Death · Family · Life-Defining Moments

A Girl’s Best Friend, and Old Goodbyes.

Today was a very sad day.

A very dear friend of mine – B – found out last week that her dog, who had made it to almost 16 years – 107 puppy years – was very, very sick. Her and her family had to decide whether they would let him die of natural causes, which would involve a great deal of suffering, or to put him down. After much deliberation, they decided putting him down would be the kindest option. I gave my shift away at work, and accompanied her to the veterinarian. Today at about 1230pm, Lucky was put to rest after living a long and love-filled life. I myself will most remember how much of a dirty old man he was, always getting into my cleavage. Honestly, I could be laying down, sitting on the couch, or standing up, and somehow he would manage to grope me. B stayed with him until the very last, and I stayed with her. After he was gone, we spent three or four hours watching kid movies and having ice cream and tea afterwards. I am very proud of her for her strength and dedication to her beloved dog – staying with him through all things, not just those things that are happy. This is one of the reasons she is indeed one of my very best friends.

About half way between the day they found out about Lucky’s health and today, a friend of ours – S – whom I had told about the situation, asked me if I was sure I could attend to B during this time as, one might imagine, it is not pleasant to be in the presence of death. I reminded her that I attended my grandfather during the final thirty hours or so of his life; I could indeed be present for this.

This has made me think a lot about death, and a lot about my grandfather. Through the last two weeks’ postings – that is, the Turkey ones – you have likely read bits and pieces about my grandfather. He was born in Turkey in 1930, moved to Paris when he was a young man in his twenties, and then moved to Canada with my grandmother when in his early thirties. He was sixty when I was born.

I idolized this man. He held two PhDs, and a law degree. He spoke only Turkish for the beginning of his life, and then learned French, eventually writing his Dissertation in French. Then he met a British woman and fell in love, and learned English so they could begin a new life together in Canada. He took his family from no money when they arrived in Canada to being extremely comfortable without my grandmother ever having to work, while still supporting two children.

I will freely admit that my grandfather, like all people, had his flaws, but when I knew him – from when I was born until I was 17 – he was the greatest man I had ever known. Towards me, he was kind, generous, and always supportive. He made me feel like a queen. He was always proud of me, and always made me feel like I could conquer the world. I was the golden child, his Peachie, and I could do no wrong in his eyes. To him, I was beautiful and smart and lovely and perfect, just the way I was. I felt like nothing could ever change that.

I remember the last time I spoke to him in person before he was put into the hospital. It was late October or early November and he asked me what my plans were after high school. I told him I was applying to U of T, York, and one more program – the one I was really keen on – where I would be attending school in England in a castle, and getting the opportunity to travel all over the world. I didn’t know quite what I wanted to do with it, but I knew I wanted to study English, and eventually write. He was so proud that I had such international aspirations.

Perhaps in that moment he saw pieces of himself.

Then, barely a month later as I was getting ready for school, which was supposed to be followed by a concert by my all-time favourite musician with my dad. The latter came into my room. He told me that grandma had not been totally honest with how sick grandad was, and we had to go to the hospital. I asked if I should bring my school bag; he said no, we would be longer than that. I asked if I should bring the tickets to the concert. He said he wasn’t sure.

I – a sensible seventeen year old girl who was seventeen going on forty-five – grabbed my purse and packed my teddy bear. Something told me I would need it.

It’s funny the way the universe works sometimes. A few weeks before this, I had checked my phone in school and noticed I had missed a call from my dad. I had a horrible thought, scared that it had something to do with my grandfather. I called him back in a panic between classes, asking if everything was ok. He was calling to tell me he had ordered us tickets to the concert. When I look back now, I wonder if that was the universe giving me a message.

When we got to the hospital, my grandfather was in the ICU. He had gone through surgery to remove cancerous tumors and had contracted an infection which was killing him. This is a man who had had bypass surgery in his forties, had type 2 diabetes, Hep C from receiving tainted blood during the aforementioned heart surgery, and smoke and drank. And he had lived ages until this stupid trip to the hospital for an optional surgery was killing him. He was rapidly declining. I sat by his bedside for thirty hours. I helped hold him down every time he tried to remove his IV. I tried to calm him every time he started to hallucinate, speaking Turkish to family members I had never known. He had shrunk so that the man I knew had disappeared in front of me. He was feeble as a child, and pale. He didn’t recognize any of us, and every time the doctor or nurse tried to fix his IV, I held his hand as he whimpered in pain.

