Seeing Grandpa Bob

Seeing Grandpa Bob

I had just left the hospital where my sister held vigil over our dying father.  We knew it would end soon.  It was amazing how long he had held on.

Having been estranged for most of our lives, we received the blessing of finding and reconciling with the old man a few months prior.  Dad was an alcoholic and for his whole life had chain‑smoked non-filtered Camel Straights.  He was suffering from lung and prostrate cancer.  After having surgery to remove half of his left lung, he appeared to be doing very well.  The doctor said it was a “textbook” procedure and he came out of it as well as any he had ever seen.  Dad was singing songs and flirting with the nurses in the recovery room.

A few days later they moved him to a regular room, and then it went very bad.  We never figured out what happened, exactly.  Numerous question-and-answer sessions with doctors and nurses yielded many contradictory reports, and later, a legal investigation.  Personally, I think someone messed up.  There was no way to prove it, though, as for some reason the hospital records indicated “no entries” for the time-period where something went wrong.  We could only conclude that his right lung collapsed because of “some reason or another.”  From then on, he went steadily downhill.  He never fully regained consciousness.  In the ICU a couple of times he opened his eyes and appeared to recognize us.  I believe he knew what was going on.  When the doctor asked him if they should do everything possible to revive him, he replied with a robust affirmative nod.

As of a few weeks prior to the surgery we hadn’t spoken for many years.  I didn’t even know for sure if he was alive, let alone where he was.  The disease of alcoholism has left its scars on my family.  Although my dad appeared, and played an active role in leading me to recovery from addiction decades ago, our relationship was strained and we had parted on sour terms.  Our contacts prior to then were scarce, to say the least.  We had only a few brief interactions to speak of from childhood on up, and these usually ended uncomfortably.

I was never certain when (if at all) he had actually quit drinking.  He was such an unpredictable nut.  Anyway, when my sister told me she found him, living about an hour’s drive east, that he was very ill and possibly terminal, well… I wrestled with a few demons and finally decided to call him.  It wasn’t exactly an easy conversation.  We spoke for a few awkward minutes and I told him we would come out to visit him.

So, a few days before he went in for the surgery I took my family out to see him.  On that day my Dad met my wife, and our two sons.  He just fell in grandfather-love over my boys.  “Grandpa Bob.”  He especially connected with our three-year old son.  It was a soul-match from the word hello.  I am so glad they had the chance to meet each other.  That little boy made my dad light up like a Christmas Tree.  We drove around the town.  We went up to a park on the ridge of a mountain with a panoramic view of the city.  The kids ran around and played.  It was there that he told me he was sorry for being a lousy father.  I forgave him, and apologized for being such a lousy son.  We told each other “I love you.”.  Looking across the parking lot at my wife and children, my father said to me, “You have been truly blessed.”  Later we went out to dinner together.  Like a family.

My sister and I waited together at the hospital as they operated on him.  Not knowing what to expect, and prepared for the worst, we were pulled into a false sense of hopefulness when he came out of surgery looking so well.

The events from then up to his death; well, it was quite a ride.  One of his many children, a half-brother from North Dakota, came to see him.  It was interesting to meet him.  He reminded me very much of my nephew, my sister’s son.  Dad ended up being transferred to another hospital just a few miles from my home.  They have a special unit for terminal cases.  Both of our boys were born in that hospital.

So, I had just gotten home from the hospital where I had left my sister sitting at his bedside.  There wasn’t much life left in him.  He was barely hanging on, and had been that way for a few days.  It was bedtime and I was getting out of the shower.  Our three-year old burst into the bathroom and exclaimed, “I just saw Grandpa Bob!”

“Where was he?” I asked.

“Over there,” he said, pointing to the corner of the room, where he had been quietly playing all by himself.  Then the phone rang.


Through tears, my sister choked out: “Daddy just died.”

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