Sunday, August 11, 2013

Day of Destiny

June 17, 2013

As we left this fantastic caverns the day before, we wondered aloud if we would be able to show it to Mom and Tina next year, or whether they would still be caring for Grandpa. It was a bittersweet question. On the one hand, we really wanted to show it to them. On the other, we didn’t want to lose Grandpa. And back on the other hand, he was really suffering, and we didn’t want him to keep suffering just so we wouldn’t have to lose him.

Back in the late 90’s, Grandma became ill. Mom found her nearly unresponsive on the couch, which was bad enough, but then a little later that day, Grandpa nearly passed out. It turned out that during the last couple days when Grandma had become too sick to bring him a plate, he hadn’t so much as walked out to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator, taken out some food, and eaten it. It’s not something any family member enjoys facing, but clearly both of them were no longer able to be left alone.

Several days later, Grandma came home from the hospital, to her new home over at Mom’s. Mom’s living room was big enough to be an entire house, at least a small one, so we remade it into Grandparent Quarters. Every day for many years, Tina or I would go over and make them lunch while Mom slept. Working nights, Mom would get up in time to fix them supper.

After a while, Grandma began to get ants in her pants. She wanted to go somewhere, anywhere else but there. Her preference was for the small farmhouse in WI where she was born, and she thought she could walk there. Late one night, a nice neighbor lady brought Grandma back after she found her wandering around by the road at the end of Mom’s long driveway. No one in the house even realized she had slipped out. The next level of care, 24/7 watchfulness, was now needed.

Grandma and Grandpa practically had to use a wedge to fit into our tiny house, but they came to stay with us. A short time later, Mom found a spacious rental home up in the mountains, and Jack, the kids, and I moved up there with them to care for them. Grandma still coveted the farmhouse in WI, and even with direct supervision managed to run away a couple more times before her death in 2003.

Work was already underway to build a large house back down in the valley, and Grandpa stayed with us when it was finished. He was still pretty independent, except for what we had come to call “The Food Fairy”. He still wouldn’t get up and get himself so much as a banana on his own. He would sit there hungry unless The Food Fairy brought him something to eat. We all took turns being The Food Fairy, even the kids. It was our privilege to wait on him.

About 7 years had passed since we welcomed our grandparents to our home, and we were moving to Montana. Mom, now disabled after a failed surgery in her foot, was no longer working nights. Grandpa moved back to her house, and to the living room he had shared with Grandma. Though he had fallen badly several times, and been diagnosed with TIA’s (mini-strokes), the true state of his health didn’t become obvious until we were already in Big Sky Country.

Mom noticed that Grandpa was becoming increasingly short of breath when doing even small things, and took him to the cardiologist. After testing, Grandpa received his first of two death sentences. Only about 10% of his heart muscle was still functioning. The rest had been killed off by a major cardiac event that no one had known about till then. The doc said there weren’t any statistics for a man Grandpa’s age with this condition, because they had all died. He said he’d probably give a 50yo man about 6 months to live. Grandpa entered hospice, and way out here in MT, our family wondered if we’d get to see him again before he died.

Several years later, Grandpa moved out here with Mom and Dad. We were so happy to have him close by! Medical treatment revealed that he had yet another hurdle, a type of blood cancer similar to leukemia. They estimated that he had 6 months to live.

Several years later, after being in and out of hospice repeatedly, Grandpa began his final decline. Tina brought him out to her house, so she could care for him without having to commute. After more times than we could count of him almost dying—even completely stopping breathing at times—and still somehow skating back from the edge of the grave, she made him a special T-shirt that read, “Translation or Bust”. Indeed, we began to wonder if he would make it to the 2nd Coming before the rest of us!

Leading up to camp meeting, he grew markedly worse. Through all of camp meeting, every break we got someone would call and make sure he was still alive. His breathing was so labored that we could hear him clearly on the phone while talking to Mom. We hoped he would at least live till we all got back home, but knew that if he didn’t, we’d already said our good-byes. Many times.

Sunday while we were visiting the caves, Tina was heading back as quickly as the law would allow, so she and Mom could take shifts. We were going to wait and see how things went, since Jack’s business flight was out of Bozeman and it wasn’t possible to transfer it. Grandpa was still doing poorly when she got there and sent Mom home to get some sleep, but had stabilized just a bit.

Monday morning, after a good night’s sleep, it was time to transfer Grandpa to the care of the hospital. They had one of their hospice rooms all set up for him, and the family would take turns staying with him as long as needed. He was running low on oxygen out at Tina’s, and the only way to get more was to re-admit him to hospice. It was all worked out, and everything was ready to go.

The stretcher Dad had made months earlier, following a particularly bad seizure that left us having a hard time getting Grandpa up off the floor, was called into use. The seats were out of Tina’s van, and Caleb loaned his mattress to Grandpa could ride in comfort. Why no ambulance? Well, Tina is just across the line into ND, and the hospital and people familiar with Grandpa were all in MT. So the only way to get him there was to take him.

We were in Safeway buying groceries when we received the word. Grandpa had died peacefully in the back of the van just as they pulled up at the ER entrance. His last view was blue sky and sunshine. We cried there in the parking lot.

The transfer was accomplished very smoothly. The coroner pulled up behind Tina’s van right after the doctor pronounced him dead, and they used the handy stretcher to move him into their vehicle. He wasn’t going to be ready for his interstate transfer to Wisconsin for several days, so there would have been time for Jack to still go on his business trip. He just didn’t have the heart.

We still visited the outer space exhibit at the museum as planned. As sad as we were, it was helpful to be together as a family, doing something we all enjoyed. Something Grandpa had enjoyed, too. Though teary at times, we smiled, too. Afterwards, we went back to Mt. Ellis, broke camp, and prepared to head back. With another small detour suggested by Yours Truly.

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Our Hero...Now and Always


  1. I didn't take any classes from him (that I remember) while I was at Hawaiian Mission Academy during the last semester of my Junior year and all of my Senior year. I do remember seeing him on campus. He always had that gorgeous smile that would put one at ease.

    This story is a tribute to a wonderful Christian teacher. If we remain faithful to our God, we have the hope of seeing and being with all the ones we have loved when Jesus returns to bring his children to heaven to live and reign with him. RBasco

  2. Thank You for sharing Rhonda Z