All of this is meant to calm me. To trick my senses into thinking I’m in someone’s living room. There’s a fake leather couch facing a fireplace with silk flowers lining the mantle. A half dozen easy-to-clean pleather chairs are scattered throughout the room along with charming lamps, plastic floor plants, and strangely useless tables. The wall art seems expensive and devoid of any meaning. The only object on the far wall is a sliding window. On the other side of the glass isn’t an ideal aristocratically manicured lawn, but a middle-aged woman under the crush of paperwork. It’s an obvious ruse hidden under the smell of lavender.
“Are you the grandson?” A stocky woman with broad shoulders and puffy blonde hair asks. Her blouse is a field of cartoon flowers. I nod. “Follow me, please.” She kindly speaks to me, but I’m not listening. I’m just worried about what I’ll see behind one of these faux wood doors. Behind this door. “Would you like me to come in with you, sir?” I shake my head.
I try to slow my breathing so air flows silently through my nose. For some reason, it makes my heart beat faster. My clammy hand clasps the steel door handle. As I patiently push the door open, there’s a distinct repetitive beep and an odor that can’t be covered by synthetic lavender. I peek into the pseudo-bedroom as quietly as possible. The curtains, veneered headboard, and plain couch don’t comfort or distract me. Under a mound of domestic quilts is my grandpa.
I wipe the tears from my eyes as I take a seat. His face is even gaunter than when I last saw him this morning. A machine appears to be doing the breathing for him. He makes a strained gargling sound with every expansion and contraction of his chest. There’s a continuous infusion of morphine into his veins.
Grandpa’s arm sluggishly rises under the blankets. I feign a smile and my eyes are rubbed raw. “Granpa, it’s awright. Whatcha need?” His vision is glassy and the eyelids barely open. He can’t speak. “Is yer arm uncomfortable? Lemme help ya get it outta yer blanket.” His arm is so fragile and unrecognizable from the workingman he once was. I gently massage his forearm. “I don’t know if ya can hear me or understand, but it’s gonna be awright. I’m just gonna talk with ya fer a bit.”
Grandpa was in-and-out for the next few hours. I’d sit quietly holding his hand while he slept. When his eyes opened I’d chat about funny memories, the weather, and just anything that came to mind. The nurses would check-in and I’d use that time for a bathroom break. I’d avoid other patient’s families because I had enough sadness of my own. After some quiet time, I’d return to his bedside.
I carefully place my hand on his cheek. “Granpa, I want ya ta know I love ya.” His eyes can’t seem to focus as his head rolls around. “Yer da best person I’ve ever met ‘nd I’m proud ta call ya my ‘granpa’. I waited too long ta tell ya this, I guess. But, I wanna thank ya fer everythin’ ya did fer me. I know it wasn’t easy. It’s hard ta sum up a lifetime of gratitude. No matter what, ya were there fer me. Fer that, ya’ll always be special ‘nd I’ll do whatever it takes ta justify da faith ya had in me.” I lightly caress his arm in silence. The sensation appears to soothe him.
I didn’t notice it was after 3am until the nurse suggested I sleep on the pull-out couch. “Oh, thanks but I’ll go home ‘nd come back in da mornin’. I ‘preciate all yer doin’ fer him.” I put on my hat, thanked the other nurses on duty, and hit the street. Grandpa’s my all-consuming thought. I don’t care about anything else. The front door was left unlocked and I pick up some of the mess that was made moving Grandpa into the ambulance. It’s exceptionally quiet in the house as I brush my teeth. I climb into bed and wonder if I should pray. Couldn’t hurt. The darkness in the room amplifies as I plead on his behalf to the unknown. To myself. The phone shatters my concentration and I know what they are going to tell me. “Thank you,” I reply, “Go ‘head with da arrangements as planned ‘nd I’ll stop by ta sign da papers tamorrow.” I didn’t sleep from the rest of the night.