Last weekend, I was in Florida with my grandfather who was dying of lymphoma. Two years ago, my grandmother – his wife of more than 65 years – was dying and Grandpa asked me, “who will be with me when I am dying.” I answered him, “I will.” Ever since I spoke those words they have haunted me for how would I possibly be able to be with him. How would I know when to arrive? I couldn’t possibly know. And yet, I reassured myself that I said the right thing at the time – I gave him some comfort by letting him know that I would want to be with him when he was dying. That I would not want him to be alone. When Andrea and I arrived in Vero Beach last Friday, my grandfather was aware we were there. He spoke to us in short sentences with long naps in between. At times he spoke and it was difficult to know what he was saying – the words were gurgled or simply didn’t make sense to our ears.
We planned to return to Chicago on Monday morning. But, on Sunday morning, over breakfast, I began to feel guilty – I had promised my grandfather I would be with him when he was dying and now I was talking about flying home and leaving him alone – to die alone. As I went back and forth in my mind, considering my options, I asked God to help me find the right answer. But, I received no answer.
Breakfast ended and we returned to my Grandpa’s room. He was sitting in his favorite recliner, his eyes were closed, and his breathing was labored. I spoke, “Grandpa, Andrea and I are here.” He opened his eyes and turned them toward me. I don’t know if he saw me or not. I held his hand. I told him that Grandma was waiting for him (more a reminder to myself than to him – for it was the one thing of which he was most confident). He closed his eyes again. A few minutes later, he died.
His death was both God’s answer to my predicament and a sign of God’s ultimate transformation of the world. As Lane reflected on that moment in which my grandfather passed from life to death, he commented to me that my grandfather was very lucky to have loved ones on both sides of that transition – Andrea, myself, and other members of my family who visited him over the past several weeks on this side of death and, my grandmother waiting for him with God. As we prepare for the coming of Christ during Advent, my grandfather’s dying reminds me of the powerful transformations that occur in our world – the transformations we are invited to embrace because they are the “signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars. . . [that] ‘the Son of Man [is] coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.” “Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
My grandfather's obituary is here.