Family Matters,  Moody Blues,  spilling my guts

pretty good for the shape we’re in

Grandpa sleeping

They say my grandpa could linger on like this for a week or so. He’s not eating, he’s not drinking. BUT! He’s not in pain. He just sleeps. He wakes up just enough to tell us that he’s not in any pain. He’s very clear with a grunt and a shake of his head. He just wants to go back to sleep. It’s very confusing to those of us left alive, peeking at him from the fringes of his underwater dreams.

At least that is what I imagine it is like for him. It must be like when I am in the middle of my deepest sleep and somebody tries to shake me awake. I just want to be left alone. Does he just want to be left alone? He lets me hold his hand. I imagine that he is holding mine back but I can’t tell for sure. I don’t know if he knows whether I’m there or not.

He wakes up for the nurses, barely opening his eyes to acknowledge them so they’ll give him his medicine and go away, perhaps. Three seconds with us and then he’s gone again. My dad tries to shake his shoulders the way the nurses do but he doesn’t respond to my dad. We stand around not knowing what to do. Does he want us here with him? Should we stay? Should we go? How long should we stay? Do we put our lives on hold because we’ll never have this time with him again?

Grandma Olive

I deeply regret that I wasn’t there for my grandma when she died. I said goodbye to her on the phone but that was it and so many times I wish I could do everything over. I should have left work. What does a paycheck matter when you are losing a loved one that you’ll never see again and you miss so much?

Would it have made a difference if I was there? Is it better that I didn’t see her when she was in the worst of it? I don’t have any images stuck in my brain of her rattling with death like my grandpa is now. Does my grandpa want to be remembered this way?

I’m sorry to bring everybody down with me. I’m actually not down. We’re just plugging away with life like we do every day. Work, school, play, cook, clean, worry, repeat. I think I have a realistic grip on my emotions but then sometimes you think you are fine and then you are suddenly not. Kind of like clouds passing.

I’m mostly sad for my dad. I’m angry at his dispatcher who had no compassion and bawled him out for not being at work even though he was at work and sat around for hours waiting for his truck to be fixed when he could have been sitting with my grandpa instead. How can people be so unfeeling?

Of course my dad holds a brave face. He always does. I’ve never seen him cry. It’s not like any of this is a surprise either but it’s still hard to process. I know it’s hard on him. My dad holds the entire family together by working so hard. We all depend on him—even me with my streak of independence and my flailing freelance business.

So when the dispatcher calls and I see my dad trying to defend himself for something he didn’t do in a time when he’s allowed to drop a few balls, I get so angry. How can anyone bawl out my Dad who does so much for everyone? He’s always kind to his dispatchers. I wanted to crawl through the phone and strangle that guy. But then again my dad needs that job. We all do. Strangling him wouldn’t help anybody. So many people are unemployed, we have to hold onto what we have because we could so easily have nothing.

cluttered dresser

I feel guilty for having my camera with me at my grandpa’s in this dark time. I want to capture his last moments and hold onto them forever but it feels like I’m documenting death and it’s such a private thing. I don’t know if he would want you to see him this way. He’s never minded being on this blog before but I just don’t know and I can’t ask him. So I take some pictures of his brightly lit cheerful room and put my camera away. The rest I’ll remember with my mind’s eye.

Grandpa in his room.

I wish he would wake up and say goodbye to us and then drift off into sleep forever. Why is he hanging on in this strange state? He probably can’t help it. Is he holding on to this earth for something or is it just his body on autopilot waiting to run out of gas? I’ve tried to figure it all out in my mind a thousand times. Everyone goes differently. I look at the hovering nurses wishing they had answers but if they did they don’t share them with me.

At one point the nurses wake my grandpa to give him more morphine and my dad takes advantage of the moment of lucidity and says, “Brendy and Bug are here with me.” Grandpa opens his eyes and looks down at Bug. He gives her a big smile. The biggest smile I’ve seen on anyone in days. Of course my camera wasn’t ready for that moment, it was packed away in my bag. But I’ll remember that smile forever. He knew us. He smiled at Bug.

Bug never knew my grandpa like I did. She didn’t know the man who tucked us in so carefully with sheets and blankets and chairs put up against the side of the bed so we wouldn’t roll out in the night. She didn’t know about the cool scooters he bought for my brother and I at a garage sale and how he fixed them up so they rode so smoothly, better than any scooter they make today. She didn’t know what it was like to visit him in his workshop and smell the oil and sawdust of his tinkering. She did love him though. He’d make funny sounds with his mouth for her and sit her on his lap, just like he did with me. So many memories… I could write pages and pages.

better days

I know she’ll remember that smile and it’s probably what we’ll talk about when we talk about my grandpa from now on.

I did go back again. But there was no change.

It all just makes me think of that one phrase my grandpa used to always say. If you asked him how he was doing he’d smile and say, “I’m pretty good for the shape I’m in.”

I guess he still is.


