Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.
The sudden beeping from the machine next to my hospitalized grandfather sends my heart into a faster rhythm. The hard thrum-thrum-thrum of fear and panic.
It’s fine. The beeping means the fusion is done. I don’t know what the fusion is. Transfusion? Something else? What’s going into my grandpa’s body? I don’t ask the question out loud. My aunts enter the room as the nurse turns off the beeping, and the moment to ask passes while I am trying to get my heart to calm down.
We’re waiting for his dinner. Things are calmer, now, with just a handful of us still in the room. Moments before the beeping, there were more. And before that, more still. The room was filled with family, smiling through the worry, bonding through things said and unsaid. Catching up on lives, sharing current pop culture loves, working together to overcome finicky technology so that still more family can join the scene from afar.
When the nurse came in to start some kind of treatment, likely the mysterious fusion whose monotone alert would later send my heart racing, she had a vast sea of family to traverse. As she made her way from the shores of the doorway into the eye of the storm, I commented that she was wading through a gene pool. My grandpa, renowned for his love of bad jokes, got a kick out of that.
My mother is sitting next to me as I write this, softly strumming at an appalachian dulcimer. She’s been collecting dulcimers for years. Other instruments, too, but the dulcimers have been piling up more than any other individual tool of musical expression.
The soft dulcimer playing has been interrupted by more alarming music: a ringtone. A cousin wants to reconnect via video, but it won’t work right now. Skype won’t let me log in, even after resetting my password. And the only laptop in the room, among this smaller crowd than earlier, just can’t seem to connect to Google’s video chatting service.
One of my aunts is feeding my grandpa; he’s not able to feed himself at the moment. This, more than anything, scares me. My grandpa is a stubbornly independent soul. He bristles at accepting help, even as he’s grown older. Now here he is, being hand-fed, bite after bite, by one of his daughters.
Survivor. Veteran. Prisoner of war. Father. Grandfather. Patriarch. Ninety years old, this man has seen so much, lived so much. No matter how much any of us talk to him, interview him, ask him questions about then and now, I know that there is so much that I will never fully understand. He’s the elder statesman of our little family tree, whose branches have grown long and high. The new growth, the wee ones, are lucky to still have him in their lives. He is our root. But we are all becoming our own trees, and his will soon return to the earth, the lessons and stories he leaves behind nourishing us as our own roots grow deep, allowing our branches to continue reaching for the sky. Our forest is strong.
But he’ll be our root a bit longer, I think.
He’ll keep us grounded with wit, bad jokes, and a lifetime of experience for at least a little more time, I hope.
It’s that dangling bit at the end of the sentence that I keep coming back to. I think. I hope. I pray. I beg. That little addendum tacked onto the end of these declarative statements. I’m not ready to lose him. I’m not ready to lose anyone. Not that we ever are. I’ve lived 30 years, and the loved ones I’ve lost are nearly at that same number. Assuming they haven’t reached and exceeded it already. I lose track, sometimes.
Others have lost more than I have. Some less. The number doesn’t really matter. In the end, we’re never ready to lose someone we love, even when they’ve been gone for years. And all this prattle amounts to nothing other than one simple fact: I’m afraid.
I’m afraid of losing this man, who helped raise me and always seemed immortal. Even after the passing of his wife, my grandma, he seemed immortal. She was my hero, my superhero even, inspiring me to reach for the stars and fly. This man, my grandfather, he is the rock. He is the consistency of home, the familiar face who will always be there. Whose stubbornness is comforting. Whose dry one-liners never grow old, no matter how old he grows and no matter how many times he’s unleashed them over the years.
People are laughing, now. Snacking, chatting, napping, reading, and laughing. It’s comforting. We’re here for each other, and for him, no matter what else is going on inside of us. No matter what else is bubbling under the surface.
I don’t know what anyone else is feeling. I can’t be sure. But no matter how prepared, I think everyone is afraid, on some level. I think everyone is hopeful for more time, but worried and preparing for the possibility that we’ll have to be our own roots tomorrow.
And someday, we will.
No matter what happens now, that day is coming. Whether that day is today or years from now, that time is coming. And it will inevitably come sooner than any of us want. Far sooner than any of us will be ready for. We can never really be ready.
And yet, when that moment comes, we’ll be as ready as anyone can possibly be. We will be ready, because that is what life demands. It will hurt, and it will be hard, but we will pick up where he left off and continue moving forward. His story doesn’t end with him. We’ve been expanding it for years, and that story –his story– will continue with each of us, just as our stories will continue on in those we touch long after our bodies have expired.
His name is Art. He is my grandpa. He had a heart attack and his lungs filled with fluid. I don’t know which happened first.
His name is Art. I am a child again, looking upon an immortal figure, whose years stretch back into the eternity that existed before I came into the world.
His name is Art. I am an adult, watching him spend an immense amount of energy just to breathe. But he is still my grandpa. He is still that immortal figure. He always will be.
His years stretch back into the eternity that existed before I was born, and further. They stretch back before he was born, and before his grandfather was born, and further still.
His years stretch forward, through me, through my siblings and cousins, through the whole gene pool and all the shores of other lives that are touched by our family’s waves.
His name is Art. He is my grandfather. And no matter what happens here and now, his years stretch into the infinite. His years stretch back to the dawn of time and forward to the end. His years stretch beyond into the unknown, into timelessness.
We are all forgotten, eventually. But I believe that some part of us remains. Long after our names are no longer remembered, our influence remains. Small things rippling through time, molding the infinite. Long after no one is left to remember that names ever existed, something of us will remain. Whether energy, or spirits, or merely atoms whizzing about, this way and that, we do now and will forever affect and touch the universe around us.
His name is Art. He is my grandpa, and I love him. I will tell his story for as long as I can. And then someone else will tell mine.