As some as you may know, my dear Grandpa passed away on Thursday March 27th at 1:15am with his family by his side at Hospice of Windsor. It has been a long, winding, crazy up and down journey.
Back in his working years, my Grandpa was a truck driver. When he retired in the early 90’s he and his brother decided to move to Florida. It was exciting and sad for us. But luckily, we made many amazing trips to Florida over the years and he came home often. He never thought twice about the long drive, it was second nature to him.
My Grandpa’s health certainly hasn’t been a straight line. But he was like a cat, only better, as he had multiple lives. More than 9 it seemed. And he is a stubborn old mule and a fighter like no other.
About 6 years ago he had to undergo a major surgery to have his bladder, a kidney and his abdominal lymph nodes removed. During his recovery, he did have a few set backs which landed him in the hospital at Detroit Receiving. (If you’ve never experienced American hospital care, it’s incredible. I understand that for our neighbouring country they have to pay for their health care in a different way than we do, but their services and facilities certainly surpass ours.) I can remember visiting him with my oldest daughter, when she was about 8 or so months old. She was sitting on his lap and he was enjoying her company.
Over the years, my Grandpa has had so many strokes it became impossible to keep track of just how many. Each time it only took a “short while” before he seemed to recover and be back to his normal self. Luckily, he lived across the street from my parents and they have been his watchful caregivers over these years. He was placed on blood thinning medication.
**As a welcomed side effect from one of his first strokes, he “lost” his addiction to cigarettes. He never wanted or felt the urge to smoke another one in his life. I actual read a study a few years back that followed those who had suffered a stroke and their behaviour afterwards. It showed that, I think, 80% of stroke sufferers lost their addiction to cigarettes which lead them to believe that strokes often affect the “addiction center” of the brain. I guess if there is an upside to strokes, that is it.
During the last 6 years he required regular blood checking and frequent blood transfusions. Even though he was on blood thinners, he still would form clots. In his case, one of the biggest issues this caused was with regards to his legs. He on many occasions completely lost the flow to his legs and had no pulses in his legs. It required him to have surgery (at least twice, perhaps three times) to place a bypass in his groin region to allow blood flow to each leg. It would become painful and sore when he was having issues. It also meant many stays in the ICU.
I think we should actually have our very own named parking spot at the hospital for all the time we have spent there over the years, and perhaps they should have just had a bed with his name on it. But no matter what it was, he always pulled through and continued on.
In January 2013 my Grandpa began having internal bleeding. The doctors needed to take him off his blood thinners or he would continue to “bleed out”. After a discussion with my parents and Grandpa the decision was made that they would stop the medication. They discussed in great detail that the likelihood that he would throw a major clot was very high and they didn’t expect him to be able to survive such. They thought this would happen within a matter of days or weeks. That was fourteen months ago. FOURTEEN.
He had a few falls in recent time that also required yet more trips to the ER. In January 2014 he had a big fall (as that stubborn old man just wouldn’t listen and kept trying to get around his place without his walker) which the doctors did testing and CT scans to ensure all was well. In February 2014 he didn’t seem like he was doing very well and another trip to the hospital it was. Only this time the CT scan showed two large masses in his brain that were not there just the month previous. They also noted a questionable lesion in his lungs, albeit very small, but still questionable. They began to talk about what the future would bring. Biopsy was not an option, as surgery was not an option. Why bother putting him through that when we cannot do anything about it? Let him rest as comfortably as he can.
On February 28th my little sister got married and unfortunately my Grandpa was not well enough to come to the wedding. So we decided to bring some of the wedding to him. After our formal portraits we stopped at the hospital where my family went inside to meet him. The nurses had dressed him and brought him to the cafeteria (where there is this beautiful mural). My sisters wedding photographer, Jill of Real Image Photography, captured more than we could ever have asked for. We were not only lucky to have her as the wedding photographer, but I am blessed to call her one of my dear friends. Some of the wedding party also had hired a videographer as a gift to my sister and her groom and they also were there capturing these sweet moments between my Grandpa and his family. We will forever be grateful for these amazing memories.
When his time at the hospital was drawing to an end, meaning the hospital could not longer keep him there, the discussion of Hospice was brought up. And luckily, a room became available around this same time.
My Grandpa is my third family member to have a stay at Hospice. My Grandma was one of the first when it opened in 2007, my Aunt just this past fall 2013 and then Grandpa. If you have never been there, it is hands down the most lovely place for an ailing loved one. It has all the comforts of home with care of angels. The staff who work there may not fully realize that they are truly angels. To care for others with the most love and compassion I have ever seen from health care workers, it’s breathtaking.
We spent many many hours with him, as much as possible, over these last few weeks. My daughters loved going to see Great Grandpa. And he loved seeing them. His eyes would light up like no other when they walked in the room.
