Every single funeral or wake I’ve attended someone says, “They look just like they’re sleeping.” Every time I hear this, I think, “Um... no they don’t. They definitely look dead” I get that it’s supposed to be a comforting thing to say but most times I find it to be untrue.
When it was time to view my grandfather’s recently deceased body at the VA in Little Rock, AR, my Uncle Jerome refused to go. He was the closest to my grandpa in life and simply couldn’t bare it. They had a symbiotic relationship. My grandpa relied on him to maintain the house, drive him to his doctors appointments and care for him when he just didn’t feel like caring for himself. My uncle relied on my grandpa’s company and his income, as his disability kept him out of the workforce. The stress of grief and worry over what would now become of his life visibly wrought my uncle’s face as we left him sitting on a bench in the hallway outside ICU.
We had missed my grandfather’s last breath by a mere 20 minutes. His body was still warm to the touch. Despite my disagreement with the cliche, he really did appear to be simply sleeping. He was freshly washed and groomed by the nurses and looked quite dapper lying in the hospital bed. They had shaved his mustache away but it didn’t look odd. He still looked very much like himself.
There was a calmness about his face. He looked at peace. It may have been a delusion but I swear I saw a faint smile on his lips. He looked amazing.
This awe at how well he looked soon gave way to grief. I walked to a corner of the room, turning my back to his body and cried. My mind didn’t want to accept what I was seeing. A nurse came in, passing around kleenex. I took some from her hands and again found my way back to my father’s side. His once stoic face finally gave way to tears.
My Uncle Robert clasped my grandpa’s shoulder and shook him forcefully. I can’t recall what he was saying but it seemed to be an attempt to wake my grandfather. The hospital’s chaplain soon came in and prayed with the family. It was an awkward prayer but we took what we could get.
The chaplain advised us on where to make arrangements for the body to be picked up and other administrative tasks, then shuffled out of the room leaving us with to grieve. The nurse with the tissues remained in the room with us. She commented repeatedly on how much we looked like my grandfather. She told us how hard they had tried to save him. Then she began to cry.
I was mildly alarmed by this stranger’s tears but appreciated her empathy. She even looked shocked at her own tears. I can only imagine the toll it takes on one’s spirit to work in the ICU, watching people die daily and routinely witnessing a family’s heartbreak. She walked around the room, holding anyone who would accept her embrace. I gratefully accepted.
After the administrative business was taken care of, we left Little Rock for my grandfather’s house. Once we got there, it was time to figure out who was sleeping where. My Uncle Robert went home to his wife and daughter. My aunt and her husband were sleeping in my grandmother’s old room. My Uncle Jerome had his room on the second floor and my other two uncles occupied the double beds my father and I generally sleep in on visits. Where were me and my dad going to sleep?
“I can change the linen on Diddy’s bed and you can sleep in there,” my aunt said to me. “Diddy” is what my aunts call my grandfather (long before Puffy changed his name) and there was no way in hell I was sleeping in his bed that night! No, sir! No, ma’am! Not me! I politely shook my head and made the “No, ma’am” face.
My dad spoke up, “You’ll sleep on the couch and I’ll sleep on the lay-z-boy in the den.” Now, THAT I could do! He could have abandoned me to sleep on the couch and went upstairs to sleep with one of his brothers but he knew I was too scary to sleep anywhere by myself. This was perfect. Just as long as I didn’t have to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom... I’d rather pee on myself than walk down that hallway at night by myself.
Pillows and blankets were gathered and we settled in to attempt rest. As I pulled the blanket over my feet, I felt a sharp pain. If I know nothing else, I know this for a fact: a blanket shouldn’t hurt you. Now, not only was I sad about my grandpa’s passing, I was worried about my health. My eyes widened as I thought, “What the HELL is wrong with my toe?”