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  • I’m flying home tonight to see my grandfather, who is dying.

    Not dying in the way we’re all dying, slowly, with each sweep of the clock’s hand. I mean, actually dying: hospice care, drips of morphine, “making him more comfortable”, calls from home from my mother who is going through his things and found a card I wrote him when I was young that said I loved him with all of my little heart.

    Don’t worry, she says. Dad’s had time to prepare himself.

    It’s just part of life, she says.

    We’ll call you if anything else happens, she says.

    Now my phone is a ticking bomb. Short buzz is good—new email, new text message, Facebook notification, Farmville invitation. Long buzz is bad, especially if “Mom” flashes across the screen.

    I keep my phone on the other side of the room. I’m no good with grief.

    *

    I’ve made it twenty-one years without losing someone close to me.

    Sheer luck. A miracle, even.

    When I think of my first experiences with death, I think about losing my dog who died in my teenage years, his joints stiff with arthritis, his liver damaged, unable to make it outside to use the bathroom although he tried so hard not to mess up the carpet. My dog was a cantankerous little terrier who ate everything—bowls of dog chow, table scraps, toilet paper, half a rubber doorstop. As his health worsened, he finally graduated into the world of fine dining he’d always wanted as he sat on his haunches near our dinner table. My mother cooked him scrambled eggs for breakfast and scraps of boiled chicken for dinner, vet’s orders.

    His golden years were short. Soon he stopped walking and eating, and one night, my mother brought him to the vet and returned home empty-handed.

    Whenever I think about death, I think about the way my mother came home from the vet, gathered up all of our dog’s things—his water bowl, his chew toy, his green sleeping mat we moved to the family room after he couldn’t climb the stairs anymore—into a big white garbage bag, and threw them out.

    It made her too sad to look at them.

    *

    It feels silly to bring up a dog, when I’m talking about my grandfather.

    My grandfather, who is elderly and sick now, but who I still remember as robust and healthy. He used to lift weights into his eighties. When I think about hugging him, I think about the crushing stiffness of his chest, his hugs that always hurt a bit.

    My grandpa is a funny man, even when he’s not trying to be.

    He fought in Korea, and describes his service overseas as a fun time. He tells me about his brief stint in community college, where he loaded up on units in order to gain benefits from the GI Bill, and relied on the help of pretty girls who helped him cheat on his tests. (“I probably shouldn’t have done that,” he says now, with a wry smile that makes me doubt his regret.) He’s been nocturnal for most of his life, a habit acquired through his work in the jail as a police officer, and even now, long retired, he still likes to stay up until the early morning, watching Mo’Nique or Wendy Williams, and sleep until noon. Not the marrying type, my grandfather has always been a ladies’ man. Too charming to be creepy, too vain to realize that women are not always flirting with him.

    This is how I’ll remember him. Not sick and feeble, but grinning, as he walked out of the bank, holding hands with the pretty young teller.

    *

    It feels selfish to grieve and selfish not to.

    Out of all the tragedies that have happened today—murder, genocide, starvation—I feel like I don’t have a right to wrap up in my sadness. My grandpa has lived a long, full life and he will die surrounded by people who love him. My sister reminds me that our grandpa said he’s ready to go. My father quotes Scripture before choking up, and I have to set down my phone because I’ve never seen my dad cry before.

    I’ve emailed my professors to explain my absences. I’ve typed the same sentence over and over, until it feels surreal, until it feels like I’m writing about someone else: My grandfather is dying and I’m flying home tonight to be with my family. What I don’t tell them is that I’m also flying home because it feels better than doing nothing. It feels better than sifting through emails about career counseling and psychology studies and parties—better than sitting through lectures, unable to focus.

    The only thing I could think about during Bible as Literature is how Enoch and Elijah cheated death.

    *

    I hate to call you with bad news, my mom says. But I didn’t want you to find out on Facebook.

    That will be funny later, right?
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