I have the flu. It’s not the point of this post, but in case what follows is rambling, incoherent and full of elementary typos, I want to at least give myself a little bit of a safety net of allowance.
The truth is I’m not in a good head space right now, and it’s got little to do with the virus. In fact, the flu might be keeping me from slipping into an even darker space right now. As tough as it is, in reality one can only focus on one major upheaval at a time and the flu is currently closer to me.
What I really want to talk about, is my grandfather. He’s dying. There’s no other way to spin it. He was admitted to hospital last week with a complicated pneumonia infection and a dangerously low weight. My sister and my aunt have been keeping me informed and over the past couple days it has been a roller coaster of prognoses, everything from an immediate need to say my good-byes to his expected recovery. I’ve been sleeping with my phone under my pillow, waiting for that call that’s going to come, telling me that my grandfather has passed while I’m on the other side of the world. You tell me which is harder: being there when a loved one passes or not being there, because right now I really don’t know.
My grandfather has survived over a dozen heart attacks, at least five of which should have put him down. He was at 13% of his cardiac function when they put a pacemaker in him. He’s been cut open more times than I like to think about and over the past two years has swatted away at three different cancers. Last year his pacemaker gave him a jolt that sent him down the stairs. He broke two ribs and fractured a vertebrata and still insisted over this last Christmas on moving furniture around for the comfort of guests who were staying, and not for lack of the strong, willing hands of grandchildren either. My grandfather is particular about things. Once he puts his mind to a thing, once he has a plan, he sees it through, come hell or high water.
“We Magases are stubborn,” he often says. I believe him.
Yesterday the topic was broached between the doctors and the rest of the family that it might be time to let Grandpa go. “He is being maintained, but only maintained,” it was explained to me. “He’s in a lot of pain, and it’s selfish of us to keep him going if he doesn’t want to.”
They said they would talk to Grandpa about how he wanted to go. I understand their reasoning, and while I have nothing against end of life care, and think that it should, in this case as in all cases, be an individual’s own right to choose what they do with their body, nonetheless everything in me rebells at this suggestion. Not only because he is my grandfather, my only remaining grandparent, and a bedrock supporter of my perhaps less than responsible decision to live abroad for five years; not only because he’s got a heart full of selfless kindness that had him rooting through the storage room for anything of use he could donate to the Syrian refugees starting over in Canada; but because it goes against everything he’s told me a Magas is: strong, stubborn, tenacious. I don’t want to see him giving up on life like that. This opinion doesn’t come from a spiritual or a religious place in me, but rather a philosophical one: you have an eternity to be dead, but only a few short years to be alive. Maybe my view will change as I get older, but I hope not.
Today I received a message from my aunt. The doctors asked Grandpa what his goals are going forward and he told them that he wants to get better. I have never been more proud of anyone in my family. To face pain and death with a fighting spirit and a will to live–I hope I can show half his courage before the obstacles that lay ahead of me in life.
Things still aren’t certain for my grandfather. He’s stable at the moment and the doctors have tentatively reduced some medications to increase others. The lung cancer is making it difficult for him to clear the pneumonia from his lungs and his pacemaker is struggling to keep his heart ticking. I know this is a thousand times more difficult for Grandpa than it is for the rest of us, but if there’s even the slightest hope that I might see him in person again after my move back next month, I want it to be clung to with all the stubbornness behind our name.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
– Dylan Thomas