Digging a Hole

Friday, August 13, 2004


Yeah, so I stopped blogging for a while due to much insanity.
Here is an attempt at a funny touching story: How my grandad died.
Soo........ after returning home from romping in the city with Wesleyan and setting off fireworks at a "July 34th" party at my grandmother's in Pennsylvania, I awoke that Monday intending to regale my faithful blog readers (assuming I have some) with tales of bbq steaks, citranella candles, errant explosives, and other traditionally American experiences. Unfortunately, I instead awoke to find my family gathered around the telephone waiting for details about my grandad's most recent sudden hospitalization.
(Background: My grandad had a major stroke my frosh year of college that by all rights should have killed him (and he sometimes wished had) but instead left him still able to destroy me in scrabble while barely able to feed himself. Frustrating. So frustrating, that following Sept. 11th, the Marine pilot sent a letter to the president offering his services as a kamikaze. Bush has yet to respond to this offer.)
Anyway, I offered to join my dad on the trip to Vermont where my grandfather lives. As the phone calls continued and the news became grimmer, the trip itinerary got more insane until the plan was finally: Me and my dad drive to the hospital in Vermont, then my dad drives BACK to Albany to pick up my aunt from the airport, then they both drive back to the hospital, then we all go to my grandfather's house for the night.
Four and a half hours (and several obnoxiously slow volvo drivers) later, we arrived at the hospital where my grandfather was proclaiming that he had decided not to die afterall. My Aunt Marnie and her boyfriend Tim had also just arrived. My grandad's wife took this opportunity to slip out (she doesn't "do" dying). At this point, my dad left for Albany, so Marnie, Tim, and I were left staring at each other as my grandfather dozed.
The wing of the hospital we were in was designed for dying. Family rooms adjoined hospital rooms so grieving relatives could stay with their loved ones. The staff was pretty awesome and offered us access to coffee and a stocked fridge. I wandered around for a while, got bored, and looked at the bookshelf in the family room. Hmm.... Options included: How to Die, How to Grieve, Death for Kids, variations on all of these themes AND several Bibles, Hebrew scriptures, and at least one copy of the Koran. Werd. They even had videos on dying! It was the creepiest library of death I have ever seen. Ya know... of... all those death libraries I've seen... Yeah....
I took a copy of the Koran into the hall to peruse (time check: 11:30pm) (still waiting for my dad to return from Albany) and half heartedly flipped through when suddenly, the Vermont State Police came in. Why they would want to hang out in a hospital for dying people was beyond me, but they stayed over an hour. I guess there aren't too many terrorists to hunt in Vermont. Anyhoo, one opened the fridge and was surprised when a bottle of ginger ale for my grandfather literally leaped out and exploded. It was amazing. While he looked around, dripping, for the bottle's owner, I sat in the hall trying not to laugh with my copy of the Koran.
Before I could be arrested for harboring terrorist-related-program-activities or something, a nurse suggested that I try to sleep in an empty hospital bed. This freaked me out, but it was (time check) 12:30am by now, so I agreed. Right after she left I started freaking out about how many people had died in that bed. Right after I became too tired to speculate whether dead people cared if I slept in their death bed, a nurse came in to check in on me. I guess that at 1am, there isn't much else to do and I was the only patient not dying so that had to be pretty exciting for them but it was fairly disconcerting for me. It also happened at least every half an hour.
After fending off yet another nurse intent on giving me an IV or something, I found my aunt arguing on the phone. (Time check: 2:30am, well after my dad was supposed to pick me up from the hospital of death). It seems my dad and my aunt from the airport (Aunt MB) had arrived at my grandfather's house and had NOT come to the hospital. My grandfather's wife (Georgette) was trying to convince them not to get me since it was convenient that I was there to monitor my grandfather and my Aunt Marnie, at the hospital with me, was in an argument with Georgette (who not so subtly wanted my grandfather to die) about whether or not ginger ale was easier for a dying man to drink than water, and how if only my aunt had given my grandfather GINGER ALE! he would not have IV fluids now to make him comfortable (which was really a silly argument anyway because the ginger ale had already assaulted the state trooper).
Aunt Marnie: He has an IV.
Georgette: WHY?!
AM: He was thirsty! I gave him water, but he couldn't keep it down.
G: Did you try ginger ale?!
AM: Is there a difference?
