My grandpa fell out of his chair when he dozed off while reading. The drop damaged his ribs and bruised his shoulder. “This is it,” my dad told my mom. Of all the fights her father had fought and won, he would not be able to triumph this time.
Grandpa was taken to the hospital where he was at death’s doorstep but miraculously revived and made it home with a refreshed spirit. Still, at the full age of 96, his body did not have the healing capacity to preserve his life. It was only a matter of time and, at six o’clock the morning of May 1, 2020, my grandpa passed away.
He was an incredible man. During World War II he helped engineer submarines. Afterward, he worked at GE for 37 years (until his early 60s), and then at Bob Jones University for 27 years. While there he saved the institution a large sum of money by questioning something no one else saw, an unnecessary bill the university paid.
Grandpa unwillingly retired when he was 90. Even then, he still built upon his extensive train set and mowed his own lawn, two activities participation in was a rarely granted privilege and the highest honor if bestowed on you. In the summer of 2018, my grandpa created an Instagram account to keep up with the extended family. He never stopped learning.
Growing up, I only saw my mom’s parents a few times a year: Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, birthdays, and occasional reunions with extended family who lived out of town. When I began high school, however, Dad knew our days with Grandpa were numbered, so my family and I made it a custom to have lunch at their house every Sunday after church. Although the engagement initially seemed like an intrusion on my plans, I will admit, I came to enjoy the time.
My sophomore year of high school piled on a homework load so heavy I dropped blogging. Grandpa, one of my earliest followers, regularly inquired when I might pick the hobby up again. It was his prompting that moved me to re-log into WordPress and eventually begin publishing anew.
Thereafter, every Sunday—sometime shortly after the dishes had been cleared—Grandpa would look down the table to me and say something along the lines of, “Tristen, I have enjoyed reading your blog posts.” Occasionally a further comment or question about specific content would follow. I likely wouldn’t be writing here today if it weren’t for his encouragement.
Grandpa was a man of strategy, schedule, and repetition. He gave the same prayer before every meal, followed by a cup of straight black coffee or milk. You could depend on Grandpa’s consistency but, as the days passed, it became more evident that our time with him was running short. Notably, Easter 2020 (which proved to be our last Sunday lunch together), Grandpa’s all-familiar prayer had a hiccup. The signs of declination had been clear all along, but my mom didn’t accept the inevitable until she received a call from the hospital the evening of Grandpa’s fateful incident.
The next morning, I was brushing my hair when Mom and Dad knocked on the door. They were going to pick up Grandma and go to the hospital. It was Grandpa’s wish that he die naturally and not be subject to any life-prolonging measures; therefore, with these steps removed, it wasn’t looking like he would last much longer. Dad started crying.
In the early days of COVID-19, I thought that this would be a terrible time to die with social distancing hindering loved ones from gathering around hospital beds and at funerals. Ironically, this was the exact boat I found myself in. Therefore, as only Mom, Grandma, and Aunt Sherrie were allowed into Grandpa’s room, my mom sent out a Zoom link so the rest of the family could “join.”
The large oxygen mask strapped to Grandpa’s head rendered him mute, so he communicated by squeezing my mom’s hand. This is how confidence was gained in the decision to take him home, where those in town could gather in larger numbers and he could pass in peace.
While waiting for the large mask to be minimized to a straw-like tube, Grandma shared the story of how she and Grandpa met and got engaged. We’re not sure about the accuracy of her account’s details, however, as Grandpa kept squeezing Mom’s hand, prompting much laughter and therefore tears. Even at the end, he still sought accuracy.
Grandpa perked up when the mask was finally removed. Parched, it took several sponges of water for him to regain somewhat of his usual tone. I could not recall ever hearing him request water, let alone drink it.
Once settled, Mom held the phone close to Grandpa and those of us online went around the screen sharing a few words with him, each of which he replied to. I was doing just fine maintaining my composure until Aunt Chris turned her video on.
