I am at the airport when I hear my phone ringing. I frantically find a place to set my Starbucks Iced Vanilla Chai Tea Latte and then begin digging into my purse that has now morphed into an endless abyss that swallowed my cell phone. Ah ha! Found my phone and looked at the screen to see my Dad’s smiling face. I pick up the call and say, “Hi Dad… just made it to my plane.” His response was, “Your Papa is playing cards with Gram in heaven now.”
You know those periods of time that you will always remember what you were doing when you heard the news of something impactful, such as the attacks of 9/11? It is a moment frozen in time to which you can never forget. I was racing to get home to Arizona to be next to my Grandpa as he passed after a series of ongoing strokes. I wanted to say good-bye, but I was too late. So there I am sitting for two hours in the airport waiting to board my flight, sobbing. While there are very few moments that I don’t look simply adorable… this was defiantly one of them. With blood-shot, puffy eyes, matched with loud sniffling, I was a hot mess.
I found it comical to observe how people reacted to my tears. In most cases, when men see a woman crying, they will have an internal freak-out. They won’t make eye contact and they figure their best defense is to flee. I witnessed this first hand as I observed the male in its natural habitat. The moment they noticed me crying, with a wad of snotty tissues my hands, they slowly back away like they had just spotted a cobra ready to strike. Tears=Emotions=Abort the mission. On the other hand, many of the women gave a gentle, nurturing smile, and then made a B-line over to comfort me, a complete stranger.
I had landed in Phoenix when I learned that my Grandpa’s “body” hadn’t been picked up. My family wanted me to have a chance to say good-bye. As I have said before, I have very limited experiences with death. So adjusting to using the term “body” when referring to the physical form of my Papa was uncomfortable. As my Dad drove me over to Grandpa’s home, I was being prepped for what he might look like, with hopes that it might soften the blow.
Standing outside of his door, I enter expecting to see him immediately, trying to picture this moment. And what? Like his body was going to be just hanging out there by the front door? The moment my Mom and I locked eyes, we just started crying and hugging. It was then that I realized that I wasn’t there just to say goodbye to my Papa, but I was there to support my family, to mourn with my family. Everything outside of that room didn’t exist… I was right where I should be.
I had imagined for many years as my Grandpa’s health was declining, what this moment would feel like. How would I respond? How could I prepare myself? Oh yes… I was so naïve. I rounded the corner and saw him lying in his bed. Immediately I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. My body took over and I was at the mercy of the raw emotion. I immediately broke down as I crouched to the ground next to his bedside. When I could regain my composure. I held his hand and talked to him. It didn’t look like the Papa I remember. He didn’t have his glasses on, and he didn’t have a warm smile on his face, in fact he looked plastic, although sometimes I swear that I saw him breathe. It was just as I have heard people say, “He is no longer there.”
The next couple of days were filled with tears, phone calls, papers needing to be signed and many decisions that had to be made. Seeing as this is a Parkinson’s disease blog, you might be wondering how my body was handling the stress. Yes, there were moments that my symptoms were getting the best of me, but I accepted this, understanding that it was only temporary and that there was a reason for my diva PD to try to steal the spotlight. Also, I gave myself permission to let my body handle the pain in anyway it felt necessary. I cried when I felt like it, not feeling shameful, I sat in the emotion, understanding that I needed to mourn and grieve. I was safe with my family and friends. My Dad and I even snuck in a little break, with my vacuum-sealed, insulated stainless steel Frozen Yogurt container… for Professional use only.
It is the evening of the memorial and I am sitting on the patio with my parents as we drink CC&7 (Canadian Club and Seven-Up) in Papa’s memory. With the strong aroma wafting through the air from the dozens of flowers that were delivered in his honor, we share all the awesome stories that we have of Grandpa, even some that I hadn’t heard before. I find myself feeling somewhat comforted by the fact that he is at peace. Although it has been a difficult process to go through, I know that Papa is now gone, but never forgotten.