(This blog is a letter, written to my family who were not able to be with me in the last hours of the night of Grandpa’s life. It is written as a free-write piece where i simply put fingers to the keyboard, often had my eyes closed and tears pouring, and let my heart write it. Nothing was edited from the moment my fingers stopped typing. Forgive any grammatical errors. It is just written in the raw form so you get the emotions of the moment… Thanks for sharing in the moment where the world stopped spinning for a moment, and life was more about relationships than breaths taken.)
On the road- Heaven Bound…
The room was warm and quietly lit. Howard sat in his favorite chair in what seemed like his favorite napping pose. The hum of the oxygen machine was the only indication at first glance that anything was wrong. It was chugging along at a faster rate than it usually did. Pam smiled at me and came over and offered a sweet greeting. Her smile lit the room.
I looked over at the man who simply appeared to be sleeping. Graciously God had allowed this time to be spent in a deep sleep, one of peace, calmness, and pain free. He took steady breaths, but they were difficult ones. It would not be long before this beloved man saw Jesus face to face.
“So this is your grandpa,” she asked me. I smiled and said yes, and that I was his favorite. I let a tear loose. You have to understand, this is a treasured joke between us. My whole life I have spent in the honored position of being my grandfather’s “favorite” granddaughter. It is firmly secured by the fact I am also his only one. Each time someone new meets me, my grandparents will introduce me as their favorite, give a nice pause to let the words sink in, then go on to explain I am also the only granddaughter they have. It is a joke they love to tell, and one I love to participate in. I treasure the love that spills from their eyes as they brag on me without saying a single word more. It’s obvious that they are proud of me and I am a treasured gift to them.
Tonight was not one of the nights where he could tell the joke to his nurse, so I did it for him, knowing full well that he could hear me if God so chose it. I wanted to gift him with it, one last time.
Just earlier today I was there to see him. I walked into his room and he woke up just in time to see my entrance. He grinned up at me and with tears in his eyes he exclaimed, “Oh Chrissy! You always come, you always come!” and he let a tear escape. I tried hard to not let my tears come then, but how wonderful that the first thing he thinks when he sees me is the love I have for him. He took my hand as I stroked his arm. His eyes were sleepy but he wanted to be awake to talk to me.
He turned to the hospice nurse sitting off to the side and began talking to her. “This is my favorite granddaughter,” he exclaimed! “She always comes! She comes to the hospital, to the nursing side, and home. Wherever I am she comes!” The nurse shook my hand and introduced herself to me. Grandma then went on to finish the joke for him, as he slipped into a quiet moment, sleepy and tired. The nurse laughed and shared a smile with me. She soon slipped out and let us have time alone with him.
Grandma sat sitting next to him, face to face, and she let the silence envelope us. We didn’t speak, but let the moment be what it was. I watched as she took in the truth God was placing before her, and draw strength from Him to move forward. She sat quietly, tears slipping, knowing in her heart that today was the last good one. The last earthly one. Somehow she knew. She knew because she had known this man since she was but a girl. They had literally been through hell and back together. The war raged as they were but children, and he left to fight in it not yet out of his teens. They grew up fast, and clung to each other to get to the next step in life over and over. Life had never been easy for them but they always got through it together. They would get through these next hours together in a way… but as she sat there, she had to be wondering how she would get along when it was just her. They had been separated many times over the years, but always it was with an earthly reunion. This time it would be a far different wait to see her Howie again. Her ache to see him once more would be of a different kind. It was all new and a road that she was only beginning to be ready to travel. God was moving. They both knew it.
Now I quietly sat alone beside Grandpa. The nurses had slipped out tonight to give me some time. I stroked his arm and my memories swirled around me, keeping us company. I talked to him. I told him how much I loved him, thanked him for being the man he was, and for the grace he taught me to live with. I told him I was going to go over and be with grandma for a while but that I would be back. I stroked his hair and prayed over him, giving him to God, thanking Jesus for the power of the cross and the grace which He saved us with.
