celebration heartbreak

The Road to saying Goodbye.

May 22, 2014

On Wednesday, May 21st just after 3pm, I watched my Grandpa take his last breaths. I said goodbye to him, singing him to Jesus in my head and heart, as I thanked God for his life and for welcoming him into Heaven.I’ve never felt pain like this. Heartbreak like this. This is the first person of my family I’ve lost. I’d never watched someone die before, let alone someone I love so much.

As sudden as all of this felt, the few days from the time I heard it wouldn’t be long until the moment he passed – felt excruciatingly long. There were many moments I didn’t know what to do with myself. I didn’t know what to do for anyone else, my family. So I did the only thing I knew how to do, no matter the emotion of the moment- pray and write. I journaled a lot, mostly on my phone, while I sat in the hospital room with my Grandpa and my family. And at first I wasn’t going to share any of it here… I think because a lot of it felt too raw… it felt too close. It was too precious to put “on a blog” – but you know? This is so much more than “just a blog” – this is pieces of my life, my thoughts, my heart in written form. This is a piece of my life’s journal. And while not all of what I have to say or share is free from heartbreak, it is very much my way of remembering this incredibly important day when my Grandpa went home. It’s my small way of honoring the sweet man who was my Grandpa Coons, along with my family who loved him just the same. And so, these are some of the thoughts I’ve decided to share from the last few days. I hope that if you decide to read them, you might whisper some sweet words for a man who touched so, so many lives.

Grandpa, we miss you dearly… we will think of you often and love you forever.

The last night of our family vacation was the first night I’d felt the pit in my stomach. I saw the look on my mom’s face and from my pool chair below asked her what was wrong. She explained something but the only word I heard was pneumonia. I knew what this meant. I knew. And I closely watched the worry on my mom’s face until we landed back in Indy the next day. We’d gotten in the car to head back to my parents house from the airport and a text from my aunt shared the unfortunate news that all was not well. And again, I knew. The silence in the car said it all.

I don’t do well with silence like that… unanswered questions. I began asking my mom about a million of them. “Should I go with you to Richmond?” (Richmond, Indiana where my mom is from and my Grandpa lived with his wife Mary Ann.) “Maybe I shouldn’t go back to Chicago.” “Are they saying he doesn’t even have a chance? Have they tried everything though?” …. and the question that was not asked out loud but most certainly unanswerable – “Why, God? Why.

I realized I didn’t have any warm clothes in my Florida packed suitcase, something I’d need if I were to stay in Indiana. X and I still had Oooj & Cleo to get situated back in Chicago so I decided I would drive home to Chicago with X that night, Sunday, and wait to hear from my mom on Monday… to better understand the situation. I could jump in the car and get to Richmond in less than 6 hours.

It’s a horrible feeling to sit and wait by the phone for a call that ultimately means come home to say goodbye and that is what Monday was for me. I waited and waited. I ran errands with X… even though my mind wasn’t on anything other than my grandpa… my favorite memories with him running over and over in my mind. It wasn’t until later on Monday that X called for me from the other room, telling me I’d missed a call. My heart sank. I walked to my phone, listened to the voice message from my mom and knew from the few seconds of silence that began her sentence of “Hi honey. Call me. As soon as you get this.”

I was up by 4am on Tuesday, finally on the road to Richmond at 6am and I wasn’t on the road for 20 minutes before I bawled my eyes out. X stayed in Chicago with the babes and as much as I missed him, I was welcoming the privacy of my car where I could cry out to God and tell him how sad my heart was to know I was on my way to witness my Grandpa in a state I’d never seen him in before. In a state that wasn’t him. And I would also witness my family hurt. I prayed for strength. I prayed for comfort. And I thanked God for all of my friends – for all of you – who I knew were praying for me and my family in that very moment. Thank you. 

As I pulled into the parking lot, I quickly changed into my cutest wedge sandals and put makeup on my tear-stained face as my hands shook. I really just felt like wearing sweats and going makeup free… knowing I would ultimately just cry it off anyway but I thought, “you know what? If Grandpa is awake, I sure as hell am going to look my best.” There wasn’t a moment that went by that he didn’t look at his daughters and granddaughters and say with tears in his eyes and a smile on his face, “You’re beautiful.” Literally- every. single. time. And we believed him every single time, because he meant it every single time. And if this was the last time he was going to see me- I wanted to be beautiful for him.

As I walked into his room with my mom, it was painfully clear that he was never again going to be able to look at me and say “You’re beautiful.” His eyes were closed. There were tubes coming out of his body, his breathing forced. This was not my Grandpa. I stood there as the shock sank in. This was really happening. And it was in that moment I promised God I would not leave – run away from this, not until it was over. No matter how painful it got, how sad it became to watch or be a part of. No matter how tired or horribly sad I would feel- I would not leave my mom. She needed me. My aunts and uncles needed me. My cousins needed me. Mary Ann needed me. We needed each other. And I would need God now more than ever for strength, great strength and the kind of comfort that only a God as great as my LORD could give.

