It has been exactly 20 days since my grandpa passed away.
It was very sudden, and I don’t think it’s sunk in yet.
I got the phone call from my mom that he was in hospital on the morning of Friday 1st September. “Grandpa admitted himself again. I’m going to visit him on Sunday,” she said. I didn’t think it was anything serious. It’s not rare that grandpa checks himself into hospital. He has a weak heart and is going on 88 years old. Every time he bounces back and is home in a few days.
I didn’t plan on visiting him with my mom on Sunday. I had subtitles to translate and I thought it would be like every time. Thinking back, I feel a little guilty for that.
Then, around 3pm, I was sitting at home with my mom, about to start watching Music Bank, a Korean pop music show, when my mom’s phone rang. It was my uncle calling. He was on his way to the hospital. Grandpa had acute renal failure and was in critical condition. I knew things were seriously wrong when my mom, still on the line, folded the newspaper she was reading, getting ready to leave.
The whole family, my mom, dad, and I rushed to the hospital. The sight that greeted me in the communal patients’ room was shocking to say the least. My grandpa was in bed and was clearly in the most critical condition out of everyone in the room taking into account the swarm of Medical students around his bed. For probably the second or third time in my life, I couldn’t breathe. It’s as if someone sucked all the air out of the room. I felt faint. I had to go to the bathroom and eventually had to leave the room. I couldn’t be in there. It couldn’t be grandpa on that bed.
That day, his heart stopped beating for 15 minutes. The doctors brought him back and by that evening he was tucked into his bed in the ICU for cardiac patients. He was in a much better condition. More peaceful. And he recognised all of us. I went home still feeling apprehensive, but there was a glimmer of hope.
The next day was Saturday. I went to visit him in the evening. He saw me and smiled. He seemed like grandpa again, but he was very weak. His hands were in gloves to prevent him pulling out his life support tube, so I couldn’t hold his hand. He was on the special dialysis machine. His right leg was connected to the machine that was purifying his blood via a long tube. Tubes, there were tubes everywhere.
On Sunday, I went early in the day. There were 2 periods where we could visit ICU patients: the morning session between 11am and 1pm, and the evening session between 5pm and 8pm. He was much more ‘alive’. He was fidgeting a lot, and kept mouthing that he was thirsty. The nurse gave him a few drops and suggested that I put lip balm on him. So I went to the 7/11 downstairs and bought Vaseline, which I put on his lips. At one point he managed to pull the glove out from his left hand, so I got to hold his hand. Admittedly, it was to prevent him from pulling out the life support, but still. I held his hand tight and he held mine. The strength in his arm was surprising. He was pulling my arm close to his face and inspecting it. The bad news was he was also inspecting his glove-free hand, which by this time was pretty swollen and purple. I could see disbelief in his eyes. I guess that should have told me something, but I chose not to see. I left the hospital on Sunday feeling very optimistic. We started talking about when he’d be able to go home.
On Monday, I woke up early. My dad was waiting to speak with me. “Grandpa may have passed,” he said. I didn’t know how to respond. He had successfully taken out his life support tube during the night and his heart stopped beating for half an hour. They managed to pull him back, but there was no guarantee in what state he would be now. Save for a miracle, it seemed he could pass any minute.
I initially didn’t plan on going to the hospital that day because I didn’t think grandpa would recognise anybody anymore. But then my uncle called and said that he thought grandpa could recognise him. So I got dressed and got ready to leave for the hospital with my mom. When we got to the hospital, my uncle was sitting in front of the escalator, waiting for us, all smiles. “He’s exactly like yesterday! It’s a miracle!” Grandpa was fully conscious and as alive as ever, but he was full of complaints. He was thirsty. His legs hurt.
Then he stared at me and mouthed “close”. It took me a while to understand what he wanted to say. He looked up at all the tubes and machines surrounding him, and mouthed the word again. He wanted me to switch everything off. He wanted to rest in peace, not suffer anymore. I pretended not to understand and made silly jokes. He looked at me with imploring eyes and nodded. It was okay to let him go. I smiled. The decision was out of my hands. “Wait for Uncle. He’s flying from the States. He’ll get here tomorrow,” was all I could say.
Tuesday was the last day I saw grandpa alive. He was much weaker that day, but I had a mission. I wanted to say goodbye. And said goodbye I did. I told him not to worry about me, that I was really okay. He tried to say something to me. I put my ear next to his lips. I could hear and feel his breath coming out, but couldn’t make out the words. His last word to me will forever remain a mystery. My mother and I stood by his bedside. I held his hand, which by now had no strength left. It was so swollen and purple, so weak. I held it softly. I couldn’t stop my tears from falling. Grandpa smiled when he saw that, but at one point it seemed as if he was starting to cry too. I asked my mom if she wanted to go home. And we left.
On Wednesday I went to the hospital, but I wasn’t feeling well that day so I went home without seeing grandpa. It was okay, I told myself. I had already said my goodbyes. No regrets.
On Thursday my mom went alone to the hospital. Later she told me how he was in pain, how he was fidgeting so much, trying to free himself from the tubes and restraints. Thursday was the day the relatives were given the bad news and a lot of them went to say their goodbyes. My uncle had arrived from the States on Wednesday and my grandpa’s three children had agreed to stop the dialysis and let him go in peace.
On Friday, according to my mom, grandpa slept peacefully. He was unconscious, but he didn’t seem to be in pain. His face looked ‘better’. My mom said that gave her a a little hope that he would get better. It was on that night, around 9:30pm, that he passed. I found out the news in the morning from my dad. I didn’t feel anything. I guess I was prepared from the moment I first saw him the Friday before.
On Saturday, I went to work as usual. I found out when I was about to get off work that the funeral would begin that evening. Family and friends would gather to send my grandpa off, pouring blessed water onto his corpse. After work I rushed home, got changed, got myself into a cab and headed straight to the temple. I made it. I looked at him, sleeping peacefully, lifeless. I poured the orange water (why is it orange anyways?) on his hand, lightly squeezed it for the last time and told him to sleep well.
I went to the prayers session on Sunday – exactly one week after I had to fight to keep grandpa’s hand away from the life support tube. The praying was quick. Then I went to have dinner with my uncles and aunts from Uttaradit – my father’s older brothers and their wives had come down for the day to attend the funeral.
That whole week, my mom went to the temple every day. I wanted to go with her, but I had a lot of subtitles work on my hands. It was the next Saturday that I went to the temple again, for the cremation ceremony. I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with my younger cousin, handing out the commemorative books which had photographs of the family – one of which was of me and grandpa that I’d taken a few years back when I visited him alone at his house and posted on Instagram. A moment of happiness captured for posterity. I put the paper flower in the cremation chamber and told grandpa that I’d see him again. After all the family had said our goodbyes, the officials closed the door and lighted the fire. And like that, grandpa’s body was cremated.
On Sunday, we went to the temple early to collect his remains. The tiny pieces of bones were neatly arranged in the form of a miniature human body. We picked out some pieces to keep in the family ancestral chamber at Chanasongkram temple, and the rest we took out to the mouth of the Gulf of Thailand and dropped to the bottom of the sea. We finally laid our grandpa to rest.
Grandpa had battled for years with coronary diseases and diabetes, but in the end we lost him to a simple viral infection from – our guess is – a shrimp and zucchini stir-fried dish that he ate for dinner at home the Tuesday evening before he admitted himself to hospital.
Life really is unpredictable.
This post was written so I don’t forget every minute of what happened, but I hope it also serves as a reminder for you all that those we love will not stay with us forever. Let’s make our time with them count so when the time comes to part we have no regrets.