The kids are all home this weekend. Kacey, because she’s done at school for the semester and is home for the long holiday break. (Yay!) Brad came home, honestly, because he wanted to make sure he saw his Grandpa while he still had the chance. And Jake has stuck around more than usual for the very same reason.
After Thanksgiving, we didn’t expect Brad home again before Christmas. But my father-in-law’s health took a distinct downward turn over the past few days. He was better yesterday than he was Thursday and Friday, but clearly he is growing weary. His face lit up when our boys walked into the room with us. (We’d decided Kacey should stay home. She came back from school with a nasty head-cold and we didn’t want to expose Bob or anyone else to her illness.) Bob looked at Brad in surprise and asked, “What are you doing home?”
“Just felt like coming for a visit,” Brad told him, because really, there’s no tactful way to say, “I’m here because I’m afraid I don’t have many more chances to see you.”
While we were there, Bob was quieter than he’s been. He sipped on water and a half cup of coffee. Mark asked him if he wanted us to bring him some more of the meat loaf he’d enjoyed so much last week. Bob held up a finger as if to say, “Hold that thought.” Finally he said, “Not yet.”
We spent an hour or so with other family members, circled around Bob’s bed, talking with each other while he reclined, seemingly distracted. He’d answer when asked a question, sometimes without words, simply signaling with his hands. Otherwise he stared out the window into the woods outside his room. At one point he told us he saw a boat go by. We all turned to look out the window into the trees, as if we’d actually see a boat out there. Bob’s kids have learned to just go with it. Everyone just nodded. Someone said, “Oh, yeah. How ’bout that!”
It’s obvious reality is beginning to blur in his mind, but he usually catches himself.
Mark’s mom is Mary Jane. Bob has always simply called her Jane. He’s the only one who ever calls her by this nickname. As the minutes ticked by yesterday morning, he said to her, “Well, Jane? You ready?”
“For what?” she asked him.
“To go,” he replied.
“Where do you want to go?” she gently questioned him.
“That would be nice, wouldn’t it?” she asked.
“Yep,” he said, remembering.
We left the hospice facility as Bob was drifting off, each of us squeezing his hand and promising to see him later in the day. From there we went to get our boys fitted for new suits. I was impressed with how good they each looked all cleaned up and was struck with the irony of why we were shopping for suits. It’ll take a while for alterations before we can pick them up. I worry we should have done this sooner, but upon learning of our situation, the salesman assured us that if we need to put a rush on things, he can make it happen. All we have to do is call.
Mark and I did go back to visit in the afternoon and spent time with another of his siblings and a niece, as well as some family friends. Bob’s favorite nurse, Bruce stopped in. Bruce has been such a friend to Bob. And he bears a resemblance to Mark’s brother, Jim. I understood then why Bruce is Bob’s favorite.
Bruce had earlier explained to the family that Bob’s downward turn is just part of the natural progression of things. There are no ups and downs anymore. Just gradual steps down. But we felt comfortable enough that Bob was stable for the time being. We had earlier thought we’d skip our bowling night this weekend, but with Mary Jane’s encouragement, decided to go after all.
We’re all more aware these days of the importance of spending time together when we can. And so last night found all three kids with Mark and me at the bowling alley. Jake bowled with us, as a sub for our absent partner, Jim. Brad and Kacey served as our cheering section. They didn’t do a great job of cheering us on, and instead, scrolled through the photos on my phone, deleting some they felt I no longer needed. Brad replaced my scenic background photo with one of himself. And I, having recently realized how few pictures I’ve taken the past couple of years, decided it didn’t matter how we were dressed, that we were in a bowling alley, or how our hair looked.
We laughed at these afterwards and decided we didn’t care that there were beer bottles in the frame, a deep-fried green bean, or that Jake was being silly. We like silly Jake. He should come around more often. And as we watch the life of our father and grandfather slowly come to a close, we’re so much more aware of how important it is to hold onto each other every chance we get.