Sunday, May 1, 2011

the hardest time ever .

I was thinking about the difficulties we encounter over the course of a lifetime a few days ago. How some people have it way harder than I do. And how others are lucky enough to coast by without many problems. But if asked what the hardest most difficult and emotional time in my life to date was... I'm not sure if I would have an answer. There are several things that come to mind -- one being involved in the funeral process of my grandfather.

I may have talked about this already somewhat (I've realized that after awhile if you write everyday you might tend to repeat things and not even realize it). But this may be a more full and complete version than before. I guess I could say that this was the hardest part of life to get through, despite a ton of other really tough things that have been present as well.

I can't remember the exact date, but I remember hearing about my grandfather contracting Alzheimer's. My mom was devastated. She knew a lot more about the disease than I did, and how it slowly ate away at memory and the brain until it disintegrated, leaving the body physically able to do nothing. She was also aware that there was no cure, only medication to slow the process.

The weeks that followed were painful. By the time the extended family came to visit for the holidays, Poppy, as we called him, was having trouble eating, tying shoes, brushing teeth. His mind was just slowly forgetting how to do it. His long term memory was relatively intact, but his short-term memory was shot. You could tell him we were leaving to go somewhere, and as soon as we got in the car he's ask again where we were going.

He was a brilliant man and it was difficult to have someone so smart become virtually trapped in a body that couldn't remember how to do anything. The way that Alzheimer's is lethal is that eventually, your mind forgets how to regulate the body functions. Slowly but surely, your lungs will stop breathing, stomach and intestines won't absorb anything anymore, and eventually your heart will stop beating for lack of instruction from the brain. I could be wrong here, but I'm pretty sure that when the disease attacks your brain it will deteriorate it away, literally leaving pockets of space devoid of matter in the brain. What a scary thought.

Well, perhaps God's mercy was at work in a bit of skewed way -- a month or so before his birthday, Poppy had a stroke. He was instantly hospitalized. My mom began to pray fervently, even more so than she already had been (which is saying something). About a week or two later he had another stroke. Consciousness was lost at this point. He had turned basically into a vegetable, surviving only on life support. My mom was out the door Albany-bound the next day.

My grandmother had to make the decision to pull the plug. It was in his will that he didn't want to have to be attached to machines and life support just to stay alive, but that didn't make it any easier.

The rest of the family headed up for the wake an the funeral. It was weird seeing someone you got so close to in such an icy cold, pale, waxy state. They just don't look real anymore. Though I think that the worst part was the burial. They opted to go with a mausoleum as opposed to an in-ground burial. 5th-grade me was there to play Taps for his service in the Navy. And that's when you heard the tears... the agony, and the pain. From various people. Family members who had been holding it in, just couldn't at that point anymore.

I remember leaving the cemetery and complaining I didn't get to ride in the limo on the way out. I will forever hate myself for that. My grandfather just died and was buried, and there I was complaining about being able to ride in a car.

The whole experience was hard. Funerals always are. In a way, they balance out the joy of births and weddings. At some point all things must come to an end. We can never know when. The most we can do is be prepared for when it happens.

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