I don’t do death.
I mean, few us really do, aside from the most saintly among us, who provide end of life peace and care to those who are moving on. But aside from them, I think the majority of us fall into the “Eh…I’m not so into death” camp, that I am in.
That being said, there comes a time when we all need to confront this very basic reality of life, and mine has come. I mean after all, like I said to one of my best friends in a combination of anger, sadness and raw reality – “We are all f**king dying…that’s how this story is gonna go for all of us…but it still sucks a lot when it happens.” (He responded, “Okay…that is one way to look at it…” and then began to talk me back down from the precipice I was teetering along.)
All my over-the-top processing aside, in my opinion, one of the great quotes of the late Maya Angelou is, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”
My grandfather, Lawrence Oliver Lemieux was born September 25, 1918 and most of my memories of my grandfather are not at all of what he did, although I do know that he was a World War II veteran, a Bridgeport, CT fireman and carpenter.
I also know what he didn’t do, which is complain…ever. Never, do I ever recall him complaining about anything ever.
From my earliest memory, he always walked with a little wobble, and I just recently learned from my Dad that my grandfather sustained a pretty substantial injury to his back and knee while fighting a major fire. One that rendered him unable to work for over a year, yet never, ever a complaint.
But as admirable as all of Pops hard work was, I most clearly remember how he made me feel. Which is loved.
He was a happy and content man, who loved his family in a way that should really be the gold standard for family-loving. He was subdued, so nothing was over the top…but he always had a smile on his face when my 3 sisters and I would come wrecking through his house. And boy did he love my grandmother, whom he was married to for 70 years…even though she spent most of their marriage trying to get him to stop sneaking sweets that she intended for the grandkids.
I can still hear him saying, “Okay Fran…no problem Fran…” as he popped another WHOLE cookie into his mouth, chewing as he wandered out of the kitchen, prompting giggles from my sisters and cousins.
And he was the king of back rubs and foot massages. All the grandkids would take turns asking he and my grandmother for back scratches, shoulder massages and foot rubs.
But unfortunately, Pops has had a really rough year, filled with the things that happen to your body when you are 90+ years old, and last week he was admitted to the hospital because my aunt was concerned about his lack of appetite and his out of character agitation. On Wednesday, my sister Adriane and I went to visit him and it was clear things weren’t ideal…his kidneys failing, unable to really chew or swallow, not making too much sense when we spoke to him, and difficulty getting up and going to the bathroom on his own – however anytime anyone asked him how he was, he said, “Good…good” or “Great!”
My sister and I told him about his great grandchildren, how they run around and break everything and how they have essentially turned our lives upside down, and he said with a smile, “That’s what kids do.”
On Friday, I stopped by the hospital to say hello and I just happened to arrive in time for his swallow test, where the speech pathologists were assessing what types of substances he could safely consume without the risk of aspiration. My aunt invited me to tag along, and we entered the radiology room where I was asked no less than 3 times if I was sure I wasn’t pregnant, and then put on a lead vest and was asked to stand behind a lead partition. My aunt and I definitely cracked some jokes about how sure we both were that we weren’t pregnant. And then we got down to the business of the test.
It was difficult for Pops, because he was clearly having issues getting anything from his mouth to his stomach, yet anytime the speech pathologist said, “Larry…you doing okay?” He would say, “Yep, I’m good!”
After speaking with the very kind speech pathologist, my aunt and I soon absorbed that he wasn’t doing well enough to consume enough calories to sustain himself. We processed that information the best we could, in conjunction with the rest of our family.
There were tears. And I knew, as I said to my aunt, “There is no way out of this one…as terribly sad as it makes all of us.”
After the test, my aunt, myself and my grandfather returned to his hospital room, and Pops was in and out of sleep. I chatted with my aunt for a little while more, and then I got myself together as best I could and I started rubbing his shoulders and he said, “Oh man, that feels good.”
I looked at my aunt, tears streaming down her face, as she recalled the times he would rub our shoulders as little kids.
I leaned in and kissed him on the top of the head, taking a deep breath in and smelling his so familiar scent and I said to him, “Pops, you are the best guy ever…and we all love you, everyone does…you are just the best…and I love you so much.”
And he said in response, clear as a bell, “I love you more.”
I hugged my aunt and I left the hospital feeling overwhelmed. I felt the love and I prayed he did as well.
Pops went home to 24-hour hospice care, and for the last few days, he has been surrounded by those who love him more than we would ever be able to explain. Ellie and I decided to come home to be with our family in Connecticut this morning. We arrived at my grandparent’s house, my aunt, cousin, grandmother and Mom and Dad were there…and I told Pops how much I loved him and that I promised we would take care of our grandmother for him (which includes taking her on her first trip to Whole Foods and going to get her nails done).
My sister came by with her 3 kids and we spent some great time in his presence, made plans for a large family dinner, and then decided it was time to take the kids home for a nap. My sister Adriane and I went over to Pops and told him we would all be together tonight, but he didn’t need to hold on, and that we knew no matter what he would be there with us. My sister told him it was all okay, and to just get comfortable.
Lawrence Oliver Lemieux passed away at his home on June 3rd, 2014, surrounded by his wife, his daughter and son, his daughter-in-law and his grandson – moments after my sister and I left with our kids.
Pops – I am going to beg to differ with you, the way you made all of us feel is the greatest legacy anyone could ever pass along and I can say with great certainty…We Love You More.