This time of the year brings back one of the hardest things I've ever had to deal with.
As I've stated before in my blog, I was basically raised by my grandmother and grandfather, as my parents both worked, and didn't have the scheduling needed to be able to see me or my brother on a daily basis until I was old enough to watch the two of us myself.
Because of this, I developed a very close relationship with my grandparents. Not only were they willing to dote on me and my brother the way only a grandma or grandpa can, they also taught me how to be a responsible person, and one who was able to function well in today's society.
When I got older, I moved back to the small town, and in the course of time moved into my grandparent's house to help them. My grandpa was well into retirement age, and his health wasn't the best. My grandma was fighting her weight, and couldn't get around to get things done like she used to, and needed the extra hand in keeping the house clean not only for herself, but for my grandpa, too.
Living with them like this opened my eyes to some things that were going on with my mom's side of the family that I really wish I hadn't seen or heard about. I could have gone through life not knowing who was being a complete ass to my grandparents when they thought nobody else was looking, or who was stealing from them while claiming to be helping one of their kids, etc., etc..
I was having a hard time of it myself, really. At that point in my life, I was dealing with a divorce, custody of my three kids, a part-time job with no real possible full-time work on the horizon, and parents who preferred for me to stay away from their house, and be someone else's problem.
Into all of this mess came the light of love and life that were my grandparents. They needed the help, and in exchange for a place to stay and a warm meal, I would help them with the daily chores that needed to be done, and work my part-time job.
This ended up costing me something fierce.
In the winter of 2001, my grandpa's health took a rapid fall. He became more unsure of his surroundings, and everyone he met, including myself and at times my grandma, were strangers. His body was gradually shutting down, and he was doing everything he could to fight it off.
Enter New Year's Eve.
I had to work that night, and there were problems that I couldn't deal with. My grandpa was just returned home from his last trip to the hospital, where he'd dealt with a minor stroke. He was recovering pretty well, and able to get around the house, but he was even more disoriented and confused. I had to work, and there was no way to get someone to cover the night shift I was working, as everyone was planning on playing around that night.
So, in true fasion, I made sure that my grandma and grandpa were good before I left for work. Then, I left them alone at the house so that I could get my "real" work done.
Coming home at 2am means that if there aren't lights on in the house, everything is normal. I mean, who in their right mind would be up when you're supposed to be asleep? Because of this, I went into my small room, and went to sleep.
It wasn't until 6am the next morning that I got the news. My mother walked into my room, and woke me up to help her get some things for my grandma.
While I'd been at work, my grandpa had another stroke, this one combined with a heart attack. He and my grandma were at the hospital, and it didn't look like he was going to be coming home.
I showered, dressed, and grabbed things I knew my grandma would need, and we drove to the hospital.
The man I saw in that bed when I entered the room was not the man I knew. He was small, emanciated, wrinkled, and looked dead. He was not the vibrant, laughing, happy, and confident man I had come to know and love.
Monitors beeped from around his bedside, and my grandma sat next to him, holding his hand, and talking softly to him.
A young doctor came in around 9am, and told my grandma that he wasn't sure why my grandpa was still alive, but that he would never really regain enough strength to return home.
After hearing those words, my grandma waited for the doctor to leave, and she spoke the most touching and heart-wrenching words I've ever heard.
"It's ok. You don't have to stay here for me. I'll be fine. I've got your grandson here to help me."
With those words, something in my grandpa's face lightened, and within 5 minutes he was gone.
I'll never forget him, and as long as I live I'll miss his smile, his laugh, and his love for life.
I miss you grandpa, and I swear this year, as I do every year since you've gone, that I'll try to live like you always wanted me to.