A picture of Grammy and Grandpa taken over 54 years ago on their wedding day.
Last week as Kai was finishing up his holiday work week, I received a call from my mom who was visiting my family in the Midwest. She told me that my grandpa had suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly taken a turn for the worse and she didn’t know how much longer he would make it. When Kai got home on Wednesday night, we ate dinner and debated about whether we should leave immediately or wait until morning to leave. We decided that it was best to live with no regrets and leave immediately so that if there was a chance he wouldn’t make it, we would be able to see him alive and say our goodbyes.
We changed K into his pj’s and a fresh diaper, packed our bags, and began the long journey back. Kai and I took turns driving through the night. We had to pull over around 3:30 a.m. and catch a few brief hours of un-restful sleep (honestly being almost 8 months pregnant and trying to sleep in a car is the furthest thing from comfortable). But several hours, and a few cups of fully caffeinated coffee (my only this entire pregnancy) later we arrived in the late morning.
My mom had warned me that my grandpa’s body had started shutting down and that his lungs were filling up with fluid making his breathing labored. Still, nothing prepared me for seeing him in that condition. Grandpa has always been one of the strongest men I’ve ever known. From the time I was a little girl, I remember his strong arms and thinking there wasn’t anything he couldn’t do. His strength has been passed on to our family. My male cousins are well known local and state wrestling champions which was an inheritance of Grandpa's sheer strength. He was a teacher and farmer and was constantly busying himself with anything from large remodeling projects to international trips. Even up until his last days, he would spend hours working in his workshop.
When I walked in, I saw my strong, steady grandpa struggling for every breath. His breathing was very difficult and there was a unmistakable gurgling in his lungs and throat. His shoulders rose and fell with every breath indicating the struggle that was taking place for each and every breath. His trademark pale blue eyes met mine and I tried to be strong, but the tears erupted from deep inside me and poured out. I held his big, rough hand and stayed by his side just to be there with him in his final hours. I hugged him and tried to let him know that I loved him. He couldn’t really talk since his focus was on breathing, but he mouthed a few simple words and I knew that he knew I was there. K kept saying, “Papa! Papa!” and even though I thought the scene might scare him, he wanted to stay there to touch his papa and give him loving hugs. K seemed to realize the solemnity of the moment. We stayed with him and took turns with other family members holding his hands throughout the day. He was constantly surrounded by family in his final hours. The last word I saw him mouth was, “home.” He knew that he wasn’t going to be with us much longer and he was letting us know that he was going home so we didn’t need to be sad.
9 hours after we arrived, Grandpa passed peacefully. His labored breathing finally ceased while he was surrounded by 4 generations of his family holding his hands and tearfully mourning his passing. As I watched him breathe his last, I was heartbroken, but at the same time I felt that he truly had lived his long life well. He had made innumerable memories, had countless friends, had provided well for his family, and his family knew he loved them. What more could you ask for? I look forward to seeing Grandpa again someday. I can’t say enough how thankful I am that we made the decision to leave immediately to see him. If we hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been there for his final moments that I will forever carry and cherish in my memory.
Grammy and Grandpa were married for 54 wonderful years. The hardest part for me was watching Grammy say goodbye. As she hugged and gave Grandpa one last kiss, I remembered some of the best advice I’ve been given on marriage. It came from her. “Marry your best friend.” she had advised. She explained that marriage is forever and that it’s so much better when you’re married to someone that you love to be with. I took her advice to heart when I married Kai. He is and has been my very best friend for the last 10 years of marriage (and before). I can’t imagine having to say goodbye to my best friend after 54 years together. It was heart wrenching to witness and will continue to be hard for my grandma, but she has a wealth of great memories to pull from over the last 54 years.
Here are a few pictures from Grandpa's life:
Long ago on the family farm. My grandpa's family had emigrated from the Ukraine to the U.S.
Grandpa and his older brother
A much younger version of Grandpa
A wedding dance. I love the fun, happy, carefree expressions on my grandparent's faces.
Taken on their 25th wedding anniversary. Gotta love the styles!
Grandpa in the kitchen. This was a rare occurance, but there is a picture to prove it happened at least once!
Grandpa taking my older sister fishing. I have always loved this picture because of her ecstatic expression.
At Butchart Gardens. We actually went here on our honeymoon and have a picture in this exact spot.
After my college graduation. We went to one of our favorite restaurants in the area--Tabor Hill Winery. I love this picture because you can see Grandpa's suspenders. I can't recall a single memory of Grandpa without his suspenders! (He even wore them under his suits!)
Taken on my grandparent's 50th wedding anniversary
Here are the last 2 pictures I have from my trip back to the Midwest in October. This is the last time I saw him before his final hours. He's in his golf cart (which was his favorite mode of transport to get all around the farm). K loved riding in it with Papa.
This is the last known picture of Grandpa. It was taken on Christmas at my sister's house, just days before he passed away.
"The Girls" out for dinner. Me with my 3 sisters, mom, grandma, and 2 nieces. It's been about 4 years since the 4 sisters have all been together. Even though it was a sad occasion for us to gather, we had a great time.
Grandpa will be missed so much. I am thankful for his legacy and the hope that I carry of seeing him again at “home”.