Thursday, February 19, 2004

Part 2- The little green house

My grandparents have a little green house. I remembered when I would visit when I was young it seemed so big, now it looked like a small-scale model of the big green house that I remember.
Everything seemed miniature; even the big oak trees out front didn’t seem like the giants that they were when I was a child. Everything had an aged look to it as it is with many cities in Michigan. After the majority of the factories moved overseas the cities were left to fall apart with poverty and the pollution left behind. The cities that are left there are ghosts, shadows of the magnificent cities they once were.
My Grandfather worked at a factory making springs for some 50 years. Now his oldest son Jack Jr and his son: my cousin Jack III worked there. My Grandfather was making less than $10 an hour when he retired.
Somehow my Grandparents raised six children in this tiny little house, but now it seemed too small for the four adults who were trying to stay there that night.
My Uncle (My fathers youngest brother) was in the back bedroom, my father on the couch and that left me with staying in my grandmother’s room with her. It seemed kind of strange to me that I would be sleeping with my Grandmother on the side of the bed my Grandfather had inhabited for some 52 years. But I figured if it was all right with her, then it was fine by me.
As we changed the sheets on the bed she joked about how my grandfather was stinky so I didn’t want to sleep on that. I started to think about how strange it was that he would probably never sleep in this bed again and as soon as we changed the sheets his smell will be gone from the bed. How easily we are washed away.

It was a sleepless night. My Grandmother and I mostly just talked and caught up. I really love this woman and I don’t get back home often enough. I really cherish the times I have spent with her.
She is as feisty as any twenty something and she isn’t afraid to speak her mind. She loves her children and grand children and great grandchildren with the ferocity of a mother bear protecting her cubs. She ha s a huge heart and tries to do right by everyone, but after living with my hard headed Grandfather for 52 years she learned a thing or two about making sure she isn’t anyone’s door mat. She knows how to live her life and that is what has kept her so young.

I could hear the fear in her voice. She was talking about how strange it will be without him around any more. We went over the past slowly and methodically, every story we would relive to a point where I could almost smell the air and taste the Thanksgiving dinners again.
She talked about her friends who had lost their husbands in the years earlier and how they handled it. We joked about how after all these years she will actually be able to know what it is like to hold the remote control.
We talked about the day he had the stroke, and even though it was the day before she told it like it happened years ago, with a distance to her face and voice, as if she could not quite live those memories yet as vividly as she could live the memories from days long past.

Sometime around 3AM she went to sleep, we were up by 6AM to go back to the hospital. As I got out of bed to go get ready my grandmother was sitting at the table staring blankly. She had been crying.
When I looked to see what she was staring at I saw why she was crying. She had made two cups of coffee like she had every morning for 52 years. It didn’t even occur to her that she only needed one today until after she had made them.

Part 1- Going back to Muskegon

It seems that things like wedding and funerals bring out all of the best in your family tree. All of the drama being stirred up in my family since I announced I was planning a wedding got me to thinking about it a lot. I have decided to document the last family funeral I went to, to coincide with my documentation of the wedding planning. I feel there may be some sort of strange symmetry, as there tends to be with matters of family.

This last July my grandfather passed away.
If I started filming from the moment I got the call that he had a stroke and kept filming until I returned home from the funeral it would have been the weirdest documentary ever. It started out normal but went crazy from there.

Part 1- Going back to Muskegon

It started at just before midnight. I had just dropped my daughter off at the airport; she was going up to Alaska to spend some time with her grandparents during summer vacation. I was in the process of moving into a new apartment so my plan was to start packing and get things moved while Darian was away.
The phone rang and it was my father.
“Hey.” He said with a tone I didn’t recognize in his voice, but it made all of my panic bells go off in my head and heart.
“What happened?” I asked without thinking.
“My dad, he had a stroke, he is in the hospital.” He said I could hear his voice breaking up on the other end of the phone.
“I’ll be on the next flight.” I said and I hung up and started looking for a ticket there that would get me there sooner than later. As the evening progressed my grandfathers condition worsened. I was getting regular updates all night, but my flight was not until the next morning.
His stroke started a bleed in his brain. He was still conscious but he was fading fast. They told him that they had to give him a shunt to release some of the pressure.
My grandfather is a very stubborn man. There was no way that he was going to let him put anything in his head even if it would be the only thing that could save his life. He would rather die than come across as weak, and that is the fate he chose.
By about 1AM the doctor said that it would only be a matter of days. I had to get there fast if I ever wanted to see my Grandfather alive again.
I got on the airplane going to Muskegon Michigan early the next morning.
I made it to the hospital to see my grandfather hanging on to the smallest thread of life. He looked so small lying in that bed in that little blue hospital robe.
His breathing was heavy and he stressed. He had been a smoker for years and it had ruined his lungs. He sounded like he was choking.
He was panting and pale and I was able to stay in the room for about five minutes before I excused myself to the restroom. I shut the door behind me and slipped to the floor and cried.
As I sat there crying I started to wonder how many other people had done the same thing in this particular restroom. Seeing as it is the only restroom for guests in the ICU of the hospital I thought I was not alone in my fear, sadness and mourning. I found some strange comfort in these thoughts and I was able to pull myself together enough to go back and face what the next week might bring.
This would be the only time I cried throughout this whole experience.

I returned to the room and talked to my grandfather for a little while. He was on the verge of completely disappearing. They just gave him a does of Morphine and said he would be out for the night so it would probably be best to get home and rest up, it was going to be a long week. I went back to my Grandmothers house to get some sleep.

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