On August 03, 2010, while lying in bed nursing a 102 degree fever, I received a call that my grandfather (who was in the hospital recovering from a minor operation) had stopped breathing on two separate occasions but they were able to resuscitate him both times.
When I arrived at the hospital he was on a ventilator (tube down his throat feeding him oxygen) in addition to a myriad of other tubes and wires, and loaded with a plethora of medications—all of which were keeping him alive.
The following day tests confirmed that his condition was only growing worse and that his organs were beginning to shut down. It was unanimous: his wife and family decided that there was no need to artificially prolong the inevitable.
The day I’ve always dreaded arrived on the evening of August 04, 2010. With his family by his side, my grandfather slipped into a Christless eternity, ending his life of eighty-three years on earth.
So much happened in those 36 hours that it felt like the whole ordeal was a week in duration. I went from being at home, sick in bed, to being by my grandfather’s side as he lay unconscious and dying–desperately trying to convey to him one last time to let go of his dead religion of works and cling to the only One that could save him. Sadly I knew at that point it was too late for that. He had eighty-three years on earth to seek after God, and he had a grandson that tried to share the Gospel with him on several occasions, but he rejected the free gift of God’s grace for the false hope of Rome again and again. Now he lay sedated, unconscious, and moments from death. There was not much more that I could do but mourn for what was about to happen.
This was the third time I had been at the bedside of a dying man in three years; my boss in 2007, and my wife’s stepfather in 2008. This last one, however, was the toughest to endure. My grandfather had been more like a father to me, helping my single mom raise me when my biological dad didn’t even stick around long enough for my birth. And not only was my grandfather the only father-figure in my life through my early years, but he was the only father-figure who showed me unconditional love–something my step-dad years later could never bring himself to do. My step-dad provided physically, but never emotionally. That’s something only my grandfather and I shared; the God-given bond that is supposed to be shared between a father and his son.
Although my grandfather and I grew apart later in life, and although we shared stark differences of opinions on such things as politics and religion, that bond that was formed as a child could never be severed. And in spite of thinking that it had evaporated at some point along the way, his death quickly revealed to me that it had been there all along.
My grandfather had a minor operation on Saturday, July 31st. He was recuperating for the next couple days and on Tuesday, August 03, 2010, he was scheduled to return home. My grandmother had arrived at the hospital that morning with his clothes for him to change into. While she was awaiting his discharge, the first Code Blue went out.
I certainly don’t blame the hospital for the infection that entered into my grandfather during the operation; I understand that things happen beyond their control, however, I was somewhat displeased in the way some matters were handled afterward.
For instance, as I sat by my grandfather’s bedside, one nurse could easily be heard referring to my grandfather as a train wreck. (There are more tactful ways of addressing things when family members are within earshot.) I also noticed how slow everything went in regards to doctors coming by to talk to the family, yet, when the decision was made to take my grandfather off life support, it was all “wrapped up” within an hour! Getting help and answers was at a snail’s pace, but when it came time to end my grandfather’s life, the hospital performed at break-neck speeds. The only thing that actually prolonged that process was waiting for the hospital’s priest to arrive for “last rites.”
Once he arrived he did his “magic;” attempting to reverse what my grandfather had become after eighty-three years. In just five minutes the priest (who knew not my grandfather, the life he led, his sin, his views of God, nor whether or not he even understood the Gospel), churned out a program of prayers, readings, and other rote babblings from one of his books of Rome as the family stood there thinking that this “holy man” and his traveling sideshow was somehow going be of some benefit to an unrepentant sinner who was about to fall into the hands of the living God . . . a “terrifying thing” according to Hebrews 10:31.
He went through his list of the deceased he petitioned to pray for my grandfather: the saints and Mary. He and some of the family recited the “Lord’s Prayer.” Oil was placed on my grandfather’s forehead and the sign of the cross was done over him. All of this was very impressive stuff to the biblically illiterate. However, to those who know better, none of this horse and pony show can save a man, and that is what makes this whole ordeal even more grueling. Those witnessing this five-minute fix at the end of my grandfather’s life, by a stranger with a white collar, are lulled further to sleep believing that all this religious stuff needs to be left to the professionals, and that we can live our lives as we see fit and in the end some nice man will peek his head into our room for a few minutes and make everything right between us and God. Somehow, this man will serve as “mediator” between us and the “man upstairs,” so no need to worry, no need to fret, in the end it will all be all right. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow the peddler of false assurance comes and will make everything good before we die. (And Rome thrives off that level of ignorance and blind dependency.)
After the rote salvation-in-a-box type program was over, the priest was done. Before making his hasty exit, he said a few words to the family while wearing his deceptive little grin. I thought he was a little more chipper than he should have been considering the circumstances, but when he himself can’t even grasp the gravity of what was about to happen to my grandfather because he believes the lie he spreads, how could I expect anything more?