It’s a painfully sobering moment when you begin to fully understand that someone you love is going to die. It’s excruciating to watch it. But what was I going to do? I wasn’t about to leave. Not his side, he would not go through this alone. Not ever. I would not leave my family, who were each hurting in their own pain as they watched it too. I’d later had to convince myself it was okay to walk to the bathroom, or go downstairs to the cafeteria to get food. I was afraid something would happen while I was gone. And what’s even more odd is that I felt guilty for going downstairs and eating a healthy meal. I felt guilty with each bite I took. And I know… I know I shouldn’t have. But damn, life felt so unfair as I forced myself to chew.

Some time went by and we were ushered into a private room where the doctor confirmed that things were not going to get better… and that all we could do now was make him as comfortable as possible. As a family, we made the decision to unhook the machines… take out the tubes… and let my Grandpa pass in peace. And we cried. We mourned together in that room. We braced ourselves for the possible quick passing that could take place after this next step was made. We waited for my cousins (who were on a plane and on their way to us) to arrive and then we stood around my Grandpa, prayed for him, and watched the nurse remove everything that had made it all seem so harsh to begin with.

We’d stood around him for awhile… I think we all thought he would pass soon thereafter, but we were quickly reminded that Grandpa is stubborn. He’s a fighter. And if he’s going to do something, by golly he’s gonna do it his way. And we smiled tearful smiles at each other as we realized he was not ready yet. I thought, it’s such a weird thing… just this time. The “limbo” of it all. There were moments we were all telling jokes or old stories and laughing so hard our bellies hurt. And then it wouldn’t be a minute later and we were silent again. Sitting there together in the dim light of the corner hospital room, watching our beloved father, grandpa, husband, friend… struggle to stay. We cried as my aunt whispered in his ear, “It’s okay, Dad. We’re okay. You can go. It’s okay. We love you.” And then ten more minutes would go by and we’d all be laughing again. We were pulling each other through. Family is beautiful that way.

Friends and caregivers of my Grandpa filtered in and out as the hours went by and I felt beyond blessed to witness their prayers over him… their last words to him, thanking him for the sweet ways he touched their lives. Wow. My Grandpa is loved by many… what a gift for his family to witness.

I frequently reached up to touch the diamond necklace around my neck… a gift from him and Mary Ann for my high school graduation. I touched the diamond earrings in my ears… also (an earlier) gift from him and Mary Ann. They were sweet little diamond earrings, and I remember when he gave them to me. I was a freshman in high school I think and as I’d opened the box, wide eyed as I watched them sparkle in the overhead light, I looked at him as if to say really?? For me? and he had the biggest smile on his face as he mouthed the words “You’re beautiful. I love you.” He spoiled all of his daughters and granddaughters this way. He loved us so. And now as I touched the earrings and necklace, I silently cried and wished I could tell him one more time, Thank you. I love you

It was very late now and we were all still there, sitting around his bed, staring at the monitors. We turned on the tv and I breathed a sigh of relief to see that Dancing with the Stars was on… knowing Mary Ann loved this show and that this would be a welcomed distraction for her. My heart ached as she watched the tv. I wanted to hug her forever. I wanted to make it okay for her. I have very fond memories of my Grandpa saying to her every time she’d walk out of a room, “I love you, Mary Ann”…. always with a big ol’ smile on his face. He loved her so much.

One of the bus drivers of my Grandpa’s adult daycare walked into the room. He was a big, tall man and choked up the minute he saw his dear friend. We turned the tv down and I bowed my head as my Grandpa’s friend thanked him for his friendship. Thanked him for telling him about Jesus. Thank you Lord. My Grandpa loves you fiercely and I know whose arms will grab a hold and welcome him into Heaven. What more could I ask for?

My Aunt Robin and I made a trip to her house to let her dogs out. I’d wanted to go with her, to get out (after I finally convinced myself it was okay). I wanted to snuggle with her fur babies because I missed mine so much. I laid in her guest bed for what seemed like hours… I’d left the light on… I didn’t want to be in the dark. As tired as I was, I didn’t want to fall asleep because I knew when I woke up, it would be the next day. The day I would lose my Grandpa. A few hours went by and I moved to her couch. The tv was on and while I’m sure it was a distraction in the moment, I couldn’t even tell you what I watched, even though I’m sure I watched it. Turns out she didn’t sleep much either. She went to the kitchen in the early morning hours, fixed us some coffee, we sipped it down and then headed back to the hospital.

I’d started to memorize all of the numbers on the monitor, even though I didn’t know what half of them were for. I now stared at them as they slowly went down. I wanted so badly to protect him from all of this. To jump in his body and fight off all the pain. Instead all I could do was pray that God would protect him. That He would take him soon. And I promised my Grandpa that after today, I would not remember him this way.

Watching my Grandpa take his last breaths, while my mom sobbed over him is something I will never forget as long as I live. That pain… unbearable…. Lord, why must this life be so hard? Why must our hearts break? My Grandpa left this earth with his family holding hands, standing around him. I prayed so hard, God. Thank you. Take him. Thank you. Thank you!!! Thank you for welcoming him. I hope he runs to you, free from pain! Thank you, God! My mom prayed the most beautiful prayer for him as he left us… something I told her a few hours later was so special to which she said, “I don’t even remember what I said” and I assured her it was the most beautiful prayer. We stood there together for awhile and I’d started to sing Oh Lord You’re Beautiful in my head… at first I wondered why that song but after thinking about it later, it was clear. My Grandpa was standing in front of the most beautiful love – Jesus – telling him, “You’re beautiful.”