G: OF COURSE there's a difference!
Finally, the plan became for Tim to drive me and my Aunt Marnie home. (My dad was on his second cup of coffee but was still too sleepy to get me and my Aunt MB insisted she could pick me up but she also insisted that there were bugs running acorss the windshield.) On the way, we stopped for sandwiches at a 7-11 (time check: 3am). On the way back into the car, I accidently slammed Tim's thumb in the car door and crushed it.
Day 2: Tim's thumb looked a lot better in the morning as we headed back to the hospital. My grandfather was happy to see us but was increasingly difficult to understand. He often talked about my grandmother who died 8 years ago (at the age 0f 59... she died on his bday which was kinda appropriate since he basically left her... anyhoo). This was kinda eerie. My grandma Claire is known to haunt family members in a good way. Soon after my Aunt MB's boyfiend called from Michigan to play my grandad a song on his guitar over the phone and the song he chose happened to be one of my grandmother's favorites. Creepy.
Later, my grandad whispered a phrase to my dad for almost 20 minutes before we realized he was saying, "they breed in connecticut". "What breed in CT dad?" my dad asked him. "Volvos." My grandfather choked out a laugh at our inability to realize he had been telling a joke. For the rest of the day, he tortured people with the joke by making them think he was telling them his parting words, watching them attempt to understand him, and finally realize he's joking. ("Fuck you dad." was the response he received from my Aunt Marnie.)
The morning passed and my grandad said less and less. He told everyone, "Anybody but Bush," and these may have been his last words. It was either that or, "Fish fart in water," and ABB has a bit more dignity to it, so I go with ABB. Finally, he fell asleep. While he slept through the day, people from his storied past came by to visit. The man has many more friends than any one of them knows about (and we all joked, he may have many more kids).
Anyhoo, his TWA co-pilot came by (remember TWA?) and his law school roommate and his vermont neighbors.... others called. We all were worried that my uncle John (yeah, activist cash, blah blah blah) wouldn't make it from DC. My grandfather's breathing became more and more labored as he slept and he could not be woken up. Everyone sat around his bed, saying little. My Aunt Marnie sat on his bed, his youngest daughter, quietly saying peaceful things to him. Suddenly, everyone realized that he hadn't drawn a breath in a while. My dad checked. No pulse. Tearfully, my aunt told my grandfather, "You did a good job dad," and began to walk away. .....
My grandfather took a mighty gulp of air that scared the shit out of everyone, sent my aunt tearing out of the room, and had my dad laughing. "Damnit Dad!" yelled my aunt. He wasn't dead yet. Everyone was laughing still.
Tension soon built when Georgette returned asking, "Is he dead yet?" and causing my aunts to shoot obvious daggers from their eyeballs at her back and make faces when she wasn't looking. Georgette finally went home again because the scene was truly too much for her. She spent the evening chopping garlic with the intention of feeding all the kids and grandkids when they came home from the hospital which was a pretty cool thing to do.
Uncle John finally arrived at 9pm. Striding into the room, he announced with a straight face, "Sorry I'm late dad," which made everyone laugh and my grandfather's pulse quicken.
"All your kids are here now," said my Aunt Marnie. Then, she paused. "Well, at least all the ones we know about," she amended laughing. "But hopefully we won't start getting calls from our Japanese half-siblings," she joked.
At around 11pm, as everyone sat once again around the bed, my dad noticed that my grandfather had stopped breathing again, but he didn't say anything because he didn't want to set off another false alarm (there had been like 3 others). Finally, everyone started to notice, but we still waited a good 10 minutes of pulseless time before we were ready to stop joking that he was gonna scare Marnie again and realize he had really died. It was pretty weird. Not many people today are actally present at the death of a loved one. There were no beams of heavenly light. He just kinda stopped breathing. After spending some time, the whole family caravanned to his house where Georgette whipped up some truly amazing 3am pasta. Whiskey, wine, and beer were consumed. Some drank to drunkeness; others quietly toasted him. I went outside with my dad to look at the stars while Kevin, reeling from his first bottle of beer, sang along to my aunt who was using a wine bottle as a microphone. We saw a tumbling satellite disappear.

To Bill Doyle, a kickarse grandad with a Harley loud enough to set off car alarms on Walnut Street, and a generous heart. His 70th bday party is next week in Vermont. =D


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