How do you grieve over someone you don't like?
Over Christmas, my grandfather was complaining about being tired, not wanting to get up out of bed. This is my late father’s dad -- my paternal grandfather. My mom and I tried to get him to go to the hospital to get checked out, but he refused in that nasty, self-righteous way that only conservative old men who don’t trust the modern world can refuse. Suffice it to say, he was pretty insulting.
But his symptoms got worse. And although my mother doesn’t particularly like him, she decided to do something, telling him that if he didn’t get help he would die. Just a few days before, he asked his only friend -- a guy my dad used to work with at the printing plant -- to bring him a pistol so he could “end it.” That kind of melodrama’s not unusual for my grandfather, but when he was faced with really dying, he half-heartedly decided he didn’t want to.
Getting him to the hospital was a nightmare. First he insisted that my mom make him a cup of coffee before going -- which he promptly spilled all over himself because he is no longer able to use his arms. Then he decided not to go, making my mom argue with him for another twenty minutes. Finally he relented again, and she got him to the emergency room.
After a three-hour wait that could have been avoided if they’d gone in earlier (a trauma team rushed in five accident victims right when they arrived), they began running tests. Which scared the hell out of him to say the least. At 84, he’s not been to the doctor in 25 years, and adamantly refuses to take pills. So the battery of blood tests, rectal exams, catscans and EKG’s, didn’t go easily. He was abusive to the doctors and the nurses and fought every step of the way.
Medical science is like some terrible magic to him. When my dad was in intensive care dying of cancer, my grandfather couldn’t grasp the idea that he was being fed with an IV -- he couldn’t get over the fact that my dad wasn’t hungry. “It’s gotta bother his stomach,” he said, “he’s gotta be starving to death.” When I explained how IV’s work, he was incredulous and abusive. “I don’t believe any of that,” he told me. He rarely believes anything anyone tells him -- he thinks the entire world is lying to him.
After hours of tests (and struggles with him), they discovered he was suffering from a mid-grade stroke. A stroke that could have been much more easily treated had he come in when he first started feeling ill. Now he’s in the hospital ICU, and the prognosis is -- as of this writing -- uncertain.
So that’s the background. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that I’m feeling ... nothing about it. Maybe a bit of guilt for not feeling anything, but I certainly don’t feel any grief. My grandfather and I have not been on very good terms for ten years now. When my father died, he commanded me to drop out of college and “take care of my mother.” Which was kind of ludicrous, considering that 1) she had a lot of life insurance money coming, and 2) she had a good job, already. I refused, and he got sterner. Finally, I cussed him out and swore at him in a way that I have never sworn at another living human being. My one dream in life was to go to college and escape the world I lived in and not follow my father into a life of hard labor. I was not going to change that, regardless of what my grandfather wanted. My mom didn’t even want me to drop out -- shouldn’t she have had a say in what I did? To my grandfather it was irrelevant, since my mother is a woman. In his mind, women exist to take care of men -- their thoughts and opinions are otherwise meaningless.
So that started the rift between him and me, though it wasn’t the start of the bad blood. When I was four, I mysteriously “fell” and broke my arm when he and I were running up the hill together outside his house. My parents suspected I may have been pushed. When he was drunk -- and that was often -- he was cruel and mean-spirited. He emotionally abused my grandmother, chiseling away at her self esteem day after day. We suspected my grandma had Alzheimer’s disease for years, but he refused to get her any help. She fell down and broke her hip and the disease was discovered -- she died little more than a year later. Afterwards, he boasted about how he had to care for his poor wife -- when in fact he neglected her for at least nine years.
I never thought my grandfather would die -- I always sort of pictured him being around, immortal, outliving me. Even at 84, he still has most of the color in his hair -- once black, it’s now a dark charcoal gray. To look at him, you wouldn’t think he was older than 65. Until the stroke, he still had his wits (such as they were). But now he’s on the edge of death.
I might not feel any grief now, but I feel ... lonely. Not sad, but empty. Like visiting your hometown to find all the people you used to know have moved away. My childhood is long gone by this point, but there are some parts of it yet -- my mom, my grandfather. But once my grandfather is gone, it’s just my mom. And when my mom is gone it’s just me -- the excitement and drama and fun and sadness and wonder of my childhood will be over. His passing away is almost like a harbinger of my mom’s death, which would be truly devastating to me.
But still no grief. Maybe it’ll come later. It would be comforting if it did.