Last week, I lost my grandfather. Two years ago, I lost my grandfather from the other side. This is what I wrote at the time.
My grandfather died in December. For me and my siblings, this was the first real “death in the family”, and it was a lot of new experiences and new stresses and new awkward situations. His heart stopped for 30 minutes, and then we had 5 days of waiting in the hospital, trying to find out what was going to happen, and trying to be there for my grandmother, and trying to be there for my grandfather in whatever way was still possible.
I was hyper-conscious of religion in this situation, because some of my family are very religious, and some of my family are not.
A few of them had a really hard time being in the room with him, because it was hard to see him that way, unconscious and swollen. But for whatever reason, I did want to be in the room. I wanted to be there with that real person, in that real situation. I didn’t want to just “remember him as he was”. That in its own way would be a sort of concession to death, a sort of rejection of the life that was still there.
I very much admired my grandmother through this whole process. She fought for his life, even when it became apparent that if he did regain consciousness, he probably wouldn’t regain full independence. Even when it became apparent that he would probably struggle with brain damage, and all the intense difficulties that would entail.
I admired her, because she so clearly valued his life, to whatever degree it was possible. I didn’t feel like this was just being afraid to let go, or holding on to something symbolic and unreal…I felt like she was quite ready for whatever “life after heart stoppage” would mean.
When they finally told us that there was no brain activity, and no chance of him regaining brain activity, she asked her children to help her make the decision, and then sat with him the entire night, holding his hand for as long as she could.
During this whole process, a lot of scriptures were read, and a lot of songs were sung, and a lot of encouraging things were said. To me, most of them felt glib — like they were disconnected from the reality of what was happening in front of us. But this passage from Job:
I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
For some reason, that resonated.
I’m mostly familiar with this passage as part of the debate over whether we are resurrected as spirits or as flesh—people argue over whether it says “in my flesh” or “out of my flesh”. But I think that was the farthest thing from the author’s mind.
The passage is about who we are, and our deep and never-ending hunger for connection. It’s about that yearning for connection reaching beyond our limits, our place and situation; the first experience of life, and the last experience in death.
I myself will see him; with my own eyes — I, and not another.