The Holidays are coming and they always make me think of time and how I wish just for one day, all the people I miss and love would come back for a warm meal and just spend a little more time. Today I’m thinking of my grandfather, Tom Shaughnessy, and of all of you who desperately miss someone you loved very much. What we wouldn’t give for one more hour…
My grandfather died on the shortest day of the year, December 21st. That means the sun goes down fastest. My grandparents were married on the longest day of the year, June 21st. That means the sun goes down slowest. I’ve always said that there is a joke in there somewhere, I just wish my grandfather was alive to give us all the punch line.
Dying is a process. In the case of my grandfather, there came a point where we all knew the end was coming, but the process to the end had no clear path. We just knew, that normal was a new definition each day, and that with each piece of him that was taken away, we would drift further from any hope of him coming back to us.
This is the horrible thing about life; no one is ours to keep. We get so selfish thinking that the people we love are just ours for the keeping and then life sneaks in to remind us, that nothing is here to stay, no one is ours forever and time is most definitely measured, we just don’t know how much of the measuring stick we’ll get.
I suppose there is something insanely selfish about me thinking I should be able to spend my whole life with him. Here I am able to say that I got to have my grandfather here on Earth with me for almost 40 years, and so many people I know never even got to meet theirs. It’s selfish, but don’t we all feel that way about people we love? No matter if we got to spend 1,000 years, we would want more time. I wish I had a private space in time where I could spend days with the people I love without our time being taken away. I think that’s supposed to be heaven, but I want a place here on Earth.
On December 21st it was snowing. My family was gathering at the hospital because it was time. There was nothing more to do except make him comfortable and surround him, so we did. I was the last one to arrive at the hospital. I walked in, put my things down, and stood over him crying. I stood watching the white blanket move up and down with his shallow breaths. I leaned over him and said, “I love you gramp.” He smiled. I scooted a chair up and held his hand through the hospital bed bars.
In that private space and time, my family told jokes, looked out the window, ate vending machine junk food, and took walks around the halls. But most of the time was passed in silence. Each of us thinking of our life with him. Mulling over moments. Replaying the history in our heads. Thinking of him and his life from beginning to end. Staring at him and watching his breath. Praying to God. Crying in silence. Crouching over the bed to talk in his ear. Holding his hand.
The nurse would come in every now and again to tell us his vitals. They were diminishing; his breaths were getting shorter with more space in-between. Every time the nurse would come in my grandmother would look to her almost as if she was expecting her to say he was getting better, I honestly feel that my grandmother thought there was still hope. That one of times the nurse came in, she was going tell us that he was all better. That she could take him home and that would be the end of all of this. They would sit in the den, turn up the heat, eat chips and dip, drink vodka on the rocks, and watch Wheel of Fortune.
That was the past and there was no going back.
It had been months; a process with no clear path, and with each development, my grandmother just kept saying he needed to get stronger and then he could go home. The hardest part of my grandfather dying was watching my grandmother say a very long and painful goodbye. She never accepted he was dying, because why would you? When it’s your life, wouldn’t you fight for it? He was her life and if he died, that meant she was dying too. It’s infuriating how awful life can be, but at the same time how wonderful. They got to spend a lifetime together, but that still wasn’t enough.
It’s never enough time.
Back to the hospital…
In between the silence, there were loud outbursts of laughter and joking, yet the funniest person in the room, my grandfather, was silent, unable to do what I loved most about him- tell stories; make me laugh and cry at the same time. He was the funniest person in the room, and here we were on the shortest day of the year and he was dying…there was something terrifically sad, ironic and funny about it all, and only he would be able to pull it all together into a profound punchline we’ll never know.
For me, the finality of it was too hard to believe. How could this be the end? This is it? This is all the time we get? It went so fast. I should have spent more time. I should have known. I should have payed attention.
The blanket stopped moving. We all stopped and stared. The nurse came in and said she was sorry and to take all the time we needed. My grandmother gently laid her head on his chest and said, “Oh, no honey. No, no, no, honey.” She cried and laid there and said that over and over again. She thanked him for their life together. She kissed him all over his face. She told him how much she loved him. And that was it. That was all the time we got. Time stopped for him and kept going for us. It was a privilege to witness. It was profound and peaceful and I know how lucky I am to have been there; to have actually known my grandfather and to be able to say goodbye in such a peaceful way.
As I write this, I’m thinking about time. How much time I’ve been given. How some people get time ripped away, or how time never even gets to begin for others. How people are being told right now that their time is going to be cut short. I got so much time with my grandfather and I selfishly want more. And, I know even if God gave me one more hour, I’d keep asking for one minute more, until it added up to a lifetime again, and again, and again…
He was the best joke teller. One of those people who would tell a tale and only towards the end would you realize you weren’t just listening to a twenty minute story; it was joke. He wasn’t one of those people who had to go back and explain or have everyone in the room hear his joke. If you caught it, it was a little treasure. A delight. It was a joy to see him take over a room, not by demanding attention, but by gently starting to tell a story that was so divinely constructed, you didn’t want to miss a breath.
He was a true Irishman and would have been a priest, except he fell in love with Beverly.
He was a devout Catholic and served God above all things. He served our country and afterwards dedicated his life to serving his community. He loved to serve and be served…drinks. He was always up for a good time, and most of the time he was the good time.
He was meticulous with cleanliness. His hands were always perfectly manicured. He always smelled good and his hair was kept just so.
He would laugh so hard his entire pale-skinned body would turn bright red. He would laugh so hard, he would sweat and cry and wheeze. There are times we thought we were losing him right in the middle of dinner, but he was just catching his breath from laughing so hard.
He showed up to everything, and if he wasn’t able to make it, he would laminate a program or article, or send a photo or card about whatever he missed in your life. In all the years I was lucky to know him, I can’t name one thing he ever missed. I can’t remember a time he didn’t want to spend time with me.
I am so grateful for our time together, but I want more. I need more. I just want one more hour. Please, give me one more hour. He has to tell the punchline…
“So, there’s this Irishman and he’s dyin’ on the shortest day of the year. He was lucky his whole life, so it was sure lucky that the day he was dyin’ was gonna be a short one. It was the worst snowstorm the town had seen in history. The snow would have nearly covered the pub, if it weren’t for the wind blowing so fiercely. His wife and the whole family traveled through the terrible storm to gather and say their final goodbyes, and as they gathered by his bedside cryin’, and prayin’, it comes to the wife’s attention that they were married on the longest day of the year. She moves over to him and whispers in his ear…”