My Granddad came back to the UK earlier this year. It was expected, but erm, still unexpected. So you know, that was a mindfuck to start with. And then he arrived, and I took The Smalls to see him. I was mildly freaked out by how much he had deteriorated. But at the same time, it really was ok, because I could start to say goodbye.
I’ve been doing that for aaaaaaaages. So it’s a whole lot easier now.
It’s not EASY, just easier.
I didn’t say anything, but he’s actually remained in the UK this whole time. He was meant to go back, but he got really ill. Like, hospitalised ill. Fits, seizures, pain, dementia – all the suff you would expect from someone who is 86.
86 MAN! WTF!
That’s like, nearly my current life, three times over.
And he’s not wasted his time, either. Dude has LIVED. He’s a bit epic, and has done all sorts of things for his (the) church and his (the) community, and a load more besides. He’s seen his kids, his grandkids and his great grandkids. He’s travelled a good deal of the world, and has spoken with many people in power. And he can belch like nothing I have EVER HEARD.
He’s been keen to get back to Jamaica, because he wants to tie up loose ends. I think he was hoping to clean up over there, then come back here for good. Here he has a better support unit, and of course, what’s left of the NHS (he previously spent most of his life in the UK, so has a good understanding of the system here). Personally, I thought that idea went down the pan the minute he was first sent to hospital. He’s gotten worse, and pretty bloody quick.
My mom called me up yesterday, Tuesday, in a blind panic. Granddad had another seizure, only this time he wasn’t responding, and when he finally did, it was WAY worse than before. I cried with her for a bit, then as she described what was happening, I felt an alarming numbness and paralysis, which REALLY threw me off kilter. Surely I should be in hysterics, like she was? Surely I should be freaking the hell out? My granddad is about to DIE, and there’s nothing I can do apart from sit back and await news, good or bad. Further news was that he was responding, VERY slowly, and that they wanted him fitted with a pacemaker to sort out the seizures.
A friend advised I get moving. Quite literally, get moving. Not necessarily go and visit, but I should sure as hell make myself mobile, as the longer I sat there the harder it was all going to become. I grabbed a notebook and pen, some useful personal effects, cleared my mind and got in the car. No idea where I was going, but thought I’d just go with it.
Ended up in a C of E church graveyard, in the middle of nowhere. At first I thought it was an odd choice, given I have no desire for religion at all. And then I realised Granddad had been a choirboy in a C of E church, and a strong adoration for the English countryside. Huh. I started writing, and realised I was trying to contact him, in a way I don’t care to explain right now. But it worked for me.
I have come to realise a number of things, which I previously hadn’t been able to explain. And now I can explain them there’s an even greater sense of calm.
You know how you have a pet, which has a great life, and is comfortable, and then gets Really And Incurably Ill in its last few years? And you do whatever you can to save it, including masses of treatments, drugs, and operations, feeding it special foods and making it as comfortable as possible, even though you know it’s in ridiculous pain? And you know that, if that pet had a chance, it would crawl under a rock/bed/cave/blanket and die peacefully and quietly? But because you love that pet so much, more than anything, you try to keep it alive as long as possible?
Well I feel like that’s where we’re at.
Only, I’m the only one who wants to let the pet go.
I’m the only one who senses the pain and discomfort, way more than I would feel the grief.
And it’s so hard…because while I know Granddad has a fight left in him, I wonder if – no. I actually think it would be better to let him go. As I type this post, he’s having surgery to have the pacemaker fitted. This makes me very uncomfortable, because I wonder whether his family have committed him to more years of unnecessary pain. The only advantage I see in him having this thing fitted, at the age of 86, with dementia, and degenerative muscle and bone complications, and arthritis, and God Only Knows what else, is that it may give him long enough to crawl under a rock/bed/cave/blanket and die peacefully and quietly.
Only this time, it’s the possibility that he may have JUST enough strength to fly back to Jamaica to pass away.
My truly adored Granny is buried there, and that’s where my Granddad belongs.
