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Papaw

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I still get scared whenever I see a hospital. As with anyone, going to the hospital is never good. Death surrounds hospitals. It flows through the air inside like toxic gas, consuming those who no longer have the strength to go on. It takes innocents, people who should really still be alive. It knows no limits, no boundaries. I lost my grandpa at a hospital, i guess that’s why i’ll always hate them.

My grandpa was my everything. He helped make me into who I am today. Papaw, as we used to call him, was a fighter. By the time he was seventy he had survived years of smoking and the bombing of his Merchant Marine ship in W.W.II. But the stroke he would suffer was stronger than that bomb and all the smoke that enveloped his lungs. From the bombing, he would emerge with a couple of burns and severe dehydration. No big deal, those things can be helped. But he would never emerge from that stroke. At least not to normal, not back to my Papaw.

I remember the day my grandpa had his stoke like it was yesterday. It was March 3rd, 2003, and it was a normal day. Or so it seemed. I remember my brother and I walking through the front door after a day of school, laughing, only to be met by my mom with her eyes puffy and bright red. She had been crying; my mother never cried. Needless to say, our laughing diminished and was replaced with worry and questions. She told us, as she proceeded to break into tears, that Papaw had suffered a stroke. Colin and I stared at each other, dumbstruck, our hearts in our throats yet dropping into a vast wasteland of darkness at the same time.

The next week was the longest week of my entire life. Each day felt like it would never end. I felt like my life was spiraling out of control. It was a nightmare, except no matter how many times I woke up, I couldn’t escape it. We quickly fell into the routine of wake up, go to school, come home, go to the hospital and wait in the waiting room, and then go to bed. I never got to see my grandpa while he was in the hospital except for on the night that he died. Just when our routine of no laughing and no smiling, just crying, was becoming tedious something changed. And suddenly I wanted that boring routine back.

My mom, Colin and I were all sitting in the family room watching tv one night when the phone rang. It was my dad. He said my Papaw had taken a turn for the worst, and that we should get down to the hospital right away because they weren’t expecting him to live through the night. He was going to die. I didn’t want to admit it, but I knew it deep down in my soul.

We got ready, in the van and to the hospital faster than I had ever thought was humanly possible. I remember walking down the sterile, white hallway hand-in-hand with Colin. Death swirled around us menacingly; I gripped my brother’s hand harder. I remember stopping outside a darkened room and being told by my mom to wait outside until she told us otherwise. My brother and I were too afraid to go into that room even after 20 minutes when my mom came out and told us we were allowed to. I think we were afraid of what we might see. But, when I finally mustered up all my courage, I got up off the hard, cold linoleum floor and peered around the corner into the dimly lit room. What I saw was unreal to me. What I saw, was my parents and grandma crowded around a single bed, which contained my grandpa, eyes closed shut, mouth open, struggling to breath. I quickly turned back around in pure shock and horror. that wasn’t the same grandpa who swam with us everyday during the summer. That wasn’t the same grandpa who made us bacon and eggs after sleepovers at his condominium and chased us around my bedroom with the vacuum cleaner when we were four. No, I though as I slid down the rough wall, back down to the linoleum floor, that wasn’t my Papaw.

The doctors were right though. My grandpa didn’t survive the night. My dad and grandma came home later that night with the looks of defeat and sadness on their worn faces. When they broke the news, I was devastated, I was hurt, I was crushed. I didn’t know how to go on living in a world where my grandpa wasn’t. The entire time they spoke, I cried. I saw a lot of that the next few days. Crying at my house, crying from my family, crying at his funeral. He was buried a beautiful March day with an American flag draped elegantly over his casket. Sitting there at his funeral, I tried not to cry when I realized there would be something from this experience that I would always regret - I never got to say goodbye. That night at the hospital when he died, I had turned back around. I had let him die without a goodbye. And that aspect, I realized, would haunt me forever.

With time I began to get used to, but never over, his death and the fact that I never would get to say goodbye. I would never get that night back. But I guess that’s the thing about death. We’re never prepared for it, and we never truly get over it.





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