The Will of a Warrior
I have spent many weekends this past year and a half with my Grandfather Joe Brexa in Laguna Woods. I will share a few of my moments with him throughout this blog. On February 15th Joe took his last breaths as I sat at the foot of his bed. My relationship with him has been nothing short of a gift.
"Its ok?" I asked.
"Its ok." they said.
He is ok.
He is on his way out.
"We support him," they said.
"I support him," I said.
I didn’t feel the need to talk to him, I knew my handprints on his chest would be better then any words we could exchange. I let him be. I did laundry, and sun tanned, and looked in the mirror. I scooped cat shit and washed dishes. I barely talked to Jack, I didn’t want to talk to Jody. I feel unusual I thought. Consistently lost and disconnected to my world. This space felt small while my hands shook...they didn't feel like mine, even with all this turquoise and silver adorning the fingers. Nothing was ordinary. Sitting on the couch with Jack and Jody...cheetos and Stella Artois pinched our lips. We pulled the oracle cards, reading excerpts from the 'Mistress of Divinity,' and discussing death. He lays in a layer of cozy blankets, a pink and cream cloud. His mouth gapes open with the bottom denchers loose and his profile looking gaunt. The only sign he was still a living vessel was his snores from the depth of his throat. Oh Grampy I thought. I love him but I cant see him.
I feel him. His corpse a lean shadow revealing a sickened body dependent on drugs. But the light he casts from inside my mind is broader than the sun. I am thankful I have had this year with him. Once a month for a year we traveled through time, acknowledging each other as grandafather and grand-daughter...70 years between our fingerprints. The first thing he said to me as I rushed over to his wheelchair today was “I will get better, I will be back to myself.” I sensed urgency and desperation on the edges of his words. He wanted me to be reassured, he wanted to be his old self for his young kin. I adored this sentiment and also acknowledged that getting better may mean saying goodbye. Jack wrapped a piece of crystal quartz for Grampy, a stunning gem hand wrapped with silver wire, set in the form of a ring to bring him light and healing properties: a symbol of the support and connectivity one man shares with the next...skip a generation and you have guiltless communication.
Grampy was sleeping when we walked out the door. I said goodbye without a kiss or a hand held.
A day spent with Grampy Joe reveals his gratitude for every meal, each ice cube I toss in his lemonade, every transition from bed to chair, chair to bed. That is what I sit with tonight. His kind words and delicate touch beams from those formidable hands. He nibbles my forearm after I bring him a slice of chocolate mousse cake. He shakes his hands in prayer towards the heavens when I show him how to bookmark the NFL page on his laptop. He ALWAYS tells me I need a raise, and I am beginning to believe him.
His snores' softly trace my dreams, a cushion to my subconscious, cradling a stream of thoughts that belong to the pillows. Every few hours I awake to the plastic make shift urinal trembling against the bed rails, I jump up quicker than I thought my dreaming body would allow. I pull the sheets back, slide his underwear off his bone soft thighs and bottom, he takes control and relieves himself in the bottle. I slouch into the sofa barely awake waiting for him to finish.
"Thank you dear...that's good...thank you dear," Joe coos.
His verbal sweetness even in the middle of an uncomfortable night keeps me smiling despite the scent of urine in the air...my younger hermetically sealed self would be in awe of this moment. Grampy Joe right now is less of an old man and more of a developing child, with baby soft cheeks and a laugh that heals. What separates him from a toddler is the brilliant accuracy of his recall, a memory that seems to be buoyant in time, floating above the deterioration of the physical self, preserved like a King. His few age spots and sagging skin he wears like badges of honor, he is as prideful as he is humble.
I tuck him in for the fourth time tonight, the stereo flashes 4:30 am. Damn. I kiss his forehead and cover his toes and he settles back into an Ambien fueled dreamscape...this vet deserves a damn statue of honor.
All night he is alive with sounds: coughs, yawns, deep breaths, muffled conversations, slurred requests. The body breathing, replenishing, recovering, digesting and reflecting on 95 years of life. Breaking down almost a century of experience, loss, love, success, praise, rejection, consumption and the mechanical mind of a profound engineer with a blazing heart of optimism and a will that just wont quit.
The change between us when I saw him a few weeks ago is profound. He has healed his arm, recovered his will power and motivation beneath all the synthetic drugs and come back to the goofy, sweet, grateful Slovak boy who's got football and finances heavy on the mind.
I felt this energy from the moment I saw him this second time and I was hooked. Engaged in his meals, his moments of frustration, silly jokes and vibrant memories. We are back to our journey of navigating the 70 years that splits our lives but right now we have these small moments that make up a grand experience. The connection of humanity that breaks age, boundaries, tradition.
I watch him ebb and flow from clarity to confusion. His eyes light up when he talks about the crystal radio he maneuvered as a child, poised in the attic and enamored by sound. His knees rock when he talks about the praise he received in high school and earning an apprenticeship for his mechanical problem solving skills. He is eternally thankful to his God for the arrival on US territory, Ellis Island to be specific which led to the opportunity for him to educated, to excel in his chosen field or possibly a field that chose him...he was gifted.
So here we are. I change the urinal bottle for Grampy Joe and help him with his underpants, he slips away for a moment and can't find his focus, his hearing aid flickers and dentures click and I aim to honor the vessel of life that lies before me. With my 20/20 vision, acute hearing and passion for writing I can document these moments as they happen in real time. They may be moments that Grampy Joe is willing to forget as he struggles with the suffocation of age on his fragile frame but these moments are powerfully shifting my perception of humanity. I can not disregard the power of the mind, despite the frailty of fingers and dizzy equilibrium the mind can be sustained...fed, nourished, reminded, seen, calmed and challenged. This brain of his has proved its optimal potential and his will power keeps me awake at night, waiting for the urinal to gently knock on the side of his bed.