By Megan Watson, Elder & Disability Law Clinic Student, Spring 2017
My paternal grandfather “Papa” passed away in November 2010. The last year and a half of his life was spent in an institution where he received care from competent and sympathetic nurses and where my grandmother visited him daily. When my grandfather was placed into assisted living following a stroke, my dad and I began taking road-trips to see him every month. It became a sort of tradition for the two of us. I grew up in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas, about seven hours away from where my grandparents lived in southeast Kansas. Once a month we would load up the car with snacks and gas and make the seven hour trip to Kansas. Seven hours in the car might not sound that great, but we always had a good time together. Along with eating lots of junk food we listened to the Radio Classics channel on XM and talked, and talked. My dad would often tell me stories about his childhood and about Papa.
We always brought Papa Lindor Truffles when we visited—between us, my aunt, and my grandmother I knew he never lacked for sweets and junk food. At first, he didn’t seem all that different to me. He was the same Papa I knew, maybe a little weaker. However, over time I began to notice the changes. He stopped being so responsive to us when we visited, and he was more confused about who we were and where he was. He was eventually moved to a nursing home, where he spent the last two months of his life.
When he died, it wasn’t all that unexpected. I last saw him on Friday of my Thanksgiving break, and he died the following Tuesday. That week following his death was hectic, as those weeks often are. It was an odd feeling: just like that, my grandfather was no longer here. I had just seen him, and now he wasn’t here.
From that experience, I saw what it is like to lose a parent. I saw my dad struggle to watch his father slip further and further away. I know it must have been hard for my dad to see Papa like that—to see a once strong and capable man be slowly conquered by his own body and mind. My dad treated my grandfather, his dad, with dignity, kindness, and gentleness throughout his last months. Month after month he dutifully made the trip to Kansas to spend a couple of days with his father.
I am grateful for the time that I spent with Papa, who has been gone now for almost six years. I am grateful for all those road-trips and all those truffles. But mainly, I am grateful for the time that I spent with my dad. By traveling with him to Kansas every month to see Papa, I shared a special and memorable experience with him. By watching my dad on those trips I learned how to prepare my heart for loss, how to treat my loved ones with dignity when they need and deserve it most, and how to cherish those final days.
We are so careful to prepare our bank accounts and our estates for loss, but let’s remember to prepare our hearts as well, and be sure to cherish the time we have with those we love.