Over the years we have so many amazing memories- most of them during road trips to see Grandpa in Florida. My Grandpa had many funny quirks. Like he would always show up, unannounced, in Windsor at various times throughout the year. He would stay for a week or two or three, and then he would leave. Just as unannounced as he came. Often we had to call him to see where he was at and we would hear “I’m on my way home”. I think us grandchildren thought it was much funnier than my mom and dad did! There was a time where I didn’t think it was so funny, although amusing. I got married on September 9 2006. My Grandpa was to walk me down the aisle with my dad. About 3 days before the wedding he actually (shockingly) announced he would be leaving to go home. I said Grandpa, you’re walking me down the aisle! Don’t you dare think you’re leaving. To which he replied “Oh yeah, ok then”. He wasn’t malicious, he was just funny.
He also could be quite embarrassing to a young teen or preteen granddaughter. My grandpa never buttoned his shirts up. Ok, like the top 3, sometimes 4 buttons were always undone. Usually one or two of the last buttons were done up. And if we were out at the mall and we expressed our disdain for his lack of cover up, his response would be to open his shirt further and say “What? You don’t like my tan?”. And that tan. The sun was his BFF. He loved it. He loved the heat and he would relax in the sun every chance he got. He was always so dark, even in the last 6 years of living back in Canada. The last couple months was probably the “whitest” I can ever remember my Grandpa being!
He also loved the ladies. Every time the question of “Can I help you?” “What can I get for you” would arise, his answer was always the same “A hug and a kiss and all that good stuff”. Boy oh boy! And he often got it! He certainly was never that “creepy old man”, but that sweet old man that everyone fell in love with.
Now don’t get me wrong, I can remember plenty of “disagreements” with the old man. He loved to argue. And he was never one to give up. Hmmm, sounds familiar, I can’t imagine where I got this from, right dad? I remember when I was about 13 years old, we were spending time in Florida and I saw this “giant bug” (I mean like palm sized” run by me at the house. I screamed as loud as I could. Everyone came running. I started to describe it and my dad said “Oh, it was probably a cockroach” *faint* Well my dear Grandpa replies “No way. There are no cockroaches here. Nope. None. No way” “Dad, it’s ok, it was probably a cockroach” “I said NO way. It was an ant.” Ummmm…..Grandpa, unless there are these crazy palm sized Floridian ants that we’ve never heard of, I don’t think so. “Yes it was. End of story”. And that was that.
On Sunday March 23rd I was allowed to bring my dog Titan into Hospice to visit Grandpa. He LOVED dogs. When I walked in with him, he lit up. Apparently he hadn’t been having the best of days that day, but he perked right up when Titan was there. Now my dog doesn’t get many treats and he is not allowed on the furniture, so when he got up on the bed with my Grandpa and was being given treat after treat, I don’t know who was having a better time! Titan or my Grandpa.
I was happy that I photographed this beautiful interaction between them. Never underestimate the power of Love between humans and animals. My Grandpa never stopped petting him, even when they both had fallen asleep. If I could have left Titan there with him, I would have.
Over the next few days as my Grandpa’s ability to communicate with us began to decline, we spent those moments talking to him and telling him what was going on. On the night before he passed, he was no longer concious, however he did send us as many signs that he could that he could still hear us. He turned his face towards me when I spoke and when my girls spoke. His eyebrows moved up and down in a manner we knew he was laughing when we asked if he paid his bet debt to my dad over his beloved Toronto Maple Leafs recent loss. And when we spoke about the grandchildren, especially the new ones on their way soon, he smirked. Twice.
We held his hand and stroked his head. We snuggled with him. We loved him deeply and as best we could.
And in the end, when his breathing slowed and ceased to continue, our emotional pain may have grown, but his physical pain disappeared. He was at peace. He was no longer in pain.
And we, my parents, brother and sister sat around talking about memories, crying, hugging, holding each other. Up until that point, I had cried a bit, but not really let go. I had thought that I might be the strong one for my dad and my brother but that was not meant to be. I cried harder than I can remember in recent times. Although I knew “it was coming”, I still had thoughts that just like every time before; when doctors told us to prepare for his “imminent death” that he would recover and laugh in the face of his mortality.
I’ve never been able to understand those who stayed and held and kissed ones that had passed. Until now. I could not let him go. I refused to leave the room and leave him behind and so we stayed until he was taken. I held his hand, and rubbed his arm and spoke to him. I fell asleep with my head laying beside him and his arm in mine.
And then we said our final goodbyes and walked slowly out behind him as he was brought away to the funeral home. We hugged his nurses and cried more tears.
Why am I telling you all of this? To show you what a fighter he was. How stubborn he was. How amazing he was. And for me, healing means sharing. Sharing his memory, his life.
I promise my girls will always know their Great Grandpa.
Next week, on Saturday April 5th I will be teaming up with Sweetheart Baby Boutique and taking Easter photographs. We will have an Easter like set up and the Easter Bunny will be there! Photos will be $10 and each client will receive their image digitally by email. All the money raised will be donated directly to the Hospice of Windsor. It will be at Sweetheart Baby Boutique on Wyandotte near Pilette between 11am-2pm.
Photo credit: Real Image Photography – Jill Wilhelm
Photo credit: Real Image Photography – Jill Wilhelm