Death Lessons, Part 1

I started thinking about my own death around the age of ten after my grandfather passed away in the summer of 2011. After fighting many months to stay alive, he finally decided enough was enough and called it quits. He had been suffering for months in the hospital and all he wanted was to return home one last time. Actually, he had suffered for many years. Somehow surviving lead poisoning in the 70’s, losing a kidney shortly after, followed by numerous strokes and heart attacks. I can’t even say he was like a cat because they’re cut off after nine lives. He had lived his life for so long with death knocking at the door, it was strange to see it finally take him. Being so young I wasn’t able to reflect on all of this until years later. But what I did immediately realize was someday that would be me.  

I remember the night he came home, we all gathered at the house to say our good-byes and be with him one last time. I wasn’t able to comprehend what was happening and remember treating the situation like just another family gathering we often had. Sitting out on the porch laughing and talking with my cousins as my grandfather lay just a few feet inside living out his final hours. I regretted those last moments for years. Why didn’t I just say good-bye and tell him that I loved him. I knew he was going to die, yet I didn’t. I couldn’t wrap my brain around what that actually meant. 

He passed at high noon the following day, even then as I saw his lifeless body lying there it still wasn’t real. I’ve found this reaction to be similar with everyone I’ve lost in my life. I’m not able to comprehend they are gone until months or in this case, years later. When his passing did hit me, I was filled with mounds of regret that took me a long time to work through.  Then I started to look deeper at who he was as a person and how he lived his life. There is something to be said for how a person lives their life, he was the prime example of living it to the fullest.  My grandmother and him went on so many amazing trips across the country, up and down the east coast, to Hawaii and didn’t go a summer without attending a handful of music festivals. Most of the long-term trips they took were because they thought it would be his last. When my mother was a senior in high school, my grandparents took off cross country for one last hoorah. That last hoorah ended up being 33 years.   

Despite the many years of odds stacked against him, I can say without a doubt he lived an incredible life. Although my memories of him are sparse I always remember him being a happy wise-ass whom loved saying off the cuff remarks to get people to laugh. He may have suffered for years but you would never know. Because he chose to be happy and make the best of the cards he was dealt. It was that realization that pushed me through the feeling of regret in our last moments together and helped me realize living a life the way he did is a much better testament then a sobbing good-bye.  Death is inevitable, how we chose to live it is just that. A choice.  I’m happy the years I did have with him taught me that valuable lesson.  

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