Swings, Hayley Lewis
The trips to the hospital had become routine. His family constantly surrounded the man lying in the bed four floors overhead. And it was a large family at that; he and his wife had produced five lovely children who had blessed him with thirteen grandchildren, and one great-grandson to date. His favourite nurse had once told him that she judged a man by his family, therefore he was one of the most beautiful men she had ever met.
The family visited in shifts, and even still broke the “two visitors per patient” rule by at least two or three every time. The ones waiting for a turn to show their love occupied the Tim Horton’s on the first floor. That is where I sat waiting. Grandchild number ten, along with two of my sisters, two or three aunts and uncles and a handful of cousins. I sipped my chocolate milk and swiped a few crumbs from the tabletop. I listened to the small talk around me and glanced at the door once more, this time watching as my mother crossed the threshold. It was finally our turn.
My sisters and I were led to the elevator, up to the fifth floor and down the halls I already knew by heart. When we entered the room he was sitting up a little and smiling. It was a good day. Good days were somehow the hardest days for me. On the good days the man in the bed cracked jokes, and made witty comments without even trying. On the good days he made me laugh and smile the same way he had for as much as I could remember of my eighteen years of life. The good days reminded me that the man in this bed, despite all physical evidence to the contrary, was still the man I had always known and loved.
The room filled with conversation no one would remember. It was not their content that mattered anyway, it was the amount of smiles they brought to his face, the way they prompted his trademark sense of humour.
After twenty minutes that felt like five, we each took turns kissing him goodbye, each one of us promising to come back later. When it was my turn I looked down into his smiling face and smiled in return. I liked the way he smiled without his dentures. I leaned in to kiss him; his face was soft to the touch and I lingered a little longer than necessary, attempting to transfer a little extra love through osmosis.
“I love you Poppa,” I whispered.
As I pulled away he grabbed my hand and, despite his weakened state, gripped it with a firmness that made me turn back and look into his eyes. He held onto my hand and looked directly into my eyes.
“I love you, too,” he said.
I smiled and he let go of my hand. As I left the room I knew I had never heard anyone more sure of something in my entire life.
The man in the hospital bed was my grandfather, affectionately known as Poppa. Poppa passed away a little over one month after that on July 26, 2009. He was only seventy-six years old.
For every day that he was in the hospital, my Granny was at his side. Each one of his children and grandchildren came to the hospital virtually every single day. Because he knew his time was limited, my Poppa never hesitated in counting his blessings. He would say “I love you” to everyone around him including my grandmother, to whom he would whisper “You’re the love of my life, you know that right?” and make us all smile. Even lying in a hospital bed all day, every day Poppa was still full of life. He continued to crack jokes, make us all smile, and compliment our clothes or our hair.
When someone you love is sick you begin to think about all the things they have done with their life, and everything they have brought into your own. When I think of my Poppa I think of laughter. Poppa could always make me laugh. He was a man full of life. A man who truly appreciated everything and everyone in his life.
We have always had a close-knit family. When the very heart of our family was sick and we all knew that his time was limited, no one hesitated to take whatever free time they had in a day and spend it at the hospital. When he passed away it rained for a full week. It was as though the whole world was mourning with us.
It was at his memorial service that I learned death isn’t all about being sad. When you lose someone you love you respond with sadness, and usually an abundance of tears. But at the memorial service for my grandfather the funeral parlour wasn’t filled with people crying and openly mourning, it was filled with over one hundred people who were there to celebrate the life he lived. The love that he inspired is overwhelming. Friends and neighbours, past and present, showed up that night to pay their respects. My grandmother received many comments that the atmosphere at the memorial was one brimming with more love and celebration than sadness. We all agreed that that’s the way it should be.
Poppa is the only grandfather I have ever known and he is the only person I have ever lost in my lifetime. He has provided me with memories and words of wisdom that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. No matter how upsetting his death may be, he has taught me so much. The passing of my Poppa taught me that death doesn’t always have to be a tragedy. Because of the extraordinary man that Poppa was I have learned to associate death not only with sadness, but also with life and love.