It’s not the death that kills you. It’s the reaction of their loved ones.
Although an unwanted, emotional roller coaster, I believe our family tree bonds were strengthened that day.
With farewells said, Grandpa was back to normal (given the circumstances). He heartily requested two poached eggs on toast with sausage…several times. For a man who never went without a meal, he hadn’t eaten in two days. Once assured that we would get him fed as soon as possible, he inquired about his Hospice bed. We had been waiting on the item for several hours, and Grandpa petitioned that they get it in there and attach racing wheels so he could speed home. He was ready to go! Grandma laughed. “I love you, Fred Chapman,” she said.
My dad, siblings, and I arrived at Grandma’s at 3:34 pm, with more of the family following soon after. The hospital bed was already there. We helped the delivery man set it up before entering into lag time. Grandpa was said to arrive at 5:00 so, since hospitals (like airports) run by the motto “hurry up and wait,” no one expected him to be there until much later. Therefore, we were surprised when the ambulance pulled up at five o’clock on the dot. I later heard that the driver got a bit lost, so Grandpa gave directions from where he lay in the back. 😂 😂 👌🏼
I had seized the hour-wait to take a Spanish test, so my nine-year-old twin cousin Joel came to the upstairs apartment to inform me that Grandpa had arrived. I had seen this news through the window seat I was curled up on, so Joel joined me, and we watched the medics remove Grandpa from the ambulance and roll him down the walk. Aunt Chris came running out with an umbrella. “Hey, Dad!” She greeted. “It’s so good to see you in person!”
After the medics had transferred Grandpa to his Hospice bed, I looked in from the hallway as others helped Grandpa get situated. Although still without his glasses, he recognized me and waved. He seemed to be his jovial self.
The next feat was that Grandpa, who had been bed-ridden for the past several days, wanted to sit up and dangle his legs over the edge. “I want to feel my feet on the floor,” he said. With some logistical maneuvering by Mom and Haydn (and Dad primarily using and interpreting technical terminology), this was soon accomplished.
“Hey, Grandpa,” my other twin cousin greeted, giving a hug.
I was still observing from the hall, an interesting contrast 10 days later when I stood half an auditorium away watching my cousin standing alone, looking into Grandpa’s casket.
“Hey, John-John,” Grandpa replied.
“How are you doing?” My cousin asked.
“Recovering,” Grandpa chuckled. “I was at the hospital, and they almost did me in.”
Mom, who was re-arranging something across the room, looked up at my brother and mouthed, “That’s true.” 😂 😂
I was at my desk two days later when Dad and Mom came into my room. This was odd as usually only one of them will pop their head in. “Are you going, too?” I asked Dad. Mom was going to go to Grandma’s at 9:00 am, so I thought maybe the day’s plans had been slightly altered and the two of them were coming to say goodbye before they headed off.
“No,” Dad replied. “Mom is.”
I looked at Mom. I hardly noted her seemingly very emotional state before her next words confirmed and explained my observation: Grandpa had passed. “He’s with Jesus now,” she managed to say before the tears fell afresh.
Mom said that Grandma had been with him an hour and a half earlier, holding his hand and singing hymns even though the familiar words had left her. “I’m sure Grandpa got a kick out of that,” my mom imagined, laughing through her tears. “It’s all right, Pat,” she impersonated. “I can hear the heavenly choir. You’re good.”
The last thing he said to me was, “I like reading your blog.”
I hope you have access to your inbox up there, so you can read my first blog post without you here on earth. I’m sure you will, sometime in between managing the Lord’s trains and feasting at His table. I’m sure His eggs are just as good as Grandma’s.
Realistically, however, I know you are walking down streets of pure gold in a body made new, free of pain and the aching of this life, praising our Savior with the cloud of witnesses who have also completed the race. Worship at His feet. Soon and very soon, the rest of us will be there to do the same.