To Grandpa with love, in real time

When my Dad died in 1989, I didn’t find out about it until hours after the fact. It happened suddenly — he suffered an abdominal aneurysm and quickly bled to death internally — and I was out of town at the time.

My mom didn’t have a cell phone that she could call me from in the ambulance that took Dad to the hospital. They were still uncommon then and obnoxiously large and expensive. I was in a car with a friend and his father, less than 70 miles from home, but essentially unreachable.

Today, I live in Beijing, a world away from my family in the United States. Yet as my Grandpa, stricken with final stage Parkinson’s disease, enters the final days or hours of his life, I’m receiving texts and emails every few hours about his condition. My aunts are uploading on Facebook pictures of relatives by Grandpa’s bedside, kissing his face, holding his hand and playing guitar.

Grandpa and Sue, one of his five children.

Grandpa and Aunt Sue, one of his five children.

Grandpa has stopped eating, and the hospice nurses say he can no longer see. He can no longer talk, but is still able to hear. Family is at his side 24 hours a day, with my mother and brother Billy working the overnight shift. Yesterday, Billy asked whether there was anything I wanted to tell Grandpa.

I texted Billy a response.

“Tell him I’m thinking about him a lot, and that I love him. Tell him I appreciate everything he’s done for me, and that I’m going to continue to work hard, because I know he would want me to. Let him know that you and I are going to continue to look out for our family, that we are strong and will do a good job.”

Strong is the first word that comes to my mind when I think of grandpa. Before Parkinson’s devastated his body, Edsel Beach was an imposing man. He had broad shoulders that made his 6-foot-3 frame look even larger than it was. Though he rarely got angry at his grandchildren, he didn’t have to say much to keep us in line if he did.

An independent drywaller, Grandpa worked into his late 70s, until he was physically no longer able to. He was drafted into the army during the Korean War, in the early 1950s, and stationed at a U.S. military base in Germany before being transferred to Chicago.

He married my Grandma in 1954, and they’ve been together ever since. They had five children, and when they were still young, Grandpa would take his family on 1,000-mile journeys from their home in Michigan all the way to California.

Grandpa, in his military uniform.

Grandpa, in his military uniform.

He hunted, fished and chopped wood to heat his home. Grandpa liked sitting in his favorite La-Z-Boy and eating freshly cracked walnuts. He preferred radio over television, and listened to Rush Limbaugh during the day and legendary broadcaster Ernie Harwell call Detroit Tigers baseball games at night. He had opinions, of course, but wasn’t one to judge or cast stones.

The last time I saw him in October, Grandpa, now 83, was a just a shell of his former self — too frail to stand on his own, though still able to hold a brief conversation. One evening, as my family gathered around their kitchen for dinner, Grandma asked for someone to sing grace.

To everyone’s surprise, Grandpa volunteered and began singing.

Day by day thy children
from our hands are fed
Father now we thank thee
for our daily bread

As of today, Grandpa hasn’t eaten in over a week. He’s receiving oxygen as well as morphine to dull the pain as much as possible. Most importantly, Grandpa is lying at home with family at his side.

Even though I can’t be there, the pictures and constant texts and calls from my family allow me to be with them in a way that wasn’t possible when my father died.

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8 thoughts on “To Grandpa with love, in real time

  1. Lovely post. I always tell my Mom, we may live on the other side of the world, but we are really only a phone call or plane ride away. Just like we were when we lived in the US. Times like this is when it can feel like perhaps that is not true. But I’m glad your family is doing such a wonderful job making that a reality, and that you have the chance to be apart of this time with him at the end of this lifetime.

    • Thanks for the compliment Sylvia. I appreciate it. I feel the same way — about being a phone call or plane ride away. I tell my family that when they pile on the “when are you going to move closer to home” questions.

      Jimmy

  2. Your love and admiration for your Grandfather resonates throughout your story. You do have a wonderful family and yes, you did choose the best words to say to him as he embarks on his journey to the other realm. Thank you so much for sharing this story. Prayers and thought with your family.

  3. Greetings,
    Thank you for sharing your memories of your grandfather and the pain of your loss. I was thinking the other day that when my grandmother was born in a covered wagon in the mid 1880s at Three Points, WY her grandparents probably didn’t know of the event for many months. Today all five of our children are scattered around the US and the world. Yet, our technology allows us to be present in their lives in the same way as you can share the last moments of your grandfather’s life with your family – and share your memories of him with us.
    Vaya con Dios,
    Alan S. Wicks

    • Hi Alan,

      Thanks for the message. I sometimes get frustrated with technology and the distractions that come with it. But it’s great in situations like this, when I can skype with my family and feel like I’m in the room with them. And I’m sure it makes a huge difference in your life, with your children spread out like that.

      Take care

      Jimmy

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