I believe in courage, in the courage of a man whose beliefs, love, and compassion never faltered.
As a child, I spent most of my time with my grandparents. You could always find me roaming through their garden devouring cherry tomatoes or blackberries, on the living room floor playing endless adolescent games with my never tiring grandmother, or gathered around the table nibbling from a home cooked Italian meal.
As an adult, I developed an even closer relationship with them, much closer than any relationship I could have imagined, whether I was spending time at the dining room table doing my homework, snacking on the various things throughout the house, or sprawled out on the couch taking a nap: their home was just as much mine as it was theirs.
I would never come to fully appreciate that relationship until it was taken from me. November 2007 started a short and devastating battle that would rock my life, and tear apart at all that I knew. My grandfather, a quiet, funny, and loved man, was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. It was an experience unlike anything I had encountered before, and one I can still fully picture in my head.
Gathered around the table on Thanksgiving, we still could not fully understand the extent of his disease. He could no longer enjoy the foods that once brought him so much joy—he was reduced to snacking on the mashed potatoes and gravy, or nibbling on bits of turkey or stuffing, none of which stayed down for long anyway. But his spirit was alive, it was strong, and he continued to complete his normal routine. Cardiac Rehab, coffee at the Coach House with his friends, reading endless numbers of books, and tuning in to the news every night at 6:00, still filled his days with joy and comfort.
Christmas came shortly after, and with a feeding tube now in place, he could no longer enjoy the taste of any foods or liquids. Everything and anything was put through that awful hole in his stomach. This, combined with chemotherapy, radiation, and a lack of routine and exercise, forced him to spend Christmas sitting on the couch, uncomfortable and weak. The head of the table was empty, as he could not join us and our ghastly amounts of food. He could hardly open the presents we had for him, and he slept through most of the evening. We never thought this would be our last Christmas together.
February 2008, brought new changes. My grandfather was in a nursing home, in need of care outside of what his family could provide. He sat in his bed, too weak to participate in anything that had once brought him joy. His books went unread, his television unwatched, the daily newspaper untouched, and his spirit slowly depleted. What we thought was the flu, turned out to be his tumor enlarging. It no longer allowed for anything to pass through, and another was in his spine, blocking his bowels.
I remember still the feeling that raced through my skin, to the core of my being. I remember pulling myself together after a long cry, and walking back through the doors of the ER, back to the man who had given me everything, and sitting with him until he was transferred to a room.
As we sat in a private room, family trickled in and out to see him one last time. From Florida, Washington DC, and New York came all of those he had helped, all of those who had loved him, and all of those who longed for him to stay. He slowly slipped away from us, taken from us. As his pain medications were increased, his ability to recollect and engage in conversations with us stopped.
Early on the morning of February 23rd, 2008, as big, white, fluffy snow fell from the sky, my grandfather took his last breath. With my hand on his chest, I realized completely the amount of courage he held. Never once did my grandfather complain, he never whined, nor did he ask why it was happening to him. He only worried about my grandmother, his wife of fifty-six years, his soul mate, and his companion. I believe in courage, in the kind of courage my grandfather taught me.
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