’ I look back upon those moments in my life with such fondness; however, life changes. My grandfather and his partner separated and I lost touch with her. I have since reconnected with her, but for several years there was radio silence. Those changes certainly weren’t easy or fun, but I still maintained my close relationship with Grandpa.

When I was 18 or so my beloved grandfather began to have some medical issues and I came to the stark realization that he would not be around forever. I think there is an innocent belief we have as children that those close to us will live forever. Of course the reality is that they won’t. They can’t.  There were some ups and downs for several years during his initial medical issues but they seemed to even out after a while. During that time I also began my MS journey, and my family and I moved to the city about 30 minutes away from the family property. I continued to maintain a close relationship with my grandfather, trying to visit him weekly, if not more frequently. We would have chats, exchange stories on what had happened in the last week and sometimes it was just companionable silence. Time marched on and my journey became one with a solid diagnosis. The mystery surrounding my medical ailments became clear.  Oddly enough, despite our close relationship I found it too difficult to be the one to tell him of my official MS diagnosis. My parents were the ones who broke the news and I later learned that he took it very hard. Several years after the diagnosis, during a visit to his home, we were just talking about appointments I had lined up and tests I had under gone. He looked over at me and quietly said, “This isn’t fair, kid.” That was a rare glimmer into his heart. My grandfather was a very taciturn man who stoically held his thoughts and feelings to himself. I knew my grandfather loved me very much but it was never something he had to vocalize. He was from a generation that just didn’t do that. After his first bout of medical issues, I rarely left his home without kissing his cheek, saying I love you and see you later. It was never goodbye, just a see you later.

A very vivid memory I have and will never forget is going to see him after I was released from a brief stay in the Neuro-ICU at VGH. My grandfather didn’t usually meet me at the door to his home when I arrived to visit. I usually just quickly knocked and entered without waiting for him to bellow, ‘come in,’ down the stairs. On this particular visit, I hadn’t even made it to the front door before he was down the stairs and out the door himself. He welcomed me on that day with a strong hug and a kiss to my temple. This may seem insignificant to others but to me it was seeing him with his guard down. I saw the worry mixed with relief in his eyes. I saw the unmasked and unfailing love my grandfather had for me. That is a moment in time that stood still for me and I will treasure that moment for the rest of my life.

When I was still in my early twenties my grandfather was told he had a spot on his lung. I am sure you all know where this ends up. My grandfather’s spot grew into a large tumour that encompassed almost the whole left lung. Perhaps because of his earlier medical struggles he chose not to seek any invasive treatment for the initial spot on his lung. He did alright for the first year or two after the initial discovery. He was however, nearing 80 and all that getting older entails was starting to appear. I saw the muscles built over a lifetime dwindle and he didn’t move as spritely as he had years earlier. By the summer of 2011, some glimpses of frailty had begun to set in and he needed more assistance. My visits grew in frequency as well as the number of errands I ran for him. He was a man who clutched his independence to the very end. Running his errands was a slip of that independence he had so long held.

In August of that same year, he was admitted into the emergency room for fluid on the lungs and pain. Within that same week he was moved into the palliative care section of the hospital. I got a call from my parents who were on their way home from a vacation telling me he had been moved. I had been to see my grandfather the day before, as I had every day since his admittance, and was taken aback by the move.  He had taken a turn. They were unsure he would survive that night so I immediately went to see him. My heart was in my throat as I walked into his room. He was sleeping with my aunt by his bedside. She got up, squeezed my shoulder and said she would give me some time alone with him. I sat in a chair by his side, holding his hand with tears streaming down my face willing my parents to get there quickly. I don’t know how long I sat in that quiet dark room before my parents arrived. It seemed like forever and mere seconds all at the same time.

He entered palliative care on a weekend and he would be gone before the next weekend came to pass. Each day during that final week that I went to see him I hoped it wouldn’t be the last. I held his hand, cracked jokes, told him about my days and watched him slip further and further away. He went from verbal, alert and smiling, to non-verbal quickly- almost mercifully quickly. Looking back, I can see that he rallied the night before he slipped permanently away from this earth. I had told him I would be late seeing him the following day because I had an infusion for my MS medication scheduled in a city two hours away. He looked me squarely in the eyes and squeezed my hands with a strength I hadn’t seen in days. He then dropped my hands and reached out for my father who was in the room as well. My father says he holds this memory close because he knew it was important. He was very close with my grandfather as well.  He said as he saw it, my grandfather would have never dropped my hands if it hadn’t have been important. He gave my dad the same tight hand squeezes in what seemed like a quiet goodbye. We left the hospital that night with tears in our eyes and heaviness in our hearts. He left this world early on the morning of August 18. 2011. My heart was shattered.

Click here to continue to part 2 of this blog.

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