Thursday, June 20, 2013

To Lose A Grandpa Twice.

My Grandpa has always been a major part of my life.  From the minute I was born he was sitting with me on the front porch swing, showing me where somebody or other lived on some backroad, or taking me along while he and his friends drank coffee and gossiped.  He loved to tell stories and was always talking.  He never met a stranger.  He is the reason I love auctions, gallivanting, and farm-life.  I grew up viewing him as some larger-than-life being.  Someone who would always be there.  He was my rock, and Superhero.

Fast forward to just a few years ago.  Grandpa started to repeat himself a lot, but he was almost eighty, so we attributed that to old age.  Then when I was pregnant with my daughter he had a series of strokes, and after that he was really changed.  The diagnosis was Alzheimer's and I was stunned.  

No longer could I call and have a conversation with him.  He'd get stuck on the same sentence over and over.  Or even worse, he'd be completely silent.  He grew irritable, moody, and even more quiet.  Who was this man?  What happened to the real Grandpa?  He seemed frail and foreign.  I found myself pulling away.  Protecting myself from the heartbreak.  Putting up a bit of a wall between us. 

My Daughter Joelee and My Grandpa Joe.  (I took this photo just two weeks ago).
My daughter never knew the real Grandpa.  She only knew the Alzheimer's Grandpa.  However, he loved her just as much as the old grandpa would have.  And she enjoyed his company despite his illness.  I got them together whenever I could, but to be truthful I had a hard time being around him.  This shell that used to house this gigantic personality was depressing.  This man I loved with all my heart was replaced with a stranger.  It wasn't fair that he'd been taken away from me.  I was angry that I never really got to say goodbye.

He started to lose weight about a year ago.  He looked sickly.  He was still getting around and going places, but he looked skeletal.  He was silent most visits, only perking up to talk to Joelee, sometimes slipping up and calling her "Julia" thinking she was me.  I was fearing that the adult me was slipping from his memory.

Two weeks ago, it was decided that we'd go to the lake and visit.  My Dad, Grandpa, Uncles, Joelee, and my nephew.  We ate a picnic and took photos.  Grandpa seemed in good spirits, but was having a hard time breathing.  We had a really nice day.  I think that may be one of the few times (other than holidays) that we got together as a group.  Little did I know that'd be the last time I'd see my grandpa.

I got the call last Tuesday that Grandpa had passed away.  It was a relief and a shock.  I'd already lost him once to that awful disease, and now he was gone physically.  It seemed so surreal.  I coped fine at the viewing, but the funeral hit me harder than I was expecting.  So final, so permanent.  For some reason the losing him twice; once mentally and then physically made it easier and harder at the same time.  I was mad that I didn't have the real him these last few years, but glad that perhaps my stepping back had softened the blow of losing him physically.  The man that died wasn't the real Grandpa.  It was Alzheimer's Grandpa.  The parts of him I miss so badly:  the stories, the laughter, the memories, the talks hadn't surfaced for years.  I still have all that in my heart, and that's comforting.  And a bit of comfort is all I can ask for right now.  

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