I remember the way my Grandpa’s face perked up when his eyes met mine as I walked through the doors of the ICU. The array of wires that connected his body to the life-sustaining machines never ceased their obnoxious beeping, as if to remind us that his life desperately depended on them. I remember he started complaining about the nurse’s heavy accent and how he could hardly ever understand what she tried to tell him, and rolling his eyes when he finally gave up on trying to understand her. He asked me for updates on everything, school, friends, archery, and the sheep. Even though he talked and acted like himself, he was still noticeably weak. He did not want us to be able to see through his act. He did not want us to worry about him, especially me, his “little angel”. I remember sitting in the window sill of the hospital window, looking out over the city lights trying to hold back tears. I remember feeling something that refused to settle deep in my gut, an instinct that told me that this hospital visit was different from the rest. At 7:30 p.m. my Grandma, my Mom, and I were asked to by the nurse to leave for the night so he could rest. I remember looking back out the window one final time and thinking of the irony of how much he hated the city but yet he ended up in a room with one of the best views of it. I remember watching my Grandma and Grandpa share a quick kiss and exchange their “I love you”s before we left the hospital for the night.
At the time of that hospital visit, I was fourteen and starting my freshman year of high school. I was living in an innocent world where my Grandpa was a survivor. I was living in a world where hospital visits weren’t unusual, and he always came home within a few days. Even during his last hospital visit, despite that instinct that told me this visit was different, I remained hopeful that he would return home. I remained hopeful because that’s what he would have wanted, because that’s what he taught us. In that world, you would have never known he was ill or had any medical conditions because he pushed through it. He refused to let it show. He refused to let anything put his life on pause. He refused to let anything stop him from working on one of his many projects that kept him busy in his free time after his retirement. Now, I am seventeen and beginning my senior year of high school living in a world where my Grandpa no longer exists, only the memories of him and the projects he never had the chance to finish live on.
After being woken up not too late into a weekend night by my urgent mother who informed me she needed to go to the hospital, I remember lying in bed trying to force the words out to ask if I could go, but I could not. In that moment, the reality of his current medical condition hit me. The reality of it burned up any last shred of hope I had for my Grandpa to return home. All I managed to choke out was an “Okay”. She closed my bedroom door and I remember feeling suffocated as that instinct returned, that this time was different, that this time my grandpa would not be returning home to us. With my mom gone and my younger brother fast asleep in his room, I was alone, and I did not bother to hold back the tears. I don’t remember whether if the tears truly stopped or if there were no tears left. The tears had stopped, but that feeling remained and I could not shake it from it attaching itself to me. I found myself crawling out of bed, sitting on the floor up against the side of my bed, staring out of my window at the woods. I thought about how much more my Grandpa would have liked to see this view out of his hospital room rather than the city lights. Although the sun was absent, the moon outlined the tops of the barren trees, creating intricate shadows that danced in the gentle breeze on the cold ground. I am not sure how long I sat there, but I remember I had collapsed back into my bed before my mom had returned home that night. The next morning, I did not need my mom to say anything to confirm what I already had suspected, the sorrowful look she gave me when I walked into the living room was all I needed. He was gone.
Standing outside in the numbing cold of the November wind, my family and I are gathered around to say our last goodbyes. Before the service began, my second cousin handed us-the immediate family-each a red rose. Then when it was time towards the end of the service, one by one, we each laid the rose on the casket and watched as it was slowly lowered into the ground. A simple red rose has turned into a part of me, it is now something that I carry with me. The influence my Grandpa had in my life is permanent, and sticks with me, as will the red rose.
Last year as I sat in a chair, bearing the burning pain of an ink red rose is being pierced into my skin for hours on end, I thought about the times my Grandma and Grandpa would take my little brother and I up to stay in Maine. We always rented the same small cottage directly across from the beach as our temporary home. Every morning, my brother and I woke up to the sweet aroma of pastries that my Grandpa bought fresh that morning from the bakery. While munching on the breakfast our Grandpa bought us, we watched the sun rise and cast an array of colors onto the dark, ominous water of the ocean. Watching the sun bring life and color to the world and then watching it slowly fade beyond the ocean again is how we started and ended each day together.
Being told that a loved one has passed and seeing it presents two different realities. The night my Grandpa passed, I found it hard to grasp onto the idea that he was actually gone. I couldn’t comprehend how someone went from seeming like nothing in the world could stop them to vanishing from my life all within twenty-four hours of each other. I kept expecting to hear the rumble of the Gator or for the phone to ring and to be able to hear the comfort of his voice again as he checked up on us. It never felt real. But when I saw him in the casket for the first time, it became all too real. I didn’t know how to react. I froze. I couldn’t force myself to walk up to the casket, so I stood near it, staring and waiting for some kind of sign that my Grandpa was somehow, somewhere watching us. I waited for that sign, for that comfort, but it never came. So I spent the night staring at the red roses, hugging people that felt the same pain as I did.