From "Hospital Memoirs: Love and B.S."
In memory of Grandpa Van (Feb. 22, 1923 -- Nov. 29, 2006)
By Karen Van Fossan, copyright 2008
January 2, 2005
My grandpa's life may pass at any moment. I know this, and so does he.
Once a merciless teaser, he strains to lift his head and even speak.
“I hope you can sort out the B.S. from the love,” my grandpa says. He drops his head to the pillow. He turns to find my eyes.
I say, “I can.”
February 2, 2005
Sometimes Grandpa speaks. Sometimes he only mouths the words, and I am left to read lips. The words I've learned so far: Orange juice. Water. Carmex.
The ventilator dries my grandpa out. But any liquids could choke him. So Carmex is as close to satisfaction as he can get.
He moves his crackling lips.
Ever diplomatic, I ask, “Would you like a little Carmex?”
Could be, he's fallen asleep again. I wait, ever waiting.
He mouths the words, “I'd rather have a beer.”
His eyes dance. And I throw back my head. And both of us are laughing.
February 8, 2005
Grandpa opens his eyes, and I look up.
“Grandpa, I'm going to send a note to Patty. You know – Patty. Is there anything you'd like me to say?”
He motions with his head like, No, not really.
We're quiet a while.
“I just don't feel that I've lived a full life."
“You're ready for more life?” I ask.
“A better life," he says.
He drifts again. I watch the geese preening out the window.
“There's so much I know now that I didn't know before,” he says. “I could live a much better life.”
February 8, 2005, Later
“I'm trying to get better,” he says.
“You're getting better?” I ask.
He says, “Trying to.”
February 10, 2005
When he speaks, he pushes air with each sound, pushing hard to be heard. He could ruin his vocal chords, the medical people tell him; he oughtn't try to speak.
But life, to my grandpa, is conversation. So here it is.
“Do you hear that?” Grandpa says.
“Yes,” I say. I wait.
The ventilator hums and rumbles and, lately, has started revving.
“What's it sound like to you?” I ask.
“A mo...” he says. “A motorcycle...It gets me up and gets me started.”
I ask, “Ever think you'd be riding motorcycle at age 81?”
Grandpa is grinning.
February 10, 2005, Later
Grandpa peers around, but does not see me.
“I'm here beside you, Grandpa,” I say.
He asks me, “Size what???”
“I'm beside you,” I say. “I'm with you.”
“Well, good...You better hurry.”
“I'll hurry,” I say, “if you hurry.”
Grandpa smiles wide. I see his toothless gums. He says, “Bless your heart.”