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The Last Time
Make the most of every moment, for you don’t know if it will be your last. If only we had known this when we started our day, perhaps it would have been different.
As the car started to shake, I knew we had reached the ascending gravel road, that didn’t particularly resemble a road at all, concealed between an abundance of trees. This road never failed to inform us of our arrival. With the windows cracked open slightly, the smell of the pine trees seeped into the car. The trees cleared. We pulled up to the dark green house that the road had led us to and two familiar faces that we hadn’t seen in over a year stepped out onto the near-to-the-ground, wooden porch. Just how I remember them, I thought to myself, as I got out of the car to greet my grandparents and couldn’t help but smile. No matter what crazy things happened six hours away at home, they were always here waiting for us, with a smile on their faces, when we decided to make the long drive up to see them.
Once again we were on that gravel road, this time descending, on our way to the condo located only a few minutes away. Once there we entered into the condo. My grandparents followed, carrying the kind of food that you don’t go through the trouble to make except for special occasions, and that my grandma had probably spent all day preparing. As tradition had it, every time we drove up to see them we ate lunch together, played board games, and caught up. Occasionally we kids would go swimming in the indoor pool while the two generations before us would talk by the side of the pool and watch us swim. Today was different though as we tried to get my grandpa to go swimming, a thing he seldom did. He counter offered saying that he would go swimming with us not today, but tomorrow. My brother and I glanced at each other.
“Today,” my brother and I replied, rejecting his counter offer.
I wouldn’t have been crushed if he refused. In fact, I was confident he would. Not this time I realized, as he nodded his head.
“Let’s go swimming,” Grandpa announced.
The entire family proceeded to the swimming pool and the rest of the day was filled with fun and laughter.
It had been a long day and I was thinking back on it as I began to drift into a peaceful sleep in the console of the woodland themed bedroom in the comfort of the condo. Soon after, I heard a strange noise and as I tried to shake off the confusion of sleep, I stumbled out of bed. I was able to make out a number two on the bedside clock through my blurred vision. As I took a step out of my room, into the hallway, I noticed a small light on in the room at the end of the hallway causing the hallway to be slightly illuminated. Was I still sleeping? Was this just the beginning of a strange dream that I would soon awaken from? As I reached the end of the hallway, what I learned subsequently made me wish it was.
My mom sat at the end of the couch talking into the phone under the small lamp that had cast the light into the hallway. I realized the source of the strange noise I had heard upon awaking as she turned her tear stricken face towards me. I didn’t need to ask as my confused expression asked for me. The first time she tried to answer to my confusion her words came out inaudible. Obviously seeing I didn’t understand due to my lack of reaction, she calmed down a little and tried again.
“Grandpa died,” was all she was able to get out and putting that idea into words restarted the crying.
“How?” I asked already starting to cry before I got a reply.
I didn’t know how he died yet, but it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that he was gone. She immediately replied with a short, to the point, incomplete sentence.
“Massive heart attack.”
I lay slouched on the floor next to my mom as we regrettably called to inform other family members of the tragedy, as we were one of the first to know. Afterwards we sat in silence not able to go back to sleep carrying this new information in our minds. It wasn’t an awkward silence but rather the kind you have at a funeral. We were so caught up in thought we didn’t even realize the silence and were startled back to reality when there was a knock at the door. My mom and I glanced at each other seeing the toll of what had so recently happened already taking on us. We slowly rose and headed over to the door. Upon opening it we found my aunt positioned there. She walked in without an exchange of words and embraced us both. We retraced our steps back to the couch where my aunt finally broke the silence.
“Go ahead. I’ll stay with them.”
My mom nodded, said goodbye, and walked out the door, on her way to the site of the tragedy.
I lay on the couch while my aunt sat next to me and we talked about memories we had with my grandpa. We also talked about what we thought happened to someone after death and where we thought grandpa was now. When my mom returned the sun was starting to come up adding some natural light to the room still lit by the small lamp. She explained to us what had occurred while there. When she got there they had just put Grandpa in the ambulance. The paramedics announced to all the family members there that they could see my Grandpa if they would like. However, they recommend we remember him as how we last saw him. Everyone in attendance took their advice. It took the ambulance about 45 minutes to get there because of the location of my Grandparents’ house. During that time my Grandma, a retired nurse, had been administrating CPR without results.
About a week later was the funeral. Many people find funerals as a sense of closure, but I found none. As we walked into the funeral home I immediately walked to the back of the room away from the open casket that held my Grandpa. I sat on a wooden bench thinking about what I remembered my mom telling me that the paramedics had said about remembering a person the way you last saw him. I sat there for the whole service refusing to go up there wanting to keep the last memory of my Grandpa smiling fresh in my mind. However, knowing this would be my last chance to ever see him again, I gave in and walked up to the open casket a few minutes prior to leaving. Laying there was not the Grandpa I ever remembered seeing.
Every time from that point forward when I imagine my grandpa, that is the image that comes to mind no matter how hard I try to conjure the previous image of him smiling the last time I saw him alive. To this day I regret walking up to that casket because while I did get to see him one last time, I did not want to see him like that. That was the first death of a family member that occurred during my lifetime up until that that point. While it was tragic, it also showed me reality at an early age. I never used to look at people before and think that this is the last time I will see them, but I find myself doing that a lot since then. I guess you just never know. The day my Grandpa died happened to be the night of the first day we had seen him in over a year. In most cases death doesn’t happen at a convenient time when you are ready for it, but rather sneaks up on you when you are least expecting it.