I get goosebumps when I think back to being a child and the house I spent so much of my time in. It had that smell, you know? The “grandparent” smell. The smell of heavy wooden furniture kept for 40 years in pristine condition. It smelled like wicker chairs, that were incredibly uncomfortable but a staple piece on the blue carpeting. It had the smell of homemade sauce on the burner. It even smelled like that pink bottle of Coppertone sunscreen my grandma always kept in the fridge. It smelled like summers, and weekends, and love. It smelled like my childhood.
That house sold in the summer of 2019 when my grandfather moved into a memory care assisted living facility. My grandmother passed in 2005 and my grandfather stayed in that house until he was unable to look out for himself any longer.
My family packed up decades of memories into a couple of cardboard boxes. That was it—shirts, pants, a couple of photographs.
From there, my grandfather began his journey in the left-wing of the facility. Popcorn and movie nights, craft mornings, puzzles, and games. A lively bunch and for the most part, very healthy residents.
He knew me, he knew his life, and he could care for himself. This was OK.
Days turned to weeks, and weeks turned into a year, and in one year my grandfather aged about 10. You see, he’s suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s. I hesitate to word it that way, but after first-hand experience, it feels like suffering.
The time came for the right-wing. The rooms with no color, no accessories, and full-time care. He forgot his name, how to dress himself, how to eat, and he forgot us. All of us. He lost light from his eyes and weight from his body.
More time passed, and visits grew harder and harder. He’s 93, but selfishly, our family needs him here. We want him to be around forever. He was our buoy when we needed saving. All of us.
So I got into the car with snacks packed and headed to the facility last week. I knew. If you know, you know, and this was it.
I walked into what felt like a Stephen King movie. A room full of someone’s loved ones sitting at a table—hunched over or staring into space. I was sick to my stomach but sat down and spoke to someone who I pray heard me.
I hope he felt all my love in our embrace, and I hope there’s a faint amount of his mind that was with us for only a moment to know he wasn’t alone.
How do you walk away from someone knowing it’s the last you’ll see them? Do you look back over your shoulder as you leave the cold room and feel peace? Do you let anger take ahold of every inch of your body for a disease that’s cruel to watch someone endure? Do you feel hope, because you know there’s something better beyond all this?
You feel all of it.
So I said goodbye. I let go of my frail grandfather and thanked him for that cold sunscreen because it sure burned a lot less when it had a chill. I thanked him for the guest bedroom when I didn’t want to be at my parents’ house. I thanked him for being a shining example of a devoted Christian.
I thanked him for all of it and said goodbye.
I became painfully aware of how short life is and how it’s fleeting. How the circle of life works. How in a few short days or hours, I’ll have one more person to look up at the sky to and say smile to.
Because my goodbye is His hello.
Maybe we remember, for as long as we can, the very special place grandparents hold in our hearts until we can hold them in our arms again.