With the recent death of my Aunt Pat, the death of my Dad came back into my mind. I wrote about this in “Notes To My Kids”. It is one of the longer notes in the book, there is a lot to tell when such things happen in lifes ups and in this case down.
To Roger and Jane:
When you are young, you think your parents and grandparents have always been around and will always be around. Unfortunately, that is never true. We all get old and finally die. Such is the sad nature of life. When someone who loves you dearly passes away, the event is even sadder than it usually is. That was the case with my dad, your beloved Granddad Tom.
My dad, like MeeMaw, loved you two without a doubt and without conditions. When he was around you, you could see his eyes were filled with happiness and delight. He would play with you, take you places with him like the store close to their house to get candy and snacks, and spend endless hours in the swimming pool with you with a big smile on his face.
He was the epitome of a grandfather. He was patient when you were acting up, cared for you if you were sick, and of course, showered endless gifts on you on your birthdays and Christmas. He did not give you things and then not spend time with you like some people do; he gave and was with you because that made you happy and brought glee and variety into your little worlds.
When he got sick, I knew it was not going to end well. Roger was old enough to understand what was happening, but Jane, you were not old enough to really get what was happening. When they operated on him at the hospital in Denton, the news that he had a large cancerous mass was devastating to us all. The surgeon could not get the entire tumor; and remembering how brain cancer got my granddad, the ubiquitous “TR,” I knew what was in store for him.
He started chemotherapy, which lasted for some months and wore on him like it does most people who endure it. He got sick and then felt better, and went back the other way more than once. He lost weight and looked thin. Being an athlete in the past, his physical changes were most shocking because he had always been strong and healthy (except for his colitis, which he had since he was 18). After a point, he stopped the treatment because it was not going to save him, and he was tired of fighting. He even asked his oncologist if he could “speed it up.” “It” being the cancer, as you might guess. After the many trials he had been through since I was in college, I guess he had decided to struggle no longer and pass on.
The thing about this whole process that still makes me cry is the last time I saw him and talked to him. He was back in the hospital in Denton and not doing well. We knew the end was not far off. Your mom and I were about to take you to Disney World for a much needed vacation. You knew your granddad was very sick, but you were still looking forward to going there.
I went to Denton to talk to him. On his hospital death bed, he made it clear that he wanted us to go ahead and take you to Disney and not cancel the trip to remain with him. He meant it, saying we might not get another chance to do such a trip. In the end, I agreed, hugged him, told him I loved him, and drove back to Fort Worth, crying my eyes out.
I talked to your mom about what he said; my eyes again full of tears, and we decided to go to Florida, even with him near death because the cancer had spread so much. We flew to Florida and had fun with you for a few days, even though my mind was far from being at ease. I would talk to MeeMaw every day and get the latest on how he was. He was not doing well and then sunk into the coma he never awoke from. We flew back home and awaited the inevitable.
Your aunt, MeeMaw, and I stayed by his side at the hospital. MeeMaw had me shave him, even though he was unconscious. She said he never went unshaven and wanted him to look clean and not so bad–certainly, she was seeing him well and fit as he always had been before. So I got a razor and some shaving cream and gently cut his whiskers and washed his face. I recalled how he helped me when I had back surgery and thought a shave was a small way to repay his acts of assistance and love he had always given me.
We knew he was about to die because his vital signs were weakening. Early in the morning one day, we watched him take his last breath. MeeMaw bent over, kissed him, said she loved him, and started to cry, as we all did that day.
We took you kids to the funeral. It was the usual Turner/Couch affair. The funeral was at the Vernie Keel Funeral Home in Gainesville, and then the burial at Valley View Cemetery, where the rest of my family also rests—your Uncle Mike included. My uncle, who was a minister, Uncle Charles, did the service. Some of the family wanted me to do the eulogy given my gift of gab, but I simply could not do that; my emotions were too strong to do it. Thankfully the service was over, and the mourning began.
One thing that I remember the most was not the funeral or his suffering, but instead, the short dream I had right after his burial. I awoke in my old bed after seeing a brown void in my personal dreamland, where his face appeared with no body. He had a big, gentle smile on his face but said nothing at all. His image lingered for a bit, and I felt like he was saying everything was okay, live your life, and do not be so sad. We can debate if dreams come from within our minds or from somewhere else, like God or a ghost, but the vision of him was stark and real enough and made me feel less down. And life did go on.
After the burial, we stayed with MeeMaw a couple of days and helped her with some things around the house and the estate-related matters. Then we returned back home. I can still picture the sad look on MeeMaw’s face, as we drove away from the house. The pool was still there, but its biggest fan would never jump in it again with the ones he loved.
In the end, we will all open and pass through the gate of forever one day. When we do, let us hope we showed the ones in our family the same love he showed you and the rest of us each day. He was not perfect—no one is—but I know he was the perfect granddad for you. For that alone, you should always be thankful for his part in your lives and remember him well.