97: The Promise

97: The Promise

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers

The Promise

I believe in prayer. It’s the best way we have to draw strength from heaven.

~Josephine Baker

The dreaded council had gathered. While gazing out the restaurant window, I nervously clanked the ice cubes in my tea with a spoon. We all knew why the family had assembled. It was about Grandpa.

My uncle looked at each of us with moist eyes. “We have some important and difficult decisions to make here today.”

His words drifted away, as if someone were speaking to me in a dream. Certain key words were like the sharp prick of a needle: liver disease, diabetes, complications from exposure to ammonia… terminally ill. Then another: options.

Like a game of Russian roulette, we looked at each other to see who would say it. What were the alternatives?

Just a few years before, during my college days, I had worked in care homes and actively lobbied for residential rights for seniors and the disabled. Nobody at the table knew better than I how well or how poorly these facilities operated. Naturally, the high-priced ones were excellent, but what was affordable was generally inadequate. At any rate, my grandfather, who had more wisdom and integrity than anyone I had ever known, and was still blessed with a sound mind, deserved better than to be taken from his home of 50-odd years and relocated to an unfamiliar environment surrounded by people who couldn’t even begin to appreciate him—the real him.

“We can hire a private nurse, but they’re hard to come by in our little town, and I don’t know how long we can afford to employ one,” my uncle remarked.

An uncomfortable silence ensued.

“I’ll do it. I’ll take care of him!” I blurted out before thinking it through.

“I appreciate the offer, dear,” said Dad, “but the job will be a lot harder than you realize.”

In spite of the warnings, I insisted on being Grandpa’s care-giver. Within a few days, I abandoned my job, live-in boyfriend, and hometown to move into Grandpa’s vintage home.

The job wasn’t easy, and there were times I was tempted to seek comfort through the various means that had failed me in the past—drinking or running away. But I resisted and stayed strong, knowing what Grandpa meant to me. And, secretly, I believed I could redeem myself for the denial phase I had endured when my mother had passed away a few years earlier.

The time passed more easily with Grandpa’s hypnotic storytelling.

“He wasn’t much of an outlaw in my opinion,” Grandpa bluntly stated as he mulled over one of our family’s ancestral stories. He shared what he knew about his great-great-uncle, Charles “Black Bart” Boles, the infamous Wells Fargo stagecoach bandit active in the late 19th century. Grandpa described him as a gentle soul with a passion for poetry, rather than the ferocious fugitive of his reputation.

With a droll sense of humor, he recounted his montage of memories, ranging from the hardship of being raised in a shack during the Great Depression to his success as an inventor.

But what my young, romantic heart loved most were stories of his honeymoon days, when he lived in a tent in the woods with his new bride.

“Bunny would cook breakfast on the campfire every morning before me and my brother Lee would set off to work on that lodge,” he recounted.

As a special treat, I drove Grandpa up to Strawberry Lodge where he relished the old days and ran his hand over the fine masonry work that would be his legacy.

“This is my girlfriend,” he teased, introducing me to his new friends at the lodge.

That trip to the lodge would be the last of many we had taken together.

Grandpa always made me laugh and lifted my spirits when I was down, but he soon needed cheering up himself. Once home, I attempted to reinstate a sense of importance. I asked Grandpa to show me how his ham radio and some of his inventions worked.

Even with faint sadness in his eyes, realizing he was no longer capable of doing what he once did, he beamed with pride as he shared his past. The combined smells of oil, rust, and machinery from his workshop are a fond memory, forever engraved in my mind.

As time passed, his condition worsened. My duties became physically and mentally challenging beyond my expectations. My face felt strangely contorted as I forced a smile, fighting back tears, struggling to lift him into his La-Z-Boy. Once, when he fell and hurt his hip, I couldn’t forgive myself.

“Just put me in a home,” he insisted.

“Grandpa, you taught me to never give up. I won’t! I promise!”

I turned to prayer about 5,000 times a day for sanity and support.

“Let’s go out for breakfast,” he suggested each morning.

It was one of his favorite things to do.

But every time, with a lump in my throat, eyes stinging from suppressed tears, I had to gently decline and explain to him that he couldn’t walk anymore, something he often forgot with maturing dementia.

Once I had him resting comfortably in his chair, consuming a bland, low-sodium, sugarless breakfast, I retreated to the bathroom to quietly detonate.

Nights were easier. Though Grandpa had always been more scientific than religious, he grew comforted by scripture and even took to prayer.

“Dear God, my granddaughter is going to say a little prayer now, so please listen to her,” he sincerely implored.

Despite all the misfortunes, Grandpa always retained his marvelous sense of humor. There was a sweetness in him that made me laugh and cry.

“Ah, I peed all over myself,” he joked after spilling peas during dinner one night.

Grandpa, who had always been my pillar of strength, was a brilliant and pragmatic man. To see him grow frightened of the inevitable was equally frightening for me, but I realized that what he needed now was my strength.

“Promise me you won’t leave me alone,” he asked one night.

“I promise,” I assured him, squeezing his baby-soft hand.

His time was near, and the family, who had been remarkably supportive for all these months, had already said their goodbyes. As I sat in a cold, metal, fold-up chair beside his bed, I prayed I would wake should anything happen.

Soon after nodding off, I felt a light tap on my shoulder. I looked wildly around, but nobody was there. I was still holding Grandpa’s hand when he took his last breath. A tremendous, unexplainable feeling of peace fluttered through me. He was at peace, too.

With a deep sigh, I looked at the clock. It was 12:01, the exact time that my mother had passed five years earlier.

“Perhaps she was the angel who woke me,” I mused.

With a deep breath, I realized that my work with Grandpa was done. He left with comfort and dignity, and I, though broken down, had grown, healed, and learned to appreciate life. The invaluable time I spent with this dear man had made me stronger. It embroidered a path of focus, strength and encouragement, instilling the promising belief that anything I dreamed to do… was possible.

~Mitzi L. Boles

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