“My grandfather is the rock of our family. Pretty much the one thing that has tied us together for a long time. His health has been horrible for basically his entire life. He has to have blood transfusions often and he was 5 weeks late getting this last one (due to the doctor) and landed in the ER because of it. Today I asked him how he was and he said not good. That if my grandma hadn’t told him it wasn’t an option, he would just go out to pasture (death) right now.
I have been struggling for years with the thought of him dying. The thought of the world without him. I still can’t imagine, but I know now that even in my heartache, my absolutely heartache, that he is prepared. It is my grandma who isn’t. It is us. We are keeping him here. Especially her. I’ve never thought of her… without him. I’ve never thought about how she was going to handle it. I’ve only seen her cry once in all these years. She has been a strong woman to look up to. A strong person. I guess I just never thought that she may be a bigger mess than us all when he is gone. That all these years she has spent by his side, taking care of him.. and all the scares and the thoughts of “Is this the last time?”… How big that hole in her heart, in her life, will be. And today I look at my grandmother in a new light. She is no longer just my grandma, but a woman, who loves a man, and has stood by him in every time of need, and has been HIS rock, just as he has been ours. And I am grateful to her that she has been there through it all. Grateful to know such a woman. Grateful that I have so many strong female voices in my life.
Thank you, Grandma.”
I wrote that almost a year ago. And he continued on, of course, and actually looked better the past few months than he had in years. Color, energy, etc. But he had been falling a lot. His body was just.. tired.
Yesterday I watched as he took his last breath in this world. As his heart slowed and eventually stopped. As his body fought for over an hour after they pulled the tubes from him and turned off his pace maker. I kept thinking that his death was a testament to his life. He fought hard, and was surrounded by people who loved him.
His death was a surprise. Even after all these years of knowing it was coming, it was a surprise. We thought for sure it would be his heart, an infection, his body finally giving in to all the meds he has been on all these years. Not the way that it actually happened though. I don’t think any of us were ready for head trauma. For the possibility that even if he lives he may not ever again be… him.
After all the times he has landed in the hospital, this one felt so very different. It felt final, even from the beginning. The smallest amount of hope we had been so faint that we knew it was false.
His miraculous recoveries had all been used, and now it was time for us to grieve.
James came to the hospital with me. We were there all day Wednesday. We left for a bit to get my grandmother an overnight bag. When we finally got in to see him the faintest hope was gone. I knew, standing there holding his hand, watching his legs shake randomly and his chest go up and down, that this was the end of the road. We had to soak up what was left, and find a way to carry on and share his spirit even without him here to help us with that.
I was exhausted but the second I got in bed I lay there wide awake. Thinking about my grandma. Wishing there was something we could do to help her through this. Some easy answer to wave away her guilt for not making him go to the hospital sooner. A way to get rid of all the “what ifs” that hung in the air, and let her know that she gave him a gift. He was able to be in his own bed, with the woman he loved, and have moments of peace before he was gone. I wanted to let her know how thankful we are that what could have been a burden to his children, taking care of him with all of his medical issues etc, was just an act of partnership between the two of them. What a gift she has given to his children. They were able to fully appreciate him as he grew older because of her selflessness. And he stayed active because she was. He was with us as long as he was because of her, and no one else could have given him, or us, that gift. I wish she could know all this, and not feel her guilt. But I know she will, and I know it will take a toll on her. Her heart is broken and weeping for the loss of her best friend.
Thursday morning it was hard to wake up. I was scared I had missed the call, but my phone had nothing on it. I called my mom and she hadn’t heard anything, but was on her way to the hospital. I went to work and we got the call. His brain was not active, and there was no hope that he would ever recover from this. If he ever did wake up, he wouldn’t be himself. In some ways, the decision was so easy, and in others, it was so hard. His kids and his wife made the decision to let him go. He fought everything his body had ever thrown at him, but this time it was his brain. Something they couldn’t just, do away with and replace or alter. His brain. His memories, his thoughts, his speech, his functioning. Everything. He was gone and everyone knew it.
I had decided I wouldn’t go down. No one else was the office. I had to run the place. James was going to meet my mom and give her comfort. I thought I had said my goodbyes the night before. I didn’t need to do it again. I didn’t want to watch it. I was avoiding it. James told me I was being silly. Aunt Karen questioned me once more before they left. And I decided I would regret it if I didn’t go. My sister and I cried to each other as we both drove down.
I got to the hospital and hurried up to the room. We said a prayer with his pastor, and gave my grandma some time to be with him. When we went back in they started to remove all of the tubes and explained what to expect. He mostly sounded like he was snoring. Like he was in a deep sleep and I kept waiting for him to wake up, startled at the noise of his own snores. But he didn’t. They came in and turned off his pace maker. We expected that he would be gone in a matter of minutes after the pacemaker was off, but he held on. His heart would stop, he would take a deep breath and then that would stop. Then after a minute his body would gasp and his heart would beat again. An hour of thinking this was the last when it wasn’t. An hour for everyone to watch the life drain from his body, the color drain from his face. An hour to hear his struggling breaths.
An hour to watch my grandmother with him.
An hour to witness grief that cannot be contained.
An hour to cry.
An hour to ask why.
An hour to know that I would never see that big goofy grin anymore. To know that I would never hear his voice again. To know that I would never get to hug him, or hold his hand, or hear his stories. To know that there was so much more that I needed. To know that if I ever have a child, that child wont have the honor of ever meeting him.
An hour to regret every moment that will never happen.
An hour to miss every moment that did.
An hour to realize just how lucky we were to have him all these years.
And an hour to witness the greatest display of agonizing, heart wrenching, pure and simple love that I had ever seen. My grandmother reaching for his hand as if it was the only thing that would steady her own shaking hand, holding her head on his chest, stroking his cheek ever so lightly, as if she was holding on to the most fragile paper ever made. And when it was over, the dazed look on her face. The grief in her eyes. The exhaustion finally setting in and taking over.
The nurse came in and said “I’m so sorry”. And Judy said “Not as sorry as I am.”
And I knew that this was going to be such a long and trying path for her. He wouldn’t be there to reassure her anymore. To ease her anxiety. To tell her he was okay, and that this wasn’t her fault.
We told her we were leaving, that we wanted to give them room to discuss what needed to be discussed. She acted as if she wouldn’t see me again unless she was coming to the office, and like she wasn’t sure she was welcome there anymore without Red. I told her no, that we needed her, and even more than that, we wanted her around. We loved her. She is a part of our family no matter what.
She cried, and hugged me. I cried and hugged her back.
This wonderful soul passed on, and we are heartbroken. The loss is great. I am so, so thankful for the big heart this man had, and hope that everyone who has been touched by him can pay it forward to others. His death was a testament to his life. He fought hard while surrounded by love. He is at peace now. My grandfather is gone. And I guess the earth somehow thinks it is okay to continue spinning, so we must continue as well.
Rest in peace Roy “Red” Bretz. You will be missed, but even more so, you will be loved.