Granddad helped me better appreciate life, death

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 18, 2004

&uot;Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It's the transition that's troublesome." - Isaac Asimov (1920-1992)

I have seen death, and it is not a pretty thing. Even though I have lost loved ones, I was never with them when they passed away. Eleven days ago, I was at my grandfather's bedside when he took his last breath.

As I mourn his death, the above quote basically says it all. In life, Granddad was pleasant - perhaps the greatest man I ever knew. I know I could have never hand picked a better man to be my grandfather. When he died, I knew he was at peace after a long and difficult struggle with emphysema. Spending more than 24 hours in his hospital room and watching the dying process unfold, though, was without a doubt the most troublesome thing I have ever had to do.

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Granddad was a big man - he stood 6-6 and weighed about 270. It wasn't the size of his body, though, that I will remember most: it is the size of his heart.

Granddad loved his family: nothing in this world was more important to him. He dedicated his life to make sure Grandma, their three daughters and their grandchildren were taken care of.

From the time I was born, I was Granddad's buddy. Since all three of his children were girls, I was his first little boy. Having lived just three houses up from my grandparents helped strengthen our bond.

He was always there for me, too. When I started playing sports when I was 5 years old, few times could I look in the stands and not see Granddad. In fact, I do not think he missed any of my games when I got to high school - football, basketball and baseball.

I have so many fond memories of my grandfather that I couldn't possibly begin to list them in this column. I remember taking my friends to his house so we could shoot pool in the basement. I remember sitting with him on his front porch in the summer and listening to the Cincinnati Reds on the radio. He took me for many rides on his motorcycle.

But most of all, I remember "Stubby." Several years before I was born, Granddad lost half of his left index finger in a power tool accident. To entertain his grandchildren, he used to draw faces on it with a marker. It was without a doubt the best tickling finger, too.

Memories such as these made it a little easier to let him go, but it was still the saddest day of my life.

When I walked into his hospital room that Friday morning, my aunt was feeding him orange sherbet.

When he noticed me, he mouthed four simple, yet powerful words: "I love you, buddy." I bent down, gave him a hug and a kiss and replied "I love you too - bunches."

At around 11 a.m. that day, Granddad closed his eyes, never to open them again. It wasn't until 12:30 p.m. the next day, however, that he finally died. I sat at his bedside holding his hand, patting his head and rubbing his legs as he fought for every last shallow breath he took for more than 24 hours.

When he finally took that last breath, though, I knew he was at peace. The disease that had all but robbed him of his last few years of life was no longer bothering him.

I don't know what would be more difficult: having a loved one die suddenly or watching them slowly pass away. Both are painful. On one hand, you don't get to tell them "goodbye," but on the other hand you see them dying right before your eyes, knowing you cannot do anything for them.

Seeing Granddad struggle for each breath, though, assured me that it was his time to go. This, I feel, made me feel a little more at ease. He had lived a full life.

Through all of his adversity, he always assured us that he was a "tough old buzzard." And that he was. However, as I sat in that hospital room and watched him slowly die, I couldn't help but think even the toughest old buzzards have to fly off into the sunset at some point.

A dying man needs to die just as a sleepy man needs to sleep. Eventually, no matter how hard you fight, you can no longer resist. Granddad didn't lose his battle, though: he had finally won.

Shawn Doyle is managing editor of The Ironton Tribune. He can be reached by calling (740) 532-1445 ext. 19 or by e-mail to shawn.