I cannot express how much I dislike him having the pacemaker fitted. I abhor the very idea. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t hate pacemakers, as I know that they have spared the lives of people who truly were not ready to go yet. But this circumstance, well it just doesn’t sit right with me. It doesn’t fill me with “the hope of him enjoying the rest of his life like a happy and comfortable person”. It feels like a selfish way of prolonging the inevitable.
I guess I could say that, as I’m only his granddaughter, it’s different from my point of view. He isn’t MY OWN dad. (For the record, if this were my own dad as I know him now, I would still feel the same. And I know that for a fact.) I know I can’t call any shots on this; I am not one of his children.
But it does feel wrong. It does feel selfish.
It does feel like we’re asking far too much from the family pet who is ready to go. It feels like we’re asking someone, a person who has given so much already, to give us a little bit more.
Who are we to dictate? Who are we to decide? We’re his family, that’s who. But now there is a divide, and it’s not good. I suspect I’m the only member of our family who actually feels this way.
Granddad deserves peace. He should get that. It’s his time.
It’s just that. It’s his time.
Jay.. I don't know what to say other than you are right xxx
That's really moved me. Wonderful post, very well written, and very rightly written. Thinking of you and family. x
Fi star-stone says
Ah man. Life, death, it all is so complicated but it doesn't have to be.
My nan (mums mum) is in hospital at the moment. She's 96. She had a fall, shattered her pelvis, she has fluid on her lungs, her kidneys aren't working properly and they've just operated on her hip for several hours. So I hear ya. I'm with you. I'm asking why they've put her through an operation now.
They've said she might make a full recovery. They've also put a DNR on her file.
Life and death is very complicated. And often – it doesn't have to.
I have taken care of the elderly since 1988. I've seen family members prolong the lives of people who were so ready to let go. It's cruel, really.
My own father had a major hemorrhagic stroke when he was 68. The first few years he was able to get around with a cane or a walker and was still able to work on his writing. After that he likely had another stroke. He fell and tore his quadricep. He was confined to a wheel chair. His mind started to go south. He became more and more confused. He developed congestive heart failure. The circulation in his legs was terrible.
Eventually a clot developed in his legs. The doctors wanted to treat it. My mother refused to allow it. He was put in hospice and given comfort measures only. He was dead within a week.
Quality of life is very important. The "lives" some people are forced to endure are not lives at all.
Cannot begin to know what to write but wanted you to know that I read, and understand why you needed to write it all down. Thinking of you.
Molly @ The Move to America says
Really heartfelt – and I understand. When he is ready to give up, he will. When it is time not to fight on, he will stop. If he no longer wants medical intervention, he must be allowed to make that choice, similarly he must be able to carry on if he wants that too. There is no easy answer to it all. I lost my father Nov 2012 and there was nothing to be done to save him so he went to a hospice until he died two weeks after we found out he had terminal cancer. I wish you and your family well. xo
Faded Seaside Mama says
Such a difficult post to write and the perspective you have found is incredible despite being caught in the maelstrom. I can see your points from both angles, that he should be allowed to go and not have others take that path from him, but at the same time, giving him the last ounce of strength that he might need, and want, to be in the place where he is ready to let go may also be a final blessing.
In the past two years, I have watched my deaf and blind great uncle lose his wife – or his eyes and ears as he himself said and despite all our assumptions that he wouldn't be far behind her, he spent a year living alone in his house with only me popping in once a week and eventually a carer for half an hour each day. After a series of falls, he agreed to go to a nursing home and seems quite content there. He has lost his independence, but gained some society. My young, modern perspective says he doesn't have quality of life – first he was lonely and now he is institutionalised. But he seems ok with his lot. The odd complaint as you'd expect from a 92 year old, but nothing major. So I guess we may think we're being empathetic to their circumstances, but are actually projecting our own feelings of the situation onto it.
I'm not sure what I'm trying to say here really, other than not to forget that his thinking may be different. I hope that whatever the outcome it is right for him. And that you are allowed the space needed to have the feelings that you need to have about it.
Take care xx
Jay, I feel the same as you, my Gran recently passed away – she was 91 a grand age and she had lived well – her last few months – weeks were hard, truly hard, painful and sad for everyone around her. medical intervention is a wonderful but equally horrible thing at times.
I really don't know what to say other than to send love your way