Before the peddler of false assurance left the room, the male nurse had already loaded a syringe with morphine and was waiting to get through the circle of family to inject my grandfather with what would be his final medication. This was to help him pass away more painlessly as they removed him from all the life-sustaining equipment.
I couldn’t believe how fast they were moving to get rid of my grandfather. Again, getting help and answers in the hospital is a long arduous process of hurry up and wait, but once it’s decided to end a man’s life, they couldn’t move fast enough.
After the life support was terminated it was only a few minutes before he breathed his last breath–succumbing to the wages of his sin. My world slipped away at that moment; the man I knew all of my life was gone; childhood memories flashed before me; an era had passed. There was never a time I existed that he hadn’t existed, until now.
After the family had left the room, I remained. I was incapable of leaving him. I kissed his cheek, I kissed his forehead, I held his hand, I asked God to have mercy on his soul, I lamented. I tried to leave several times but could not get my legs to carry me to the door. After a few minutes one of the doctors came in and introduced himself. He didn’t say much–mostly just looked at my grandfather. He asked if there was anything else we needed him for, so I directed him to the waiting room to inquire of the rest of the family. A few minutes later the impatient morphine-wielding nurse returned with his clip board. He said he thought I had left. I then expected him to leave us alone again but he did not. Instead he proceeded to begin his work while I stood by my grandfather’s side, which included checking my grandfather’s pupils for reaction to light. The more time I’ve had to ponder this, the more appalling the very notion of his callousness seems to me. A few more minutes to say goodbye to my grandfather without the nurse examining his body would have been appreciated.
Assisting him was another nurse who I had never seen before during the previous two days. However, she was the only one who showed any compassion whatsoever. She placed her hand on my back as I stood by my grandfather’s lifeless body and said that she was sorry for my loss. Considering the circumstances, that meant so much to me because no one else, not the doctor, not the male nurse, not the various other nurses who had been in and out of the room over the past two days, and no one from the nurse’s station that sat right outside his door, took a moment of their time to offer their condolences. It only compounded the tragedy of the situation to see how indifferent the hospital staff was.
Although I wasn’t with every family member at all times, I was still surprised that I never once heard anyone in my family utter the hollow phrase, “He’s in a better place now.” That seems to be one of the most common phrases heard at times like these and it’s grounded solely on pure conjecture with no basis of truth.
My grandmother did, however, pay homage to this platitude when she said that my grandfather’s son “will be there to meet him.” She was referring to my uncle who had passed away thirteen years earlier from cancer: A man who wanted nothing to do with God his entire life, and even refused my grandparents’ request to have a priest perform “last rites” for him. How soon we forget these uncomfortable realities about our loved ones’ and replace uncomfortable facts with sentimental images to ease our pain.
So, could my grandmother’s comment be true? Can two men who were at enmity with God their whole rebellious lives and rejected the Gospel of Jesus Christ somehow be together for eternity in Heaven with the very God they wanted nothing to do with on earth? If this is possible then I might as well throw my Bible in the trash can, for it is full of lies. When what we feel supersedes the very written Word of God, then we have successfully created a god of our own imagination.
This is exactly what we’ve done. Man rejects the Words of God and replaces them with flowery sentiments of what they think and want God to be like. Thus, they end up with a god who winks at eighty-three years of wickedness, and ushers that rebellious man into Heaven anyway. And these people never once think through what implication this universalism means for their god’s character in regards to righteousness, justice, and why their god punished his own son upon a cruel Roman cross.
My grandmother told me something interesting on that Tuesday while we sat in the hospital room. She said that earlier my grandfather had awoken from his unconscious state and frantically said, “Get the worm out of me,” before falling unconscious again. It never dawned on me till later that night as I tried sleeping at the hotel how shocking that utterance was. Was my grandfather simply hallucinating due to his altered levels of consciousness from the medication, or did he actually see the worm that Scripture tells about that will not die? I perish the thought.
With all deaths, time will cover over the hurts like wind-blown sand, obscuring the realities of this most unnatural event. But even for those moments when one’s mortality is brought before them and they have no choice but to stare death in the face as it quickly approaches them, there will always be a grinning gentleman in a white collar readily available to sing you back into a spiritual sleep as you place your trust in his soft voice, never once noticing his words of assurance fall from a forked tongue.
May God grant repentance and forgiveness to my grandmother while she remains alive, and may God have mercy on my grandfather’s soul. I miss you terribly papa.
” I love you, a bushel and a peck, a kiss on the cheek and a hug around the neck “ . . . too, grandpa.
I highly recommend the following related posts:
– The prequel to this post from last October which will put the above post into better perspective, The Peddler of False Assurance.
– Brother Michael’s own family loss in the post A Catholic Funeral – The Dead Burying the Dead.
– The sermon Paul Washer preached at his own mother’s funeral found on this post.