This Is What It’s Like Watching Someone Wilt Away

Image - Flickr / helga
Image – Flickr / helga

My upbringing was unusual at best, when compared with most of the people I grew up with. My Mom had plenty of run-ins with the law that landed her in jail, leaving my care up to those family members who would take me in. I lived with various family members through my life including but not limited to: my aunts, my grandma, my grandpa, and by myself. It was the times living by myself at only 11 or 12 years old that really bonded me with my Grandpa. He always took care of me. He would come once or twice a week to check on me, make sure I had been going to school, bring me some food if I needed it, and ask me if I wanted to come stay with him. I always declined (what 11 or 12 year old doesn’t think they can live better on their own?!). He still came every couple days though, just the same.

Even when my Mom was out my Grandfather stood as this constant source of goodness in my life and the life of all my family members. He would always take us out to eat when we saw him, he would bring presents at every holiday (Easter being the best because we got candy and toys), he kept an entire row of jars filled with candy on top of his TV stand so that there was always some there when we came over. He would take us to Church on Sunday followed by the donut shop right afterwards where we would get to pick out our donut and get some chocolate milk.

More than anything though, he was a stable source of constant love. No matter the trouble my Mom landed in (and there was plenty while she searched to find herself) he stood by her side, refused to judge her, and tried to show her how to be on the straight and narrow path. When I was older he met a wonderful woman who would become my grandmother although they would never formally marry. They would take me on shopping trips and try to dress me in a way that would elicit a different kind of response than the ones I had been used to getting in clothes that were too tight, too small, or just altogether inappropriate for a child my age. He was a guardian against all things that were bad.

Right now he is laying in a hospital in my hometown, for the fourth of fifth time this year alone. It is obvious to everyone that he is fading, and I am watching him wilt away before my very eyes while I watch in horror. I am watching him get weaker every time he comes out of the hospital. I am watching him be out of the hospital shorter and shorter amounts of time before he has to go back. I am watching the actions of the medical staff have less and less of an effect on him each time. I am watching the death of Superman.

There is a piece of my soul that will never be the same with the loss of this man, and so for my own selfish reasons I beg him to hold on. I beg him not to go. I beg him to stick around and show me how to raise these children I am adopting, because he’s the only person I know who can show me how. I beg him to watch me finally walk across the stage at graduation after years of him telling me I could do it. I beg him for more time. I beg God not to take him from me.

The process has been gradual and yet it feels so sudden. The shock is much the same as when my Dad had his “incident”. My Dad stabbed his own eyes out when I was about 21 years old. He was the most competent, intelligent, quick witted person I had ever met in my life. He was the very last person I would ever imagine doing something so heinous, but he did – it happened to him. At first they thought he had gotten too dehydrated from swallowing salt water and that had made him lose touch with reality, and that was a story that was sad but easy to live with – a freak accident… then while I was on the phone with him calling to wish him a happy birthday, he tried to cut his own heart out. This may sound obvious, but that was when we realized there was something else going on. My Dad was finally diagnosed as schizophrenic.

The images that he lived with in his mind were so vastly different than the reality most of us live in that he thought the only way to protect all of us was to kill himself. This was a devastating blow for me… it was a devastating blow for all of us but my Dad and I had always had a special bond. He played Chess with me, taught me the strategy to people, taught me that although what matters most is who you are, knowing how to recognize patterns in other people will help you to get through life. He demanded excellence in school but only to a point, because there were more important things in life than just getting good grades.

Being out in the world and experiencing how other people lived, how other people might see things, that is how real knowledge was gained. He was the reason why I went to prom in a makeshift duct tape bra, and thigh highs that were duct taped to my legs… duct tape can fix anything after all. I know he will never admit it but he was never more proud than when my junior prom date stood on the step above me for pictures before we left only to blurt: “Are you wearing Duct Tape?!” Everyone laughed, but my Dad beamed with pride… and because of that I went to prom just like that because my Dad had given his approval of my choice. He laughed, but he nonetheless approved. He loved that I didn’t let things get me down, I just made the best of a situation and moved on… a Dad lesson come to fruition.

