Who are the Grands?

They are 90 and 93, and they live each day like there is no tomorrow. Because there may not be. Their minds are not what they used to be and their bodies are breaking down bit by bit, but inside those old minds and bodies they are the same independent-minded young people that forged their own way in this world and made a good life for themselves. This is both a blessing and a challenge, as you'll see in the posts below. Welcome to our journey!

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Grandpa Learns He Has Cancer

You'd think that with a doctor standing over you while you're lying in a hospital bed, that you'd hear her tell you the bad news. But Grandpa was in intensive care, he was on morphine and he'd been in a lot of pain so the fact was that he didn't hear a word she said.

At the time, we thought that was a good thing because his frame of mind was so fragile. But once he got home and settled into his routine, we thought he ought to know why he was so tired, why he wasn't recovering from his symptoms, and why he was in more pain. At least, most of us thought so. The key person who thought Grandpa should remain in the dark was Grandma. I don't understand it, and it was a true frustration to all of us (all of us being the nurses at Bickford, the hospice team, the rest of the family, and me), but that woman was absolutely militant about not telling Grandpa that he had cancer. She didn't seem to notice that throughout the week, his anxiety about his symptoms was worsening. His mood was dark and almost frantic. He asked everyone why he was so tired and why he couldn't do the things he wanted to do. He criticized himself, saying, "I'm just a big baby. I need to stop this." Well, he could no more stop than he could jump off the roof and expect to fly.

So after a lot of prayer and a lot of conversations with hospice, with family, and with Bickford's staff, we planned a meeting to tell Grandma that he had to be told. The plan was that we would explain everything to her, why he needed to know, why this had to happen, and then give her the choice of telling him herself or letting me or a nurse tell him.

I'm not going to go into the details of that meeting, but suffice it to say that Grandma may have the tiniest feet on any grown woman in America, but when she digs in those heels you're in for a rough ride.

The night before the meeting, I had been talking to the social worker from hospice and I told her we needed to plan for Grandma absolutely refusing to tell him. She told me very respectfully but directly not to catastrophize. I do catastrophize sometimes . . .

But this time? Hmmm. After the meeting, I smiled and shook my head, trying to see the humor in the situation. I asked the social worker, "So do you still think I was catastrophizing?" She slowly shook her head with wide eyes. No. I wasn't.

But at least the meeting ended with the necessary result. Grandma said, "Well, I can see I'm not going to win this. What do you want me to do?" Lydia told Grandma she needed to tell Wally soon. Deb the director told her she needed to tell him by the weekend. Grandma agreed.

Somehow, with as bad as that was, Grandma was able to pull herself together, out of her mad, and she shined with the grace and integrity I know her to have. She asked me to have dinner with them at their table. That was fun, talking with everyone and seeing them smile. Grandpa was really tired and he didn't eat much, but he smiled at me now and then. He was happy I was there. Grandma was, too. She wanted to hear all about the boys (Steve and Lliam) and what they'd been doing and what I'd been doing.

We headed back to the room after dinner. Grandpa managed to get into his lazyboy, and he leaned back. He wasn't comfortable. He was exhausted and he was really upset. He started to cry, saying, "I don't know why I'm so tired. I'm just a big baby." I said, "No, you're not. You're doing really well, Grandpa. Really well, considering everything."

Grandma heard us talking and she hustled over, tottering all the way, and knelt at his knee. I don't know if she was afraid I'd spill the beans or if she'd made up her mind that this was a good time, but right there, with no more to do, she said, "Dad, you have cancer." Grandpa said, "What?" Grandma said, "You have cancer, Dad, that's why you're so tired." Grandpa asked, "Who told you?" Grandma said, "Lara did."

I chimed in, "The doctor did. The doctor did." Me?!? Not me. I can't diagnose cancer. But they went on as if I hadn't said anything. Grandma continued, "That's why you can't get your energy back and why your belly hurts."

Grandpa took a second to think about this. He started to cry again. I took his hand and Grandma kissed his knee and held his other hand. I cried, too. Grandma hid her tears by turning her face away. I told him that it was okay with us, we'd be okay. I told him that he was the best man I'd ever know. I told him that he was the standard by which I judge every other man I meet. Grandma told him no one could be better. Grandma said, "I can't imagine life without you, Dad. But you remember how we sat with my mother and kept talking to her, keeping her with us when she needed to go? Well . . . all I want is that you don't suffer. You tell me any time you need a pain pill or you need anything, and I'll call one of the nurses in here to help you."

I asked Grandpa, "Are you glad we told you?" Grandpa said, "Well, yeah," like that was the most obvious thing in the world. Grandma said, "What? You're glad?" Grandpa said, "Yes. Certainly."

We sat together like that for about ten more minutes, just touching hands and crying together. Grandma laid her head on Grandpa's knee. Grandpa patted her head. I talked about stuff. I don't know what I said. Something about how Grandma had been the best wife in the world and how good a life they'd had. How they'd be together again soon after this was over. I remembered what I'd read about John and Abigail Adams in the biography by David McCullough, that when Abigail died John said that they had been apart for four years when he was a diplomat in Europe and that this couldn't be any longer a separation than that. So I used that to encourage Grandpa because I could tell that he was sad because he knows that he is going to be leaving us soon. I said, "You and Grandma were apart when you were at war in World War II. That was two years, wasn't it? Well, you won't apart much this time either. Remember how good Grandma did while you were gone? She was Rosie the Riveter and she made friends and waited for you. This won't be far different."

I don't know if all my babbling helped or not. But when I left that night, Grandpa was particularly tender. He told he loved me. He said that he was willing to go through all of this for Grandma and I, but there was nothing else in the world that could make it worth it.

When I came to visit the next time, their mood had lightened considerably. Grandpa was calmer, more at peace. Grandma was happier, more confident. She told me herself that Grandpa had said he was glad he knows.

Certainly he is. People need to know what's happening to them. I'm glad I fought so hard to help that happen, but most of all I'm so grateful that God interceded to help them find peace with the information and to help Grandma accept what she had to do. I keep reminding myself, this is the worst time of her entire life. She is losing her love of 76 years. They have had a wonderful life together, but it is ending.

Death is inevitable, but all this has made me think about how grateful I am that we can have confidence in our life in Christ and in our continued life together after we all join Him in heaven.

I honestly don't know how people manage to cope with death when they don't have the love of God in their hearts and the confidence that they will see one another again someday in Heaven. How horrible, how frightening, to live without that confidence and love. How wonderful, how merciful is God's grace that we all have the opportunity to accept Him.

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