I have only seen my father cry twice in my life.
The first time was after the traumatic birth of Moo.
The other was today…
I was awoken this morning by the phone ringing. Boo laying beside me, my eyes flew open, confused at the sound, at the dark.
The phone rang out as I got to it. It rang again.
Darkness. Phone ringing. Can only be bad news.
It was my mother. My grandfather had another fall and was in the hospital. Not expected to hang on for much longer. Get some clothes on, we are going NOW.
Two and a half hours in the car, not knowing what will greet us at the hospital.
I could hear him before we got to the room. Hard laboured breaths. Punctuated with a moan.
Tiny. He was tiny. This tiny, tiny man. Stripped of all dignity. Eyes open but blank. Mouth gaping, gasping for breath. Teeth gone.
Tears stung my eyes, but I need to be strong. I know he can hear me.
‘Hello Grandpa’ I whispered as I bent down to kiss his cheek. His sunken cheek. His hair messed up.
Such a proud strong dignified man, reduced to this.
Cancer of the liver and lungs. Mother fucker.
I focused on his hair. My mission. To ensure that his hair looked neat and tidy. I obsessed. His hair, to me, was the only thing that reminded me of the man I saw a few short weeks ago. A man who was terribly thin, but the light and spark still in his blue eyes. Dancing with mischief and mirth as I walked into that hospital room a lifetime ago.
Tiny. He is so tiny.
I look at my mother. ‘I don’t think I can do this again’ I mouth to her. He looks just like my Nanna. Her mother. My Nanna whose hand I held while she took her last breath. Whose eyes I closed. Whose hair I stroked while the room moved slowly around me the sounds of her final moments ringing in my ears. A week. I sat there for a week while she slowly died. Nil by mouth. A story for another day.
The nurses fussed around us. Couldn’t ask for more wonderful angels to witness his passing. They moved us from emergency to a private room. A double room, the other bed removed so we could have space. This is the kindness only afforded by a small country hospital.
Hours go by. The silence in the room only broken by his laboured breathing. The hiss of the oxygen. The crumple of tissues and sniffing back of tears.
His hair is immaculate. I focus on looking at his hair. I take my position on the other side of the bed, the side he is facing away from because I cannot bear to see his face. I want to see that hair, the hair of my grandpa. Not this dying man.
They need to turn him so we are ushered into another room. Tea, coffee, biscuits, juice are offered but are left untouched. We stare at another view, the tops of buildings out the window while we wait.
When we get back into the room he is turned but his breathing is loud. There is a rattle.
My mother and I know what this means. My father is blissfully unaware as is the other person (I can’t talk about her now. I have my reasons) they think it is just fluid or something. That rattle.
The nurse comes in and ups his morphine. Gives him a needle to ‘make him more comfortable and clear up the mucus’. The others sigh in relief. My mother and I steal ourselves. We have been here before, not long now.
I stroke his hair as his breathing becomes more shallow and the rattling reduces. He looks so peaceful even though his eyes are still open and unfocused.
And then he is gone. Just like that. No fanfare. No deep breath. No long exhale.
Peacefully. Quietly. With dignity.
My last grandparent. Two died alone. Two with me holding their hands.
I hugged my father. He looked at his. He looked away. Proud like his own father. Hiding his feelings.
In the car on the way home he sat in the back. I heard him cry quietly as we travelled the hours away from that hospital room where his father lay.