do do do... do do... do do do do (think default iPhone ring)
Oh no, it’s dad, is what I thought. Normally I’m not avoidant when my dad calls, but today was different. Different because I knew what he was going to say.
ME: "Hey, Dad."
DAD: "Hey, Son. I’m here at the hospital. I took Tay here. The doctor says he has pneumonia."
ME: "Paulina and I will head over there now" is what I said out loud. "FUCK" is what I was thinking in my head.
An interesting thing happens when a family member experiences a traumatic event. Sometimes it hurts more for the people on the outside looking in. Maybe it's a lack of control. As family, you want to do everything you can to save them, but in reality you can't do much. When I was going through chemotherapy, there were times when Paulina was hurting more than I was. In this most recent case of Tay, I was a train wreck.
My grandfather, Tay, is 96 years old. He is the king, the big baller, the shot caller of the family. He’s also the man that raised me into the man I am today. It’s fitting that Tay in Tagalog means father, as he is more of a father to me than my actual father.
So when I got the call that he was hospitalized with pneumonia in his lungs, my heart immediately fell to the floor. Pneumonia for the elderly is lethal; capable of taking lives in a matter of days.
When Paulina and I got to the hospital, Tay's coughs thundered through the halls. We didn't have to look for his room number. We just followed the roar of his cough.
His cough was so violent, he was unable to lay down; it shook the room. His face red, lungs exhausted, and his entire body shriveled up. When we thought he couldn’t possibly cough anymore, his body vehemently disagreed.
In between coughing attacks, Tay stared catatonically into the short distance of the cramped room. He looked terrified. In 32 years, I've never seen Tay scared. He was silent, but his face said everything both he and I were thinking: Is this it?
Tay's condition wasn’t improving. The doctor wanted him to stay overnight. Tay grew more fearful. The room was so small it could only accommodate one other person. I stayed. I didn't want him to spend the night alone.
The only thing people want as they grow old is companionship. They've lived enough life to know that relationships are the most important thing. Since Nay, my grandmother, passed away a couple of years ago, Tay has been missing that companionship. Days after she passed away, I remember Tay asking, "When will I die?". He didn't say it in an I don't want to die way but in an I'm ready to die way.
Spending the day at the hospital gave me tunnel vision. Everything outside of my family became a blur. People around me were buzzing off to work and, for a short time, I had no concept of work. I felt like I was floating as I drove to pick up my mom to bring her to see Tay. It didn't feel real, but, at the same time, it was all too real.
Tay’s condition improved slightly after a second night's stay. At this point the doctor said to wait a couple of days to see if the truckload of reconfigured medication would do it’s magic. Weeks later, he's back to his fist-bumping, jokester ways. He's kicked pneumonia's ass.
Even though Tay got through it, it’s bittersweet. His nurse would later tell me that she didn’t think he’d make it. It was difficult to hear, but that's reality. The universe doesn't give a shit about anyone. Pain is a part of life and the fact that he will pass away is starting to set in for him and for me.
The only certainty in life is that it will end. Tay will die, I will die, and you will die. This truth has led me to accept death. Before, I thought I accepted death, but when I questioned my own mortality, I got scared; I didn't want to die.
You only really accept death when you stop fearing it; when you know you will die and you are OK with it.
I have accepted that Tay doesn't have much time left. This ticking time bomb has helped me re-focus on why relationships are the most important thing in life. When people are on their death bed, they aren't surrounded by cash, house keys, or their work. They're surrounded by their loved ones. That's all the empirical evidence I need to know that relationships are the most important thing there is
Tay doesn't want to see the world or go on adventures. He's done all of that in his 96 years. He just wants to be close to the people he cares about. I've chosen to spend the next couple of years in Seattle and be with Tay. After taking care of me for 18 years, it's my turn to take care of him.
There will be pain, but there will not be suffering.
There will be death, but there will also be dignity.