A Worn Hole
I wrote this semi-autobiographical story as a follow up to my personal anecdote about my grandfather “Grandpa and Me” in June 2005. Request permission to reprint through the contact page.
I spun the laundry dial to the starting position, yanked the knob, and slammed the lid shut all in one continuous motion. Rapidly exiting the laundry room, I swiftly grabbed the basket I had just dumped and headed up the basement stairs two at a time. I had about a million things to do to get the house in order, and another million to keep up with the baby. The phone rang then, and I sighed in annoyance as taking a phone call was not figured in to my plans.
With my luck it will be a telemarketer, I thought with disdain.
“Hello, Ann. It’s Grandma Mac,” said the raspy voice of an elderly woman. I knew her voice the moment she’d said hello. She was one person who needn’t introduce herself when calling. We’d been talking over the phone regularly since I was a child. Her voice sounded a little more worn and tired than usual.
“Hi grandma,” I responded with warmth, smiling into the receiver. I looked at my watch though to ensure I would not lose track of time. I had a lot to get done before the baby awakes. Being the middle of the day on a weekday, I was curious why she was calling. We always talked on the weekend when it was cheaper.
“Everything okay?” I asked, propping the portable phone between my ear and shoulder as I attempted to load the dishwasher.
“Well, Grandpa is in the hospital, as you know-”
“For his knee surgery,” I supplied quickly.
“Yes, and there were complications. He’s in ICU at a hospital in London. His legs–”
“It’s Intensive Care.”
“That’s serious?” I wasn’t quite sure because no one had ever been there before, but it didn’t sound good.
“Well, I think he’s going to be okay. He is over eighty you know, but he’s in good health. I just thought you’d want to know,” she stated formally, then continued. “I called your dad, your brother, and you sister already.”
“Thanks for calling Grandma. I’ll be thinking about Grandpa.”
“Okay dear.” The baby began to cry, awakening from his morning nap. I sighed again, as I knew that meant I wouldn’t be getting anything else done.
“Sorry Grandma, but I have go. The baby’s crying,” I said apologetically.
“Okay. Love you dear.”
“Love you too, grandma.”
“Oh, I forgot to tell you, they think it has to do with his legs. He froze them, you know, when he was a young man. He went out West to work as a harvester – times were tough then, you know – and on the way back it turned cold and his legs froze.”
“Wow, I didn’t know that,” I said in surprise.
“The doctor at the time wanted to amputate, but his parents wouldn’t allow it. Apparently, his circulation is not very good, and he had a blood clot in his leg.”
“That doesn’t sound good,” I said skeptically. The baby’s cry deepened and my maternal instincts kicked in. “I really have to go now. Devin’s crying.” I was on my way to his room and she could hear him now.
“Oh, my. You sure have your hands full.”
“Give him a hug and a kiss from Great Grandma.”
“Okay, I will.”
“Okay. Bye now.”
“Bye,” I said. I heard one more, “I love you,” as I pressed the off button of my portable phone and reached into the crib to pick up Michael. His solid one year old frame was standing there waiting for me.
Once relaxed in the living room, with Michael playing on the floor, my thoughts turned to my Grandpa. He was one of the biggest and strongest men I knew. His six foot frame towered above my own. I remembered his service picture – his broad soldiers and solid physique. He still went moose hunting with my dad every year.
But could this be more serious than I think? What if she’s making it sound better than it really is?
I called my dad that night and he told me that he was going to drive the twelve hours to the hospital. He had called the ICU and whatever they said convinced him he should go. If I wanted to, I could go with him. I had to bring Michael if I was to go since Charles was working. Charles agreed I should go.
I walked through the solid, metal door with reservation. The twists and turns in the corridors felt like a maze and the lack of windows made me feel like I was in a dungeon. I followed the nurse through a ward of beds, each area like a little cell enclosing the patient with a white curtain. The whiteness of the room ominously like a portal to the other side. I shook off these feelings as I approached his bed. His large frame was unnaturally sunken into the bed. My dad had gone in first, and he had tried to prepare me for his state; however, I was still shaken by his weakened appearance. He was awake and happy to see me. I leaned over him and he reached one shaking arm around my shoulder to return my hug.
