Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Ticking Clock

We thought we had won.  We thought that the horrible evils of his disease that had for so long choked at our family's strength, had finally come to an end.   But to our sadness, cancer would have the last laugh.  I remember seeing my father's number flashing across my cellphone that gloomy Sunday afternoon.  But I didn't have to pick up to know what he was going to say, as I mentally prepared to fly home to Boston, to give my final goodbye.  

As I waited for my parents to pick me up at the airport terminal, I stood there alone, engulfed in the bitter Boston air.  And as I lingered there, watching the various cars appear around the corner to pick up their loved ones,  I couldn't help but observe their warm embraces and wet kisses, as I wished my arrival could have been as happy as theirs.   And then my parent's car suddenly appeared, as they greeted me with forced smiles and red faces; the pain of reality finally tearing at my soul like a thousand little needles.   And as we began to ride away from the lights of the terminal,  I remember the unbearable silence that seemed to swallow up the air inside the car; all of us just peering out at the pouring rain that had began to smack at the windows.  We were all hoping for the same thing, that this was just some terrible dream. 

But this was anything but a dream, as we soon pulled up my grandfather's long steep driveway.  The rain now had stopped, and all seemed calm around his hilltop residence.  The only sound you could hear was the creak of the old birches that he and my grandmother had planted a lifetime ago.   And as I got out of the car, and slowly made my journey towards his door,  I started to remember a time when his home had made me feel safe.  Its stiff checkered couch, red floral wallpaper, and multicolor braided rugs, had always been forms of comfort to me.  But now, as I walked inside and saw my grandmother's face projecting the same painful expression as my parent's, I knew that this house would never ever feel the same to me.  

As I walked further into the kitchen towards his room, I remember passing the once calming pendulum clock that had hung on the wall over the table since before I was born.  Its tick after tick meaning something much different to me now.  And as I journeyed closer and closer to the yellow light that glowed from where I knew he was, I couldn't help but remember how I'd played in that very room hundreds of times as a child.   It had once been a source of complete joy to me, but now, as its smell of death and medicine slowly tickled the insides of my nostrils, I knew it would forever be a source of pain. 

And then there he was; a thinner, paler version of the grandfather that I had visited only six months earlier.  But through the weak smile he instantly gave me, I could already tell that he was still as sharp and amazing as he’d always been.   But as I approached his bed, my mind suddenly went blank as I wondered what in the world I should say to him.  I had been rehearsing this very moment for the last few days, but suddenly all that I had planned to say seemed wrong.  I wondered if I should tell him how special he was to me or how he’d been the best grandfather I could have ever asked for.  It was the last three days I knew I would ever spend with him on this earth, and I had to make them great.  But to my dismay and relief, the minute I started to talk about him, he stopped me, insisting that we only talk about me.  It being one of the most compassionate things I had ever witnessed; a dying man trying to make those around him feel more comfortable. 

So then the dreaded day finally came and it was almost time for me to leave.  I really wasn’t sure how to react, although every cell in my body wanted to scream and cry.  I knew I had to stay strong for him though, as I just kept watching my grandfather’s clock, ticking towards the final seconds, taunting me with every swing.  And then there it suddenly was, the worst moment of my life and the one moment that I’ll never forget as long as I live.  I remember going to him in the doorway of his kitchen, with the intention of keeping the conversation light.  I told him that I’d see him at Christmas and that I’d send him some chocolates on his birthday, knowing all too well that he wouldn’t live to see either.  He then put his arms around me in that doorway, hugging me tighter than he had ever hugged me in my twenty-five years of life.  I couldn’t look at his face at that moment for fear I would lose it, as suddenly I felt this tremendous warmth project straight from his body into mine.  It was a mixture of love and sadness and would be our very last connection.

As predicted, my grandfather died a few months later.  I tried to call him immediately on my return back to California, but sadly right after my visit, he had slipped into a state of confusion, and now didn’t even know my name.  At his funeral, I cried more than I had ever cried for anything or anyone else in this world.  He had taught me so much throughout my life and had been there for every second of every accomplishment I had ever had.  And through it all, he had never asked for anything in return.  

About a month after his death, my grandfather appeared to me in a dream.  He was wearing a three-piece suit of shiny white, with a beautiful top hat to match.  As he came toward me, he smiled, simply telling me, “It is so beautiful here.”  I then smiled back at him, as I slowly watched him disappear into thin air.

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