El Pato This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

September 27, 2012
I cannot erase the image of my grandfather lying lifeless on the hospital bed. He spent three agonizing weeks fighting a battle I prayed he would win. Although he ultimately lost, my grandfather continues to live through the memories that resound in my soul.

My summer began just as the summer before – parties, friends, and lazy days. I recall spending the first weekend at my grandparents’ helping paint their living and dining rooms. I was given the task of varnishing the moldings, and thus spent the majority of the day outside. Naturally, I could not do this without music. I asked my grandpa to bring out a radio. After turning on our favorite norteño music station, he draped a worn baseball jersey over my shoulders. Emblazoned on the back in bold navy letters was the last name we proudly shared. That day we sat on the porch and he told me his hope that the radiation and chemotherapy would ease the pain in his bones.

My grandpa’s illness was not always terminal. There was a time when he could have sought treatment to save his life. Pride, mixed with what I imagine was fear, prevented him from seeking medical attention in time. What began as prostate cancer led to bone cancer, ultimately ending his life. Although the radiation and chemotherapy seemed to temporarily ease his pain, the sessions weakened his heart and his body became frail. All I could do was watch as the man who once danced up and down the street now struggled to get out of bed without his cane. My grandpa, “El Pato,” was slowly withering away.

During the last three weeks of July, machines executed the job that my grandpa’s heart was too weak to do. Tubes impeded his ability to speak, and because of the medication, he slept through the majority of this horrendous ordeal. During the three weeks in intensive care, there was just one day I was not beside my grandmother for at least 12 hours.

I recall waking up every morning, hoping it was just a nightmare. My grandma and I were always the first to arrive in the chilly hospital waiting room. Although it delighted me to accompany her, I hated having to serve as her translator. Why couldn’t the hospital staff tell her that my grandpa was not improving? She and I shared countless conversations about his condition. One of the worst began when she casually leaned over and asked, “Mija, que quiere decir casket?” It broke my heart to translate the word “casket” for my grandmother.

The regret that continues to weigh heavily on my conscience is not speaking to my grandpa the one time he was awake. In retrospect, it was my responsibility to speak, since he could not. I wish I had told him how much I love him; he deserved to know how grateful I am of how he and my grandma raised the man I call Dad. Instead, all I did was hold his hand and choke back tears, since I still hoped he would miraculously pull through. The doctor’s predictions were always grim, but in my heart I truly felt he would hold on at least another three months to attend my sister’s wedding. Just before he dozed off again, my grandpa smiled at me with his kind eyes. It was as though he knew it was the last time he would ever lay eyes on me.

On July 29, at 10:30 p.m., my grandfather took his final breath. My family and I were in the room as the nurse began to discreetly shut off the machines that had been his lifeline. My grandma refused to sit, and instead stood in the doorway, praying the rosary. I have never witnessed faith like hers. It was as though somewhere deep in her soul, hope remained that this was not the end.

Two days later, at my grandpa’s rosary, I delivered the eulogy in Spanish. After the service, many people complimented me. Although I was overcome with grief, I found joy that others saw his influence in me. His humor, pride, and work ethic are three of the many attributes he passed on to my father, who in turn taught me. I love my grandpa and find comfort in my faith that one day we will meet again.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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