Every time we came to visit in the summer, he’d give me a massive bear hug when we arrived. Then he’d tease me about getting taller or putting on weight. I hated that.
Today there wasn’t any teasing. My heart felt like it was moving up into my throat as I looked at the air tubes in his nose and IV in his hand that was bleeding. He hadn’t had a shave in several days, since before the surgery. Austin made a babbling noise, making me conscious of his presence. I lifted him from the stroller and propped him on the rail for my Grandpa to see. He hadn’t seen him since just after he was born. With some effort, he talked to Michael and tried to get a response. MIchaeel stared at him wide eyed and then began to fuss. He’d been in a car seat for twelve hours and wasn’t in a very amiable mood. Grandpa chuckled at his fussiness. He grabbed his bare foot and shook it a little as he laughed. Michael stopped whimpering for a moment staring at his great grandpa and then began again with more force. Children were not allowed in the ICU, so I tried to leave the room quickly, but my dad took the baby and told me to stay. I spent a few more minutes with him, until the nurse said he needed rest. I hugged and kissed him again and walked out of the unit.
During that last hug, I noticed he still smelled the same, even though he’d been in the hospital for several days. I try to recall his scent. At times, for a fleeting moment, I think I smell him. Then it fades. If I could keep anything of my grandfather’s, it would be his scent.
On the two hour drive to my grandmother’s, the truck was quiet, except for the noise of the radio.
“Dad, he’s not very good is he?”
“No, I don’t think he is.”
“I don’t think grandma realizes he’s in such bad shape.”
“I think you’re right,” he stated firmly, taking a long inhale of his Rothman’s and flicking the ashes out the triangular window of the pickup truck. “She hasn’t been to see him yet. This is going to be a shock for her.”
Michael was quiet, and my dad and I fell silent, lost in our own thoughts. No one had ever died that I really cared about. I’d been to a funeral once as a child, but I was mostly curious about the body and the physical show of emotions of the people there. I was an onlooker, not a participant. Right now I didn’t seem to feel anything. Was I going to miss him? What impact was this going to have on my life? I only saw him once a year now, and we never really did much together. Mostly, we just existed in the same space when we were together. I knew I’d have my memories. Suddenly, I felt badly for my indifference. He was my grandpa. I should be sad. But it’s natural to die. I should still be sad. You’ll have your memories. How selfish to think of my memories when my grandmother would be losing the most important person in her life.
When I was a child visiting my grandparents, I loved to watch his fish. He had a 30 gallon wall aquarium and a corner waterfall aquarium. The wall aquarium had a few goldfish, an angel fish and some others. I loved to try and catch them. One time, I had caught a fish in my hand and it fell on the floor. I was in a panic trying to pick up the flopping, slippery mass. I got it back into the tank before he came down the stairs and returned to my chair to watch my cartoon. He walked over to his fish tank, and turned to me with a scowl on his face.
“Did you touch the fish?” he demanded abruptly, in his loud, deep voice.
“No,” I said, trying to look as innocent as possible.
“Someone’s had their hand in the tank,” he snapped. “The fish will die if you put your hands in the tank.”
I just looked at him wanting to melt into the floor, wishing I had resisted my impulse. I didn’t want to kill anything.
“Wilbert,” my grandma called down the stairs, “leave her alone.” He stomped away muttering under his breath as he got what he needed to fix the arrangement of plants that had been mangled.
There was no feistiness in him now. Even though I never wanted to see him angry, I was depressed thinking about his present state of weakness.
“My brother, who lived a few hours from the hospital, met my dad the following day. I agreed to stay with my grandma that day, so Michael would have a break from the car seat. I would be able to go back the day after. When my dad returned from the hospital, he was in good spirits. Grandpa had a very good day, and everyone was optimistic now about his recovery. I felt so relieved. He was going to be okay after all.
