I’ve known Bill my entