For the past month, my family and I have been mourning the loss of my maternal grandfather. He passed away exactly one month ago today after being on hospice care in my parents’ home for three long, difficult weeks. He lived a full life…but watching him slowly slip away was excruciating. My Pawpaw, as I called him, was my last grandparent. I had survived the deaths of three other grandparents, but none of those experiences prepared me for this. When I jumped on a plan to Denver on July 23rd I had NO IDEA what to expect and there was no way for me to prepare for what we walked through.
My Pawpaw was strong, he was proud, he was a man who had made a living and a name for himself within the community. The small, frail man I saw laying in the hospital bed when I arrived was not the Pawpaw I grew up knowing. Over the two weeks I spent supporting my mom and helping care for him were possibly the hardest two weeks of my life. Constantly checking on him, giving him pain meds, changing him, bathing him, feeding him (when he was still eating), and worrying. That was the hardest part—worrying that I’d wake up and he’d be gone or that I’d leave to run an errand and come back to find out he had passed.
I learned a lot about end-of-life care through this experience. I learned that I need to be prepared and know my loved ones’ wishes. AND I need to make sure they know mine. I need to research hospice providers and read reviews and know who I want caring for me or my loved ones if that time comes. I learned to cherish the time I am given—the little moments carry a lot of weight when standing in the reality they will soon been gone.
I spent a lot of time talking to my Pawpaw, praying over him, reading to him, and singing to him. I wanted his last days to be as peaceful as possible, even if he didn’t have a full awareness of who I was or what was going on. Those are moments I will treasure the rest of my life, and moments he and I will surely reminisce about when I see him again in heaven.
As I’ve been reflecting over this season and the things I’ve learned, the Lord has brought a few things to my attention that I’d like to share:
This was not a surprise to God. He knew my Pawpaw’s life would conclude this way, he knew I would be involved, and he knew we would face the challenges we faced—He allowed all of it to happen for a reason.
Right before leaving for Denver, I finished a book called The Red Sea Rules by Robert J. Morgan. It is an excellent book and I highly recommend it. I used it as a devotional and it deeply enriched my quiet time with the Lord. In the book, based on Exodus 14, Morgan says when we find ourselves in a trial instead of asking God to deliver us (like Israel did when they faced the Red Sea) we need to ask Him how He can get glory out of our situation. I realized that with each day that passed I kept asking God “how long Lord…how much longer does Pawpaw have to suffer?” There were many nights in my prayers when I begged the Lord to stop his pain and take him home. Then I realized there had to be something in this that could bring God glory—and I started focusing on that instead.
Know who you can lean on—and lean on them! There were a few friends who texted me almost every day I was in Denver. They checked on me, got updates, prayed, and let me vent and cry and complain. And they on loved me every step of the way. When I was scared, they listened and encouraged me. They shared their own experiences so I knew I was not alone. One of them walked through this exact same situation with her grandfather and the other had experienced this with her mom. They were both such a huge blessing. Their love and care also taught me that I need to be this kind of support for my friends and loved ones who may walk through something like this in the future. They helped me get through this.
Ask questions, do research, and insist that the people you hire to help support your family in this time of need do what they say they will do. We had a very challenging hospice experience and I think it was partly because none of us knew what to expect or what questions to ask. The company we chose was one of two covered by my Pawpaw’s insurance, so we had little choice. They promised the sky when we hired them, but they DID NOT deliver. One word of suggestion or advice would be to consider a residential hospice setting. I’m actually considering writing this request into my own will. It was so draining caring for him by ourselves in our home. It would have been a much different experience to have medical staff supporting us at all times.
Remember the good. My Pawpaw was a unique and complicated man. I uncovered much more of his past than I wanted to as I prepared for his Eulogy. I found myself focusing on all the mistakes he had made and the hurt he had caused even though that had not been my experience with him at all. It made the grieving process really complicated at first. But then I thought back over some of my mistakes and things I’ve done that have hurt people and I realized I am not my mistakes—and neither was my Pawpaw. He was human, he was flawed, and he made a lot of mistakes over his 91-year life. But he was a great Pawpaw. I have only fond memories of him and those are the memories that I’m choosing to hold on to.
Grief looks different for everyone. I’m an emotional person, but I made it through the entire day of my Pawpaw’s funeral and didn’t cry once. And then later that evening, when I was by myself and let myself sit still and actually feel what I had experienced that day…I lost it. I had two uncles, my Pawpaw’s sons, who didn’t attend the funeral at all because they don’t like being around death. I had other family members who cried the whole day. It’s a month later and I still have days where I just feel sad but for no particular reason—then I realize it’s the grief.
The Five Stages of Grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. But I’m realizing these stages are not necessarily a linear progression. I have gone back and forth between them and I have not experienced anger at all. I’ve accepted he’s gone, but still have days when I forget and have to settle into that reality all over again. I remember having moments thinking “what is wrong with me?” because I had not expected this loss to hit me as hard as it did. But however you experience grief know that it’s okay (as long as you’re not a threat to yourself or others). Give yourself grace.
The Lord has been so faithful and has covered me and my family with so much love and mercy in this season. I still have tough moments and sad days, but I rest in the assurance that my Pawpaw has no more pain, no more confusion, no more limitations in his body. He’s FREE… and walking through the streets of heaven taking pictures* 😉
Until we meet again…rest in peace Pawpaw.
*My Pawpaw, Walter John Wedgeworth Sr. was a prominent and sought after photographer within the African American community in Denver for over 30 years.
Posted Tuesday, September 10, 2019 at 11:01pm