Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Deathbed Rebirth

Tomorrow, the 10 of March, is the four year anniversary of my Grandpa's death. The following story was written based off the extrodinary events of his home-going. This piece was edited and published in Brio magazine in 2007, retitled "I want a Beef Gordita".


Grandpa was in my room, breathing loudly as he slept. “The ambulance ride tired him out,” Mom whispered.
I shuffled into the living room. “Isn’t it ironic that after years of ignoring us, he gets leukemia and has to move in?”
Mom pulled her cardigan closer. “Nella, hospice is for people who have gone home to die. He’s not a Christian. Dying means eternal separation from God as well as us. I’m praying that your grandpa finds forgiveness in Jesus.”
The last thing I needed was the “Jesus” speech right before a night on the hard couch.
I stuffed my face deeper into the couch cushions.
It was the bell Mom had left on Grandpa’s nightstand.
I stumbled in, bumping into his hospital bed. Then I saw my best friend sitting on the other side. I wiped the scowl off my face. Steve must have been looking for me and Grandpa roped him.
“Morning!” Steve’s grin had made me feel at home since we moved in next door years ago. “I came to visit Grandpa John, but I’ll shove off now. I’m praying for you, sir.”
I managed a smile as Steve walked past me.
I brought Grandpa’s breakfast and set it down. I was three steps down the hall when the bell rang.
“I need my teeth.” Grandpa started stirring his food with the fork.
I brought the dentures out of the bathroom.
“This food is awful dry—it needs some butter.” The sausage was already swimming in its own fat.
After I got him settled with his plate again, I turned to go, hoping that was all he “needed”. I needed a shower.
“How about a war picture,” Grandpa nodded toward my TV.
I turned on A Yank in the R.A.F. and then I ran to the shower before he thought of anything else.
All day, I pretended not to hear the bell. Oddly enough, you could hear it all over the house.
I was getting ready for “bed” when Mom called me in to help her get Grandpa ready, too.
I still couldn’t believe how thin Grandpa had gotten. He’d lost about fifty pounds. I remembered him as active, even debonair. It’d been long time, though.
“We have to flush his catheter twice a day,” Mom said.
She slowly pushed a syringe of water into the yellow tube sticking out from under the sheet. “Then we need to pull it back out.”
The clear water came out clotted and oxblood red.
When I dumped the full catheter bag into the toilet, I was nearly overwhelmed by the sickly sweet smell of blood and urine.
Mom took care of Grandpa’s breakfast the next day. It was nearly noon when…ring-a-ling-a-ling.
“I want a beef gordita from Taco Bell.”
Mom said it was only five minutes away and I could do my stuff later. I slammed the car door and yelled at the girl over the fast food intercom.
“Here she is. The hero!” Why Steve was here again?
“Did you warm it up and put one packet of mild sauce on it?” is all Grandpa said.
I ran to the kitchen, hoping I could see Steve longer. He’s great—his only “down-side” is that he wants everyone else to be a Christian, too.
I heard Steve’s quiet voice as I sped down the hall. I stopped to hear what he’s talking to Grandpa about. I sure hadn’t found anything to say.
“…the Lord Jesus loved us enough to die for us. But He didn’t stay dead. He came back to life! And when we admit that we’ve done wrong and ask Him for help to do what’s right, we don’t have to be afraid. We know death is just a gateway to being with Jesus, without pain or…”
I walked in—Steve was an idiot to talk to a dying man like that!
“Son, I’ve lived my life without Jesus. I can die without His help now.”
Exactly. Even if that all was true, it’s too late for Grandpa.
I tucked the towel around Grandpa’s neck. We learned the day before that eating while reclining in bed is a messy affair.
“I appreciate you coming by, Steve. You’re a good boy.”
Steve stayed and ate lunch with me. I argued with him—talking to Grandpa about Jesus and dying wasn’t helpful. He smiled and said he had hoped I was listening.
I shrugged. “I have time to decide.”
