After fighting for a few days, my Grandpa Vern passed away around 3:45 pm last Friday.
Grandpa Vern was a very special person. I know everyone says that about their family, but Grandpa was EXTRA special! He was adopted as a little kid in to a family that did not treat him well or teach him by example how to be a productive member of society. After going out on his own as a teen, Grandpa had to learn his own life skills and how to be a good person. He did fine, but really came in to his own after meeting my Nana. Together they raised 3 boys, and were married for 50 years before she passed away in 1994.
Given Grandpa's upbringing, he was understandably aloof and not very affectionate for a long time. About 10 years ago, my sister, my cousins, and I finally started ganging up on him and forcing him to tell us he loved us back after we would say "I love you Grandpa". Even towards the end we had to say it twice to get him to say it back; not because he didn't want to say it, but because he loved that we would press the issue. He got a total kick out of the fact that we cared enough to always much sure he told us he loved us back.
Grandpa spent the last few years in his own home thanks to the amazing generosity of my Uncle Jim and Aunt Connie. They moved in with him and treated him like the king he was. They greatly improved his quality of life with healthy home cooked meals, getting him to switch his coffee for green tea, and bringing life and laughter in to a home that had been quiet since my Nana passed away. My whole family owes them a debt of gratitude for helping our beloved Grandpa be so happy in his final years.
Towards the end of his life, he was in and out of rehab facilities to try and get his strength back. Because I work from home, I was able to spend at least an hour a day, almost every day with him. Much of that time he spent napping, but we did get a chance to visit, tell stories, and play cribbage. Even with his poor health, he still kicked my ass at cribbage the last 5 times we played!
His health took a drastic turn last Sunday night, and the family rallied around him and he hardly had a moment to himself! He was moved to hospice on Tuesday evening, and I will forever be thankful to the wonderful people who made his last few days so comfortable and treated him and his family with so much respect.
Friday around noon Grandpa opened his eyes for the first time in a few days and looked towards heaven. The vast majority of his family who loved him so much was surrounding him in his room. There were a few who couldn't be there because of distance or schedules, but he knew how much they were thinking of him, and the amount of love they had for him made it seem like they were right there in the room with him.
After he opened his eyes, we were all able to tell him that we didn't want him in pain anymore, and that after almost 90 years of working so hard on behalf of everyone else, it was time for him to do something selfish and let go and go to heaven to be with Nana.
Personally I feel so much guilt for not getting Jack here in time to meet his great Grandpa, and for Grandpa to get to meet his first great grandkid, but I simply can't dwell on that. I think Grandpa and Jack had a little chat and decided that with everything going on, I couldn't properly focus on taking care of a newborn while making sure I spent quality time with Grandpa. I'm pretty sure that Jack told Grandpa that he would rather he be with Nana in heaven and watch him grow up, then spend more time on earth and be in pain. Jack is such a lucky little boy to have two of his very own guardian angels.
After opening his eyes, Grandpa held on for about another 3-4 hours. That was a blessing and gave my sister time to get there from work to say her own goodbyes. When Grandpa's breathing became labored, we all repeated that we wanted him to be at peace and to stop fighting for us.
The last few weeks in the hospital he had been able to see Jack moving around in my belly but was always a little too weirded out to touch him. A few minutes before he passed, I put his hand on my stomach and Jack kicked it a few times. Even though Grandpa had 1 foot in heaven, he responded to Jack's kick and was able to smile with his eyes so I know he felt it.
I think in the end, it worked out how Grandpa wanted it to. He grew up in a family that didn't care about him, but in his last moments was surrounded by people who loved him so much that they spent the last few weeks simply watching him sleep. What a testament to an amazing man he was.
Our family is torn between being sad and missing such a special man, and being relieved and happy that he is at peace.
If you stuck through this post (it's a long one), I'll reward you with one of my favorite photos of my grandpa. About a year ago, he somehow heard a rumor that bow ties were back in style. He dug one out of his drawer and had my Aunt Connie take a photo of him. How cute is he!?