It began on a Sunday morning during church - July 19. A cell phone began to vibrate during the sermon. I saw the people around me began to twist and turn, each checking their own phones. I knew immediately that it was mine. I began to sink into the floor.
My phone was in my purse, on the floor underneath the pew in front of me and blocked by Grace's car seat. It was just out of my reach. After an eternity, it stopped.
At this point, Grace woke up and began squirming. I grabbed all of our stuff and took her out into the Mother's Quiet Room. I had not even sat down when my phone went off again. This time it was the notification that I had a voice mail. Something told me that I needed to check it.
It was my aunt. "Pawpaw's not doing so well. They are calling the family in. You need to come"
My heart dropped.
My grandfather has suffered from Alzheimer's for the past several years. Some days, the charismatic man that I spent my whole life looking up to is a completely different person. Other days, he is the same - only a weaker version. Every day, he is miserable. Some Alzheimer's patients go into a state of happiness - get lost in happy moments of their childhood or some time in the past. They may not remember who you are, but they are still happy. My grandfather was the opposite. He became paranoid that people were out to get him - even to the point of violence. His one light in life is my grandmother, his soulmate, and some days she doesn't know him. He carries a heavy burden that none of us can help with, no matter how hard we try.
So, I thought I had made peace that this time would come. I thought I would be ready. I was wrong.
My Dad (who was staying with us for the weekend), J, Grace & I made the hour and a half drive in minutes. All of my family scrambled into place around his bed. And then, we just waited.
As his breathing grew more shallow, we talked to him. Sang his favorite hymns. Shared fond memories. Made promises to take care of my grandmother.
From my spot seated at the end of his bed, I found I could see his pulse in his neck. At times, the beat would stop. Then it would start again. I stared at his neck for hours.
Then he was gone.
I had just visited my grandparents the previous day. Pawpaw didn't have a lot to say. Because of his aggression toward the staff, he was on medication that made him drowsy and weak. He did smile at Grace & I, and before I left he kissed my cheek. I had no idea that the next day he would be gone.
The next few days were a whirlwind. I traveled back and forth to my hometown nearly every day that week. Grace came with me almost each time. I clung to her and so did the rest of the family. She was the bright spot - the entertainment - the joy.
The visitation was held in my grandparent's church fellowship hall. At first I didn't like this idea - the inside looks like a gym. But, my grandfather helped build the facility, so it was fitting. It also turned out to be a blessing. I have a hard time at funeral homes - even the smell gets to me. We saw family we never see, friends, neighbors.
There were people that should have been there, but weren't. That's another sad thing about Alzheimer's. People forget what the person was like. They forget how the person was a pillar of the community. They forget how many lives that person impacted and changed. All of that becomes overshadowed.
The funeral was rough. My uncle gave a moving eulogy. My cousin made me laugh and cry as he talked about my grandfather from the perspective of a grandchild. My aunt sang. VFW did full rites - "Taps" and gunfire included. A bagpiper played "Amazing Grace". My sunglasses hid my tears.
Personally, I was devastated, and I would be lying if I said I was over it even now. I did not want to deal with the loss. I spent the week gathering photos for a slideshow, organizing things.
Sorrow led to anger. I couldn't believe the world didn't stop. I clung to the thought that my grandfather was finally at peace.
Little did I know that was only the beginning.