This was important to me to write out, as painful as it was. While these may be the memories my heart holds of the last days of his life, a promise is a promise and these will not be the memories my heart holds of my time with him or for his life. Instead, I will always remember how handsome he was. How his hair was always perfectly placed, his clothes always pressed, and his laugh, oh his laugh. I will remember his kindness for others. His love for his family and friends. His story telling… all of the times he’d tell the same stories over and over and over but we didn’t mind, because he was the absolute best story teller… and we liked his stories anyway. I will remember the times I crawled on his lap as a little girl to watch the TV show Cops (told you guys I loved that show, and now you know the deeper reason as to why) and he’d sneak me cookies. He’d say to me, “Now you’re not going to tell your mom I let you watch Cops, right?” and I’d grin and say, “No, Grandpa. I won’t tell.” He’d grin and laugh, knowing full well I would totally blab it to her the next day and tell on him… but that never stopped him from doing this with me. It was our totally not a secret that he’d convinced me was our secret. I will remember eating spicy chili with him… my lips burning so badly from the spice but I pushed through it because I wanted to be strong like Grandpa. This man was brave. This man was a stranger to no one and the best friend of so, so many. He made one hell of a Bloody Mary, I will tell you that. He was the most honorable police officer there ever was. I will remember his love for Jesus. And I will hold close God’s promise that yes, one day I will see my Grandpa Bob again. This is not the end.

 
 

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  • Sweet Emily, I wish I lived closer to hug you and promise you that you and your family's hearts will heal. With time, they will heal. I have been in the very same situation as you, watching a loved one take their last breaths. Just know that your grandfather is dancing with Jesus now. He is so blessed to be with Jesus!! And know that "blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted" (Matthew 5:4). Please let me know if there is anything I can do.

  • Oh Em, this is so beautifully written, and so reminiscent of what we went through just last weekend with AJ's grandfather, and with mine just a few years ago. The most comforting thing, I think, is knowing that he is with Jesus! How lucky is he to have met our Father, to be rejoicing in His kingdom and to be free from pain and worry and hardship. Lean into your family these next few days as you cry and laugh together…when you pour over old photos and tell stories and then the pain hits again, hold one another close. Love you, friend. You're all in my prayers.

  • Cat

    So sorry for your loss. I will be keeping you in my thoughts and prayers. I know from personal experience it is tough, But God will help you through it all. I think it is great you wrote it all out. May God bless you and comfort you during this time.

  • Emily, my heart absolutely aches for you and your family. If I could hug you, I would be doing it so tightly. I am praying sweet girl.

  • My heart hurts for you and your family right now, but it also rejoices in knowing that your Grandfather is looking down on you from Heaven. You've gained a guardian angel 🙂
    How very brave of you to share these private moments of his last days with us in such a beautifully written post. Sending lots of hugs and prayers your way.

  • Oh Em, I'm so sorry for your family's loss. These words are beautiful, and I hope with time you and your family will find some peace and comfort in your hearts. Stay strong and God bless <3

  • Oh girl, I am so so sorry for your loss. You and your family will be in my prayers! God Bless!

  • This just breaks my heart! I will I could be there to just hug you and squeeze your hand to make sure you know that you aren't alone. If there is anything, I mean anything, I can do please let me know.

  • Oh Emily… I am so, so sorry. But this was so beautifully written and a true tribute to your grandpa. I hope your wonderful memories bring you some peace during this time. You are very blessed to have had so many years with him – and he will always be with you. Big big hugs to you!

  • Oh Emily…you have me in tears for a man I have never met. What a sweet, kind, loving, beautiful man. I wish I could take away your pain. I hope you find comfort in your memories, your family, and the friends who have all of you in their hearts and prayers.

    XXOOXXOO

  • Emily, so sorry for your loss! You and your family are in my prayers.

  • I was in the room with Jordan and his family when his grandpa took his last breaths. It was heartbreaking and yet sweet knowing that we will see each other in heaven some day. I'm glad you have that assurance as well. What a wonderful photo of your grandpa. Thanks for sharing. So sorry for your loss.

  • I lost my Gramma on the same exact day. 🙁 So sorry for your loss. Thankful for the assurance of heaven, but it doesn't fill the void of the loss. Praying for you and your family.

  • This was beautifully written, and a beautiful tribute. I'm so very sorry for your loss.

  • Touching tribute. What a beautiful family legacy.

  • I'm so very sorry, Emily. I'm just now getting around to catching up with my blog reading after a few weeks away.

    I know that words are sometimes so useless when something like this happens, and I never know what to say anyway. I lost my Dad in 2007, so if it helps you in any way, I can understand a bit of what you're feeling and going through. Please know that you're in my thoughts. My prayers are with your whole family, and blessed be your grandfather's soul. Our Father in Heaven will shepherd him and take great care of him. Trust and have faith in that.

    This is not the end.