The next day my dad wanted to rest, so my aunt said she would take me and my grandmother to see him. I had to bring Devin, of course, because there was no one else to look after him. All the way there, my aunt argued with my grandmother. Criticizing what she said. Retorting whenever possible. It was quite grating on my nerves. It also made me angry, because I thought it was no way to talk to her mother, but she had always been sharp like this, so it was nothing new. Still, I arrived at the hospital in good spirits expecting to find him somewhat recovered.
I was not prepared for the scene that met me. My aunt took the lead, and I followed my grandmother with the baby. She hadn’t seen him in a week, and I thought she had the greatest right to see him first. My aunt moved in to the closest space and occupied it the entire time they were there. More disturbingly, my grandfather was not coherent. He was sweating profusely, his bed wet from perspiration. At times he moved abruptly, tearing at his IV, and complaining of his discomfort. He didn’t seem to know where he was or why. For a moment, he didn’t even know my grandmother.
Michael began to fuss, so I walked out of the unit to wait my turn. I let Michael walk around awkwardly in the waiting room to get some activity. Distracted by the disturbing image of his present state, I was frustrated in amusing the baby. Suddenly, they emerged through the exit.
“Let’s go,” my aunt ordered.
“I want to see him.”
“You can’t,” she stated coldly. “The nurse says he can’t have any more visitors. He’s got to rest.”
I felt trapped. I couldn’t think of anything else to say. The nurse wouldn’t allow anyone else to visit, and we had to drive back to Kincardine. I imagined myself tearing into the room and past the nurses, but what would I do with the baby? I couldn’t go in with the baby, and my aunt clearly wouldn’t watch him for me now that she decided we were leaving. My grandmother would if I asked her, but I knew it was too much for her under the circumstances. With an empty feeling in my gut, I walked out behind them wanting to scream and cry in protest. Instead, I remained silent, willing them into silence as well without success.
The return trip was even worse. My grandmother couldn’t stop talking about how he looked and what it all meant. I wanted her to stop. Each comment dug a deeper wound. He’s going to die. He’s going to die. He’s going to die. Echoed over and over again in my head. With each biting statement hurled back at my grandmother by my aunt, hate began to grow and fester in the wound. I hate her. I fucking hate her. These thoughts shoved into each other and jumbled together chaotically as I sat in silence.
At around four in the morning the phone rang at my other grandma’s house where I had been staying with the baby. She came in my room and told me he went into cardiac arrest at 3:45 am and his time of death was 3:56 am. My well of feelings overflowed and I burst into despairing sobs.
“I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. I hate her. It’s all because of her that I didn’t get to say goodbye.” My grandma held me in her arms and rubbed my back with one hand as she held my head with the other. I was crying so hard, I was choking on my own tears and gasping for air.
“Let it out. It’s okay. Let it out,” she kept repeating softly.
“I didn’t get to say goodbye,” I finally spoke calmly, still shuddering between breaths. “She didn’t let me go in, and I didn’t get to say goodbye,” I began sobbing again with my last declaration.
After the first visitation, I walked to the beach with the stroller and let Michael out to toddle in the sand. Michael stumbled along, exploring as he went. He picked up a rock and cooed as he showed it to me with a smile. Charles, who had driven south for the funeral, walked on ahead with him. I used to pick stone at the beach with my grandpa when I was a child. We’d walk along together, scanning the ground, looking for the perfect rock. Once, he found one with a hole in it. The waves has worn a weak spot in the rock until there was a hole right through it. I have that rock packed away with my special things.
I began searching the ground for a rock. I didn’t have any particular size, shape or colour in mind. When I saw the right one, I would know. After several minutes of searching my eyes rested on it. It was the one. I slipped it in my pocket.
Alone, silent, in the funeral home after the second visitation, I approached the casket. He looked like he could open his eyes at any moment. I had to touch him and know he was really gone. I touched his cheek with my fingers and recoiled at the cold, hardness of his skin. He was gone. He was really gone. And I would miss him. I already did. I had a hole in my heart, worn away by the loss of my grandpa. I reached into my pocket for the rock, then I slipped it into the left breast pocket of his suit. With some comfort, I walked away.