“…He said to me, “My grace elevates you, to be fully content.” And now, instead of being overwhelmed with a sense of my own weakness, he overwhelms me with an awareness of his strength! Oh what bliss to rejoice in the fact that in the midst of my frailties I encounter the dynamic of the grace of God to be my habitation!” 2 Corinthians 12:9 The Mirror Bible
When you’ve experienced the perceivable ‘worst thing that could happen,’ your paradigm shifts. A fearless sense of invincibility rises.
“Grandpa just passed out in my arms,” I said to my aunt on the phone.
It was April 11, 2017 — a Tuesday to be exact. My morning started as it had for the last 17 months. I got up, three hours before work, to go tend to my grandpa. It all started the night my grandma passed away from pancreatic cancer. She lived 51 days from the date of her diagnosis. The night she transitioned was the first time I saw Grandpa weep. He wept so deeply; it moved my heart with compassion. We were all overcome with unfathomable pain and deep grief. My grandmother’s death left us stunned, shocked, bewildered.
Grandpa made it known daily that he missed his wife. But on this Tuesday morning, he did not get the chance to rant. He woke up gasping slightly for air. It sounded like whooping cough. His dry cough signaled no alarm, at first. Grandpa had been sick for a while. We had our routine each morning that helped him recover. His doctor made recommendations for steps to take before going to the emergency room. First try his inhalers and drinking water and/or hot coffee. If that didn’t work, use the nebulizer. Most days the inhalers were enough. I’d spent my fair share of hours at the emergency room and, sometimes days in the hospital when he was admitted. Thinking about the full work day I had planned, I certainly didn’t want to land in the ER.
We managed to follow our routine and he got fully dressed. He continued to struggle to stabilize his breathing. Sweat beaded up on his forehead and dripped down his back. Still no alarm went off in me. Unfortunately, this was not an unusual morning, although I was concerned that the morning was not going more smoothly. I rubbed Grandpa’s back, prayed under my breath, and attempted to comfort him. My compassion for him enlarged greatly during our days together. I had assumed the role Grandma once filled. I’m amazed that she managed this space for 67 years. My flesh often wanted to complain, as it appeared I was the only one that sacrificed to keep Grandpa well.
Still gasping, he slowly moved to the middle room. He pulled away from me, not wanting my assistance. He rested on an old chair. I looked intently at him. He looked back at me, rattled and frustrated.
“I’m tired. This is the worst part of my day,” he said. Then, he stood up. “I’m dizzy.”
As he walked toward the hallway’s full-length mirror, I followed closely behind. In a split second, he fell backwards like a feather in my arms. It was as if God or an Angel had laid hands on him. I received his body in my arms as his spirit transcended out. His eyes were wide open, looking up. I gently laid him to the floor, cradling his head. In a moment, I heard his last breath and felt his body power-down like a machine.
“He’s dead.” My brain triggered. My right hand pushed his eyes shut. “Today? This is happening today?” I exclaimed to God. “Okay. He’s with You now.”
I called 911 and notified my family. For whatever reason, I did not panic. In fact, a graceful peace reigned over me. I celebrated that he was reunited with Grandma and no longer suffering. God had answered my prayer. Grandpa didn’t die alone. He passed in his home on his terms, and I, nor any other family member, found him dead.
I later journaled these thoughts: It has been an amazing journey. It was an honor to serve as a granddaughter. A caregiver. I got to know the man my grandmother once loved. Why she loved him was a mystery to me when I was a child. Grandpa was a mean alcoholic most of my life. Despite his flaws, I chose to honor her by serving him. I chose to honor them to honor God.
During our 17 months, I got to know a smart, crafty, humorous, sober Grandpa. He was sharp and witty, yet stubborn at times. I will forever remember his storytelling. Grandpa was very simple and complicated at the same time. He followed a routine. Every morning for breakfast he wanted bacon, eggs, toast and grits. Prepared the same way, no adjustments or additions. He had instant coffee to drink — black with two teaspoons of sugar. I can still visualize that beat-up tea kettle whistling on the stove.
I learned several lessons during those months with my grandfather:
- Always ask more questions. There’s always more information to know.
- Doing the ‘God thing’ is going a step farther than just doing the good or right thing. It’s not always easy to do the ‘God thing,’ but good works will be rewarded.
- Before becoming offended consider the most reasonable explanation for the other person’s behavior, then extend grace.
- Forgive quickly.
- Hold loosely to plans. Just go with God every time.
Families can sometimes fall apart when a loved one passes away. I found myself getting ‘all in my feelings’ about who was doing or not doing tasks to care for my grandpa. I quickly realized that none of that mattered. People operate to their capacity. I happened to have the grace to be a great caregiver.
Grandpa affirmed me before he went Home. I’ll forever treasure the memories and time spent together. I look forward to the fruit of this season.