Saturday, January 26, 2013


    Memorial Day 2012. I had been living in Mississippi for the past couple of years, and thus trading holidays spent with families and friends for 4 wheelin' with my new found country friends until the gulf coast sunsets of tangerine and scarlet reminded us that dinner was fixin' to be ready. This year I was excited to spend time with my family at our grandparent's cottages - two summer cottages overlooking the water in Mansfield Grove. I've spent summers there filled with swimming and laughing and sun-kissed skin. This year I was happy, glowing even, that my boyfriend at the time was not only spending a day with me, but a holiday. I introduced him to my extended family, with my aunts saying how sweet and laid back he was. I was wearing a hat that year and I couldn't decide if I liked it or not. I saw my grandfather sitting outside and he seemed unlike himself, weaker, struggling with memory and even standing up and walking. I said hi, but for some reason I had a hard time going over there to converse. It was easier for me to pretend he was A.OK. I suggested to Eric to go for a walk on the beach and rocks with coronas in hand. I took pictures of the water, and the rocks, letting the May breeze - the honeysuckles, the tulips, windchimes, grilled food - entrance me into a springtime splendor. In this moment, life seemed perfect.

            The hat I couldn't decide on

         We got back to the cottage and ate. My grandfather started talking to Eric about cars, or something that I didn't really find interesting nor had anything to add. As my grandfather left he said goodbye to  him and wished him best of luck. Even though my family didn't quite know what was ailing our grandfather, we know it was something. The fact he had a conversation and remembered so many things, and said goodbye, it was hope that maybe, just maybe he's fine, but the waves of age just had slowed him a bit. That day I got my car and although I was suppose to go over my boyfriend's I instead drove right back to the cottage. The party had died down, but there was still alcohol and family members. It seemed like I talked all night to my uncle and aunt about my grandfather. I wanted to believe it was just old age, but it was indeed something wrong, we just didn't know what yet. We all said atleast he's with us , he's not that bad now. We all had tears in our eyes. I fell asleep on the couch, soaking the pillow silently with my tears, with my baby cousins sleeping like angels on the floor beside me.

Christmas Eve, 2012. Christmas Eve is when my family gets together for Christmas. It's a celebratory holiday except this year was somber. It seemed like everyone moved slowly, talked slower, the usual fast pace conversations laced with loud Irish laughter seemed to be replaced with quiet  talk over appetizers. My grandfather was there, and from Spring to December his condition had severely declined. He was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease. He was using a walker at this point (with a burberry bag attached to it for medical equipment) and couldn't talk, instead he used a tablet to let us know he wanted Christmas cookies. He was still able to make some hand motions, like to shake our hands, or clap.

       In January he was admitted to hospice. My brother Paul and I went to visit him, our Uncle Pete was in the room with us. We couldn't quite understand his grunts, since that's what his talking sounding like now. Uncle Pete seemed to understand enough - that our Poppy was proud of us,that he use to run around the track with our dad and we should take up running again too. I told my poppy about a job interview and he clapped. Our Uncle Pete told him that he'll watch out for us. He was able to clap and shake our hands. I kissed him on the cheek and told him I loved him. Throughout the visit he looked at me and was trying to say something. I just nodded my head and kept saying my brothers and I were doing well. I stayed strong, I couldn't cry, I'm not sure why. That night I couldn't sleep. I researched hospice and read articles upon articles.

       Four days later, my mom told me that my brothers and cousins were getting sized for suits. They bought green ties to represent our grandfather's Irish heritage. That evening, my brother Connor and I drove toward Hospice to see our Poppy. It was an exceptionally cold January evening, the kind of night if you forget your gloves frost bite will welcome them with no problem. I've been staying strong through this process "We just don't want him to be in pain", "He's lived such a long, amazing life" "No one makes it through this life alive- when it's your time, it's your time". Those phrases I've repeated and I've heard family and friends say the 
same thing. It's all true,of course, and they all are true, logical statements that help balance out the sheer emotions when it comes to dying, death, life.

          My brother and I signed our names and the time and hospice volunteer asked if we were family and friends and to take the appropriate name tag. "Room 215" we went up and unlike the other times I've gone, no one else was there. We peeked into the room, this time we was moved to the bed closet to the window. He was sleeping so we turned to walk away until a friendly silver-haired man that seemed hopped up on  5 hour energy drinks and pixie sticks, told us we can still go in there even if he was sleeping and lead us back into the room. There were 4 chairs around his bed. I had seen him 4 days before, but he looked so differently. He was thinner, sleeping with his mouth slightly ajar. There was a picture of my father, his beloved son who passed away suddenly from Leukemia at age 40,  on his night bureau. On the window sill were flowers and pictures of him and my grandmother and their children. Connor took the seat closest to him and touched him arm "Hi Pop, it's Connor...I love you". I couldn't sit. I went over to his other side and touched his thin arm, remembering how he use to joke about stealing cookies so my grandmother wouldn't know. He was never fat, but he was a fuller, Irish-man and seeing him so thin where his wedding band seemed to weigh down his finger was startling. I kissed him on his shoulder blade that was jaunting out. I was going to kiss him on his cheek but his face was turned away and I didn't want to wake him. "It's Courtney, poppy. Connor and I are here. I love you....we love you" and with that my brother and I left the room and entered into the elevator to go back to the lobby. As the elevator doors shut, all the comforting phrases, all the days and nights I wonder what was wrong with me because I haven't even cried faded away and I started crying. I don't want to leave, better yet I don't want him to leave us even if it is "time". My brother patted my shoulder and I wiped my tears and all I could say was "This really sucks" He shook his head, with tears in his eyes. There was no need for eloquence or poetic words.

              It was so  cold, but there was a beauty, a sadness when we stepped out of hospice. Something in the air. Winter evenings tend to have this smell of fireplace and the sky was just about to close it's blue eyes for sleep but there was still so much light in the air that contrasted starkly with the dark that was taking over. The sound of waves were in short distance. Winter by the ocean is beautiful, with a moon reminding us of light in a dark sky. Life and death,; the passage of time. I wanted to cry/scream but I couldn't. I just walked back to the car. It was by all means a non descript January evening in New England but that moment, the feelings, the way the wind and waves and the moon and my grandfather sleeping surrounded by photographs and flowers in Hospice by the water was something that I tucked away in my heart even as we drove off.

                      Ed. Note:  Our beloved Poppy passed away on January 30th, 2012

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