I'm tired, but not too bad. Nothing I can't handle. After the panic of the plane ride up to Maryland has subsided and the surprise our arrival has passed, he tired quickly.
He had called the day before and told my uncle he thought he just couldn't hold on any longer.
"I think he's going," my uncle told my mother. "I think this is it. I've never heard him sound so old."
I sit in the living room with my grandfather as old movies play on TV.
* * *
My father was not a part of my life growing up, plain and simple. The male I had the most contact with in my life was my grandfather, who all the grandkids refer to as "Big Daddy". He's a thin, olive complected man, classically Sicilian. He's always had a great, bushy white beard.
He was generous to his children. He served in as a Marine in the Korean War. He was at Chosin, and took some shrapnel.
"Coldest I've ever been," he would say. But that was about it. He didn't talk much about his service. Sometimes prone to depression, he threw out his medals one night in the seventies.
He's got CHF and pretty severe kidney failure. In the mornings, we take him to dialyisis, and I go to sleep. When he comes back he's exhausted, and sleeps till dinner time, when I wake up, and we watch those old movies. He doesn't talk much. He always sounded to me like Redd Foxx.
He coughs and rolls over in his chair.
My mother cries a lot when he can't see her. Her red puffy eyes tell the tale when she wanders in, blotting her make-up off of her cheeks.
My uncle moves awkwardly trying to help him out. He needs a hand getting back and forth to the bathroom and has had several falls. After a day or so they tend to let me handle the transfers, using the little tricks I've learned in my ambulance time. It makes things a lot easier and we're able to get there with less trouble.
After the military he started a career as a stylist, with his shop next to a dry cleaners. He dressed flamboyantly, and had a soft spot fnew immigrants to the States . He taught several hundred the art of hairstyling. One day, a giant mirror crashed down to the floor in his shop. Apparently the steam undid the adhesive holding it into place. He went next door and started to argue with the dry cleaner, who gave him a shove. My grandfather, decked out in a flourescent pink blouse with the sleeves rolled up a third of the way, proceeded to beat the ever loving hell out of the dry cleaner owner in broad daylight, after which he walked back inside, cleaned up the mess, and began cutting hair.
He was hilarious. He had a quick wit that even has not faded in the twilight of now. He relocated to Virgina where he had a beauty shop across the street from a resturant owned by Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan.
He had an "amicable" divorce from my grandmother and would later remarry a great lady who we all loved. As we all lived far from him, her children became like a second family to him and us.
"Son, ya dere?" He's awakened now. I help him to the restroom.
It's weird, this reversal. He always seemed to be at least ten feet taller then me. His voice would boom out into the house. Now his voice is barely a cracked whisper. He always was so vibrant, so alive, and to see him in this chair, brittle, tired, and weak...it's not him. I've never had to watch someone die before. Typically I'm pouring everything I've got into keeping them alive, pushing meds, intubating, running code. Here I provide a different type of care - fluffing pillows, helping him eat. Helping him get outside to the porch, fixing stuff in the garden that he used to tend to.
He had a chalet in the mountains we used to go to. I remember standing on the top porch, and the wind, and the fresh smell. He was so happy out there, moving the lawn shirtless, raising hell, living.
His chest rises up and down. He's lapsed into sleep again. I get up and eat a roll. When the family gets together we've always got plenty of grub at hand. Then I watch him.
I stay on nights the whole time I'm up there. We talk about a lot. I tell him about my life. More often I listen to him talk about his. The whole family makes it up to see him, and we celebrate his birthday one day while we're up there. He's the picture of his old self, cracking jokes, trading barbs and insults, yelling and talking as loud as possible, glasses of wine freeflowing - the way the MedicMarch family reunites.
We stay for a week, but my prior commitments force me to return. Hospice comes in the day we leave. He dies a week later, peacefully in his sleep, in front of his old movies.
I guess I've always idealized that in a normal father-son relationship, the dad tells the son all about being a man and what it means. I've never had that. Looking back, I don't think I need it.
I picked it up in bits and pieces from my grandfather.
I'll always think of him this way, smiling, in the mountains.