I left to go check in with grandma. It was about 3 am as I sat on the edge of her bed and talked to her. She was amazingly calm and secure. “God let me go back to sleep after they told me about him. I think God wants me to just remember him like he was today.” I agreed. She didn’t need to make the trip down. God was walking her through this journey in His way, and He had plans for her tonight. Only He can understand what works are in motion and what He is doing.
At first I was mad that God had picked today for Grandpa’s homecoming. See, today is her birthday… then again, who am I to question the God of the universe? He knows best. Today her Howie will see Jesus. In a way, it is a beautiful gift for her too. Her beloved husband will receive the lifetime of riches that were earned and stored up in heaven for him, for all his years of obedience and service to Jesus, on her birthday. If you look at it that way, it is a way to stay connected to him and to treasure today. A huge party will take place on her birthday! It will take place in Heaven with a host of angels and long awaited family reunions and treasured loved ones! He will be with her sister and brother and her son-in-law, all who’ve traveled Heaven-side this past year.
As I walked back down to see Grandpa, I thought about the man he has been. I felt the memories spilling out. Pam was sitting by his side, stroking his arm, and quietly talking to him as I came into the room. Pam is his Hospice nurse tonight. She is a treasure. As we sat there, her taking care of him, me just being there, we began to talk. I told her stories about him. She knew by his ring who he was. She said she knew his Masonic ring and what it meant. Her family and life has been deeply touched by the Shriners and her daughter was saved due to the assistance they gave them when her daughter was burned as a child. Her love for grandpa was already there, but it grew with each story I told. Before long, I had been there a over an hour or more.
I know that Grandpa was honored by the stories I told. I bragged on him, told his nurses funny Pepsi stories, heroic stories, and ones that showed his character and grace. Both nurses were in tears and both thanked him for his life in their own ways. I was blessed by the fact that when I walked back down the hall to go stay with Grandma, that he would not be alone. He would be loved on to the end.
Pam gently swabbed out his mouth and kept him clean and comfortable. She stroked his arm and quietly kept a lingering conversation going. The love poured out of her and made me wonder if she were truly a woman, or an angel, because I would believe her to be one in a heartbeat. She even soaked a swab in Diet Pepsi, the one I brought him earlier in the day and he still had a bit left of, and used it to give him his last taste. If you don’t already know that Diet Pepsi is significant, well then I need to add a blog to this all it’s own to fill you in.
I prayed over grandpa one last time. I squeezed his arm and told him I’d see him later. For him it would be but a blink of an eye till that day. For me it will be a lifetime of roads yet to be traveled. But I will see him later. And in that fact I could walk away at peace.
On my hand are two rings. His wedding band and his Masonic ring. I am sitting at his new computer, typing this now at about 5:30 in the morning. He is surprising us right up to the end. It was to be about a couple hours a few hours ago! This man never stops amazing everyone.
I love you grandpa! I cant sleep because I know you are still walking home. So I thought I would share your story this way because it’s what I do. I write when nothing else works, when I cant sleep, or when I need to think. All of the above are true for me now, so here I sit, very connected to you in this act. Sitting at your little new computer makes me laugh. I am smiling now because you got to enjoy your last toy! The nurses could not stop talking about you and this computer. They wanted to see it, and asked, “Can I hold it? I’ve never seen something so small!” I showed it off for you! Did you hear me? I laughed as I told them you had a computer on your desk at home, an iPad, and your iPhone was here somewhere too. They were amazed by you.
And there in lies everything. You have led a life of constantly amazing people. It’s simply you. You are amazing. I am so blessed to be your favorite… granddaughter that is.
Love you Papa!
Howard Blaine Pettys passed from this earthly life, into his glory, at 8:20pm – amazing all the staff and answering Grandma’s prayers that all her children would make it to his side. Flying in from Texas, the bottom of Indiana, and Wisconsin, all arrived in time to spend some last cherished moments with him and gathered together. It was a blessed time and one to remember.