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  • I think my grandfather recognized me for the first time in two years on Sunday. He called me Skunk, which was one of his nicknames for me before he lost his mind to dementia.

    He was lying in a hospital bed, recovering from hip surgery. He fell and broke his hip because he forgot he needed to use a walker to get around these days. He will not be coming back home- from the hospital, he will go straight to an assisted living facility. That fact is torturing my grandmother, his loyal partner of fifty some odd years. Even though he called me Skunk, he had no idea what was going on around him or why he was in the hospital. Throughout our short visit, he irritably tried to pull the oxygen tube out of his nose.

    My grandfather is no angel. Rather than calling him “grandpa” or “granddad” growing up, I called him “Grumps”. He used to use the n-word gratuitously around me, sometimes just to upset me. On occasion, he was undoubtedly an abusive husband, father, and boss. He was a heavy drinker, experiencing temporary blindness on multiple occasions from drinking bad moonshine.

    Still, it is heartbreaking to witness his decline into the depths of dementia, and more recently, his physical decline. In the span of a lifetime, he went from being a semi-literate kid living in a shack in Kentucky, whose parents abandoned him, to being a hard-working, wealthy, and respected man. He could be brutally mean, racist, and homophobic, but as a member of his family, I was also privy to his displays of tenderness and compassion. They were equally as stunning.

    It is tearing me and my dad up to watch my grandfather’s time on this earth come to a close in such an ugly, hard way. But as main character Hushpuppy eloquently says in the recent film Beasts of the Southern Wild, “Everyone loses the thing that made them. The brave men stay and watch it happen. They don’t run.”

    I can’t think of a sentiment that Grumps would agree with more.
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