I was strong for my grandmother, my father, my mother and my aunt. I was even strong for my younger cousins. I was so happy when they came, if only so that they too would be able to say goodbye. I don’t claim to know their relationship with him; I only hope that I was able to help them that day.

After many discussions, the doctor took us all into a room, and gave us our options. They could try to keep him alive and hope he recovered; they could try some more surgeries to try to save him; or they could let him go. At this point, he would not be able to survive long off of the machines keeping him alive.

My grandmother, of course, had the final say, and she decided it was kindest to let him pass away peacefully. To put him through surgery, or to leave him just as he was on respirators, was cruel. If he could not even begin to survive on his own, then perhaps it was time, after so many years of sickness and fighting, to finally stop fighting, and let him go.

I rode in the elevator with my grandma and my grandad and a nurse. I refused to leave his side. They put us in a private room, and until three in the morning, we all stood vigil by his bedside as he slowly faded away. Surrounded by his wife, his children, in-laws, and his grandchildren, disconnected from all the tubes and needles, the doctor gave him just enough morphine to stop him from being in pain, and left us. I have the exact time I felt his soul leave the world written down in my old journal; it was 3:24 or so in the morning November 24th when he took his final breath. My heart broke. The knowledge that I could never speak to him again, or hear his comforting words spoken in such an intriguing accent as he looked upon me with such pride broke me. My mother and I drove home in near-silence. We left my dad at the hospital with my grandmother as they arranged the cremation. He slept at his childhood home that night. When my mum and I got home around 4, I went straight downstairs, grabbed the stuffed lion my grandfather gave me when I was small, and told my mother, “Whatever you hear, don’t come in my room.” After being awake for over thirty hours, I grabbed my cats, crawled into bed, and sobbed – what I can only imagine was loudly – into the stuffed lion for what felt like hours. I was broken.

After the death of my grandfather, nothing seemed to go right, even though I had everything going for me. Wonderful grades, healthy, I got into my dream schools – even the one I had only a few months prior told my grandfather about. He never got to receive my “I got in!” phone call. I had no self esteem after his death. My self harm escalated, my panic attacks got to be hellish, and my mild eating disorder decided that this was precisely the moment it had been waiting for.

It took me a very long time, a lot of friends, and a good deal of therapy to realize how much of a disservice I was doing to my grandad in allowing myself to crumble and fall.

I realized that, although he was gone, the woman he saw in me hadn’t changed. He had been proud of me always, and had faith in me; I owed him at least to have faith in myself.

I will always remember my grandad, and I will always love him. Although I am not “religious” I have moments of prayer. Often, it is to him I am speaking. There are still times when I miss him. When I achieve something great – like my graduating with honours this year from U of T – I wish he could see me. When I am uncertain – like when I was deciding if it was right for me to go into culinary – I wish he could be here and offer me his advice. When I was in Turkey, or Paris, or anywhere, I wish he could come with me, and show me the world that he knew, and the places he loved, if only to learn a little bit more about him.

And when I feel down on myself, I wish he was here to tell me that I’m his Peachie, and always will be, and that he’s proud of me.

After five years, the pain has subsided. Although I am sometimes sad, it is more a sadness that resembles missing someone I have not seen in a while. It is not so much of an ache than a nostalgia. I think back now to how he let me win at dominoes, and taught me to play backgammon. I remember how he came to my piano recitals, and how excited he was when he and my grandmother bought me my piano for my twelfth birthday. I remember how he would sit in his chair in the living room at my grandparents’ house and talk to me, asking me all about everything, with that look in his eye that told me I was worth more than my own weight in gold. It is these happy memories that I keep with me, just as I hope B is able to keep her happy memories of Lucky. We owe it to those with love to keep them alive in our hearts forever with love, and not lament their passing. We can do nothing about death; but we can do something about the way we live, and the way we remember those who have lived and loved with us.

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