  • bethany actually

    Oh, Brenda. You made me cry in a good way. I’m so glad you’re able to be there for your dad and your grandpa right now. Maybe this is why you’re in the Sticks, who knows!?

    You and Bug will definitely talk about and remember that smile and how much Grandpa loved his kids and grandkids, all of them. I am so thankful that even though Troy’s dad died when Annalie was very young, she remembers her Grandpa Keith with the scratchy beard who used to take her to his backyard and give her treats to feed to the neighbor’s dogs. Just like I don’t remember much about my great-grandpa, but I do remember him letting me feed his ducks and geese when I was very little.

    I think the photos are beautiful and your grandpa would understand and be fine with them.

  • bec


    You are doing the right things for you and for your family and that is what matters. Death is a process, and it’s so easy for us all to forget that it’s a part of life. I think your grandpa knows you are there and I’m sure it’s a comfort to him. I am praying for peace for all of you.

  • Heather Kilpatrick

    I wanted you to know a complete stranger read this and is thinking of you and your family. And I agree with Bethany, the photos are lovely, intimate and kind.

    I read this and of course, like everyone else, think of my own grandfather. I can’t imagine what this is like for you and your family, but I hope you are able to find moments of peace

  • Carly, Bethany's Facebook Stalker

    Brenda, I lost my Grandpa suddenly last August. We didn’t know he had cancer, and once he found out, he slept for the next 36 hours, and then slipped away. Be there with him. Take a picture of you holding his hand and maybe one of Bug holding his hand. Maybe even take a picture of your dad holding his hand. That’s the picture I wanted most with my Grandpa, but I didn’t get it.

    After he passed, I googled “imminent signs of death” and was dumbfounded. The signs were all there. The biggest sign (that also was not included in my google search) was when my aunt told me that he pulled the sheet over his head and just laid there for a while. Later that evening, my Dad said Grandpa’s respirations became more shallow and the number increased to 44 per minute. I’m fairly certain my Grandpa was just waiting for my Dad to go to sleep to move on.

    My Grandpa was the strongest male figure I had in my life. It’s nine months later and I still can’t talk about him without bursting into tears. He was the grandparent I knew I would have the hardest time dealing with, and I always knew he’d be the first to go. I miss him terribly.

    Sorry, didn’t mean to make this about me, but thought maybe by offering my story, you could make some of those difficult decisions with a little more insight.

    I am so sorry you are going through this right now. Hugs to you.

    I hope I can comment on your blog again sometime without having to be so sad. Ask Bethany – even though we know so little about each other, this is not my typical personality.

  • Clownfish


    I almost made it through your post dry but I could not control the tears that welled up. Not even a blink was required as the tears crested my lower lids and rolled down my cheeks. You see, even though the words “insert your Grandpa here” did not appear, that is exactly what I did as I continued to read until your last word. How blessed, fortunate and lucky that we should have (for me, had) our Grandpas! Through my tears I smile as I remember his: whistle, laugh, smile, arm around me, stories, the smell of fresh sawed wood in his shop and him telling me he was proud of me.

    Believe me I know, you will miss him. But hold fast to that smile he flashed you and Bug along with the many fond memories I know you can and will recall. Because when you find yourself with those feelings of missing, those memories will bring back the smile to your face and a peace in your heart.

    You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers…

  • Beth B.

    Brenda – that is a lovely write-up. I’ll be thinking of you and your family and your Grandpa.

  • Katie

    Its so sad, but you write such a beautiful narrative of this time you have with your grandpa! I hope he passes peacefully and comfortably. Prayers for you and your family!

  • Ninabi

    It’s bittersweet, remembering all the ways your grandpa showed you he loved you. His smile for Bug is truly something to treasure. Please don’t feel guilty about bringing your camera- my brother and sister took a few pictures of our dad before he passed. It actually helped us, after he passed- because it reminded us of how sick he was following bypass surgery and that we wouldn’t have wanted our lively, funny dad to have suffered any longer in that state.

    Your father will need your love and support in the weeks and months to come.

    I’ll pass along a few words of odd comfort from my mother. She’s a nurse and saw a lot of people die over the decades. She thought it must be a lonely, awful process to go through and she’d been having some what-is-the-meaning-of-life sort of questions. And then she began having episodes of “fainting”. Long story short, her heart was stopping and restarting and one day it REALLY stopped. She told me- told everyone who would listen- that she passed over into the most wonderful experience of her life. While my sister was panic stricken and tearfully looking down on our mom, not breathing, no heartbeat, our mom wasn’t experiencing that at all. She was in a beautiful place, filled with people she knew from long ago and then WHOOSH. Back she had to go into her body and she was whisked off to get a pacemaker implanted. Oh, she actually swore she was so upset and then she said over and over and over, Let me go back there….

    She tells everyone that what people see around the patient is not what the patient is going through and it is a journey to someplace very good.

    Prayers to you and your family. It’s so sad when you love somebody very, very much and have to let them go, even if it is a quiet, peaceful departure.

  • sizzle

    This reminds me so much of being there when my grandma passed away. She was in that dream state for a long time. I think the dying need it- to sort out the life they live so they can move onto the next phase. I like to believe they know we are there even if they can’t respond to us. My gran hadn’t spoken for days or opened her eyes barely but when I sang to her she hummed along with me. It was one of the most profound moments of my life.

    There can be honor and dignity in passing onto the next phase and I think you being there helps that happen. Remembering him, his impact on your life, the little moments and sayings and smiles- that’s part of the legacy he leaves you.


    This is a difficult time for you & your family… Will keep you in my thoughts. The pictures are lovely and you will hold them close to your heart along with the memories of your grandpa in the years to come. Wishing peace for you all.

  • anj

    This post is a gem, lady (and since you wrote it, you know what that makes you, right?). Your family bonds are so special. Prayers for all of you.

  • TexasLea

    Beautiful words for such a trying time in life. You are so fortunate to have such wonderful memories of your Grandpa Brenda. In the days to come you do what you need to. If for your own heart you need pictures, take them, if you need to be there- stay, if you need to go- go, if you need to share it all here- you should, if you’d rather write it on paper or talk it out with that big cactus in your yard, do it. Your Grandpa is almost done with this world, he would want you to do now whatever you need to do so you can move on with peace knowing he is in a better place.
    I am so thankful he isn’t suffering or in pain. I will be keeping your whole family in my prayers. I will also be praying for compassion to come into the heart of that dispatcher.

  • Heather in WA State

    Your gut is correct, and you’ll treasure those photos when the grief comes. How fortunate that he is not in pain. I held my uncle’s hand as he lay waiting to die, probably not knowing I was there. As I sat there 10 years ago I felt what I thought was butterflies in my tummy, but it turned out to be the first kicks of the baby I was pregnant with. Such a strange time, to feel one life slipping, and the other growing within. Anyhow, I hope you are able to support your dad through the terrible juggling of job demands and loyalty to his father. He needs to do what is right for him, because he’s the one who will live with it the rest of his life. Sending you Love from up North…

  • a chris

    Made me cry too. I’m sorry the stupid practicalities of making a living are making things harder for your family, especially your dad. It’s never easy to see someone treat a loved one unfairly, let alone now.

    Those are sweet memories you have of your granddad. I love Carly’s suggestion of the photos of you holding his hand. It sounds like he does care that you are there. And it is really nice that he has such a good room, and isn’t sharing a hospital room with a stranger.

    I don’t have a photo but I treasure the last hug my 2-year-old gave my Grandma as we said goodbye at Christmas, the last time we would see her alive. My daughter didn’t know the significance but it meant a lot to both my Grandma and me.

    Keep strong for your wonderful Dad. I think you are all doing a good job of being there for your Grandpa. Best wishes to your Grandpa; he’s doing a monumental task as best he can and he sounds like a great guy.

  • lynne

    Oh Gosh Brenda,

    I’m so sorry to hear about your grandfather. It must be some comfort for you to know that he isn’t in any pain, but its so hard to let a loved one go. Even if he is asleep, onone level he probably knows your there (I know my dad did) and its magic to hear your granddad have Bug such a huge smile. Theres a special relationship between the very old and very young in a family. Thinking if you all. Much love xx

  • Kate

    Thank you so much for sharing this/HIS story with all of us! My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family during this difficult time.

  • Rebecca (Bearca)

    Brenda, this post documents so clearly the limbo you are in. Hang in there, I know this is a really hard time but the memories you have of him are so wonderful. It’s so good that your dad has you, too. xoxo

  • Kristin H


    Prayers of consultation for you and your extended family and friends. This is a beautiful post and THANK YOU for sharing his story. You did a wonderful job of summarizing and glorifying his earthly life, so as to give the reader a little peace and assurance of his eternal life. People need to read about this. Death is such a natural and ever-occurring process, but it’s almost seen as taboo in our current culture. We hide the elderly, demented, sick and dying in sterile hospitals with strangers taking care of their needs. Thankfully there are programs like Hospice in place so that our loved ones can be home for their last days. But it is so very important for us and our children to see the God given progression of age – from babies to death. We shouldn’t shy away from death – scary and uncertain as it is. A hundred years ago (before social security and common forms of retirement) mom and dad, grandma and grandpa all lived with one another. You saw mom have babies, grandma and grandpa getting old and g-grandma/pa dying. You became accustom to the stages of life and perhaps you didn’t take your good health and strength for granted. You saw suffering and you raised each other up through those times. Children should be exposed to death (of course within age and personally appropriate limits) very early on, so that they can be more at peace with this reality throughout their life. So many of my own nieces and nephews are kept home from funerals because my in laws feel “they’re not ready” for this type of life event. I wonder, is it the children who are not ready, or the parents who aren’t ready to explain the “God” questions. If children don’t attend their first funeral until their 30, what message does this send? Good for you Brenda!

  • Amy

    I love that quote at the end. My great grandma used to say, when asked the same question, “still kicking, but not as high!”