I was riding home from my shoe sales job in a cab, wondering how in the hell my cab driver had managed to get the car so damned humid with his stale breath if people were opening and closing its doors all the time, when I got a call from my mother. Her voice was shaky, and I knew immediately that it was about my grandfather.
He's been fairing less and less well as dementia has taken a hold of him. It doesn't just steal your memories, it slowly steals your body's ability to function, too, and we knew that soon it would literally steal his heartbeat or his breath. Now it appears that it is doing just that.
"This feels sad," my mother said, "but it isn't really. He wants this. He told us a month ago that he was ready for it to be over," and then later in our conversation, a conversation that was only fifteen minutes ago, she said, "We want this to be a celebration of life. He's had a long life. He's had a productive and good life."
And he has. He was at different times a farmer, a furnace repair man, a grocery store owner, and an insurance salesman. He had what we called his shop in a building next to the house. It was a garage with stone walls and a hard-packed earth floor. I used to sneak in when no one was around and run my hands over his tools and the wooden workbench that crossed the length of the back wall. The wooden handles felt soft even under my young hands after so many years of use. Some of the tools had been handmade my his forefathers in Russia and had no English names to describe them.
He was a quiet man who was shy around me, but one afternoon, when he caught me hiding in the shadow by the door, I asked him to show me his things. He went from piece to piece telling me the names of them, picking each one up and putting it down with that small velvet sound only grey, old wood above a dank earth floor can make. That's a sound most of us will never hear now. I hold it in my head, though, and replay it for myself.
He ushered me out of the shop once we reached the last tool at the end of the table, and I promised myself that I would remember the careful crescent moons that were his dry nails at the ends of his fingers. I haven't forgotten those, either.
Right at this very moment, my mother and her brothers are gathering around my grandfather three hours north of here in the home where he lives now. My grandmother is living on another floor of that same home, succumbing to her own dementia. She might not understand this tonight. I kind of hope that she doesn't.
It's so strange to think that only ten months ago, they had their own apartment together, and that she was tying his shoes for him, which he had just stopped being able to do on his own.
My mother says that his hands and feet were suddenly very warm, and then his breathing changed, which are signs that a person is right at the very end, but it all seems so impossible.
The man whose archaic camera flashbulbs would pop and send shards of glass into the carpet, the man who would chuckle under his breath and hoist his pants with his thumbs after I hugged him, the man who left his pillows smelling like Old Spice where I would bury my face after their visit: this ends. Doesn't that seem impossible? It seems impossible.
While I fumbled with money to give the cab driver, I was telling my mother to give my grandfather one more kiss from me, and it seemed all wrong to be in a funky cab handling money while sending my last bit of love off to my dying grandfather while hearing the waver in my mother's voice and realizing that I was listening to a daughter losing her father.
I felt like the world had gone cubist, all sharp and conflicting angles, and I realized that it's in cases like this when I wish all things were not possible.
PS. He's not gone yet. He's going, but he's not gone. These things happen slowly sometimes. I'm just glad he's got my family with him.