After Steve left, Mom asked me to help her change Grandpa’s pad. I knew he was too weak to get up to the toilet, but I hadn’t really thought about it.
“Ewww, Mom. No.” I whined.
She sighed. “I just need you to hold his shoulder and hip, so he stays rolled over.”
A week of food, war movies and Steve’s visits passes. Then one morning, when I brought Grandpa an omelet and coffee, he looked up at me and grinned. “Thank you, dear. Mmm. It smells great.”
I almost fell over.
“What’s up with Grandpa?” I asked Mom in the hall.
Her eyes glowed. “Steve prayed with Grandpa last night and he accepted Christ.”
I’m glad it made Mom and Steve feel better.
Grandpa showed he was still the same old guy, though. He called one of his friends and asked him to bring takeout Chinese. Haa. Christians aren’t supposed to be selfish.
Grandpa’s friend came right at noon—but he didn’t bring the side of lo mein noodles Grandpa asked for.
But he simply thanked his buddy and they started chatting about the golf course. Maybe he’s just more polite with people outside his family.
Later that afternoon, I had just turned on another movie when my aunt breezed in carrying a Styrofoam container.
“Hey, Dad! I thought I’d stop in to see you and bring you some Chinese.”
Grandpa and I gasped as the lid opened to reveal…lo mein noodles.
Grandpa frowned and smiled at the same time. “Who told you?”
Now she’s confused. “Nobody. I just know you like it.”
He slapped the bed. “God loves me! He’s busy with the whole world and He brings me lo mein!”
I left my rejoicing relatives. Whoopee-dee-do. Lucky break.
Two weeks pass; Grandpa continued to be more grateful, even as he got weaker; Steve continued to visit him, read the Bible and pray with him; I continued to play Cinderella the drudge.
It was two o’clock in the morning and Mom, Grandpa, and I were still awake. He was restless, confused and not very responsive. Mom was on the phone with the hospice nurse, who told her that the end is getting closer.
Mom gave him the prescribed medication to help calm him and ease any pain. I turned on a song from a CD that Steve brought a few hours before to help him sleep; Chris Rice’s Untitled Hymn. “Come to Jesus” the songs said as it repeated over and over through the night.
The sun came up, and Grandpa was quiet under the medication. It’s Friday, which means he should get a bath.
Even though we’d done sponge baths until it was routine, today was different. As we washed the hollow of his collar bone and rubbed lotion over his sun-spotted back, there was something hallowed about it. Something worshipful.
Two of my tears splashed on the taut skin of his chest. I didn’t dry them off. I rubbed them in over his heart.
The bell didn’t ring all day.
But the song continued to say “Come to Jesus.”
Steve visited—he was quiet, but I knew he was saying goodbye.
As we headed into night again, I sat by Grandpa so Mom could take a cat-nap. His breath came in rattling spurts.
Suddenly, I realized I hadn’t heard him breathe in a few minutes. I leaned closer and heard only a faint sound.
I ran down the hall. “Mom!” She met me half way. I choked on the words. “I can barely hear him breathing.”
Mom grabbed her stethoscope. She put it over his heart and listened for a minute. “His pulse is slow and weak.”
She kept the stethoscope on his chest.
Then she took it off.
“Those were his last heart beats. He’s with Jesus.”
I stared at the shell of my grandfather’s body. It looked peaceful. But he was not there.
Tears trickled down Mom’s face as we held each other. I felt relieved, though—I didn’t have to worry about him anymore.
Then I realized that the relief is because I believed. I knew Grandpa was safe and well because I believed in the Jesus who changed Grandpa’s heart.
As Mom called the mortuary, I called Steve.
“Hi, umm,” is all I managed before I choked.
“I’ll be right over.”
Thirty seconds later, and the tears for my grandfather I thought I would never cry, were splashing on Steve’s T-shirt.
Finally, I calmed down and we went back to Grandpa’s room. Steve wiped his eyes on his shirt cuff.
“Come to Jesus and live.” Steve repeated the words of the song which was still playing.
“I came to Jesus too,” I whispered. “I’ll see you in heaven, Grandpa.”


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