Each lesson from him was both off the cuff and carefully planned. I hung on every single word he said. I followed his tutelage to the best of my ability and worked hard every single day to make him proud of me. You would never have known that I wasn’t his flesh and blood child. He was my step dad but he was my Dad in every sense of the word. Finding out that he had been so violent towards himself was like finding out that your adopted at age 30 – it rips all the truths that you think you know about the world out from under you. I struggled with the idea that my Dad who was this infallible person, was actually flawed in a serious way – a way that could have / should have killed him twice. I wept. I wept for the loss of the person I knew and for the person I knew he would never be again.
Slowly, over the course of a few years I watched him climb into himself and shut the door. Only for brief moments when I talked to him could you see the glimmer of the person he used to be, I was literally watching him fade away. He had been a contractor, so for the first year after he was blinded he kept trying to do what he had always done. He tried to build things blind. He tried to feel his way into the things he knew how to do best… only he wasn’t that person anymore and no amount of hoping or wishing was going to make it so. He had to learn to adapt to his new life and instead he only delved deeper within himself. I did much the same. If the person who taught me how to live my life and how to navigate the people in it, was now unable to live in the real world, what did that say about me? Was I headed down an equally scary path?

My relationship with my Dad was changed forever in two moments that almost cost him his life. My relationship with my Grandfather is changing as we speak. I begged them both for more time to let me process what was happening but the truth is that nothing can ever prepare you for cost of living… I am reminded by the scene in the movie animated movie Hercules. The one where he dives into the underworld to retrieve Meg’s soul. As he dives down deeper and deeper trying desperately to get closer and closer to saving her he is aging, he becomes frail, old, wrinkled, weak… ultimately because he is half God and proves himself a true hero by risking his own life to save Meg’s soul he becomes a God and therefore makes it out of the pit in his full shining golden glory… that’s not how this story will end I’m afraid, yet that scene reminds me of this time in my life so much because I too am swirling in a mass of pain and suffering. I am desperate not to lose another man in my life who has been so influential. Instead of turning into an old man like Hercules I am turning into a five year old little girl who is begging for her Daddy and her Grandpa. Meanwhile they really are becoming frailer, weaker, less of themselves, and certainly less of the person I actually knew.

It’s almost as if I am watching a shadow of themselves try to pretend to be the real thing. My Dad no longer fixes everything that breaks, and my Grandpa no longer chews bubble gum. My Dad looks poised to take on the world and my Grandpa no longer can read the “funnies” before any other part of the newspaper. They are not the people I remember. I am willing to take that though. I am willing to let that be enough as long as I don’t have to face losing them altogether… not yet anyways. There is so much more that I want to share with them. I want them by my side as I walk down the aisle at my vow renewal (we eloped so we never had a real wedding). I want them to watch my children grow and show me how to raise them- the way they raised me with an abundance of patience and unending bucket of love. I want them to watch me walk across the stage at graduation, and to be there for family Christmas… but I am running on borrowed time, and that becomes more apparent every single day.

The love that I have for these two God-like figures in my life will not end but the time I have to show them that will. I try every day to balance a life where I have time for all the people who mean the most to me and the things I have to do to be successful. At the end of the day I end up giving neither one 100% but that’s where my Dad’s lesson on grades comes in… there are much more important things in life than having straight A’s- people matter. Relationships matter. The time you get to spend with the people you love on this planet is limited and you don’t know when their time will be up, so do the best you can and love as much as you can. Never miss an opportunity to tell someone you love them because you may not get the chance again, and then that piece of homework you worked and extra hour on won’t seem so important.

The limited amount of time and the lack of a known date that will end the time I have with people I love makes me crazy. How can I ever let them know how much they mean to me? Even if I spent every second of every minute for the rest of my life with them it would not fully make them understand the impact they have had in my life and the strength that I gain from having men like them in my life.

My husband, lost his father around the time he graduated high school, so he knows this feeling all too well. In my times of despair he always tells me the same thing: “Don’t worry, not matter if you tell them enough while they are alive, I believe that the minute they die, they know. They know and can feel all the love that you have for them in a way you would never be able to explain in words.”

His words are the sole comfort to me during this bleak time when I beg for every spare second I have with them. I know I should let them go, but I can’t and the only thing that I can say about that is that loving someone and losing them is the most horrible thing in the whole world, however, having people in my life who are so unbearable to lose makes me a lucky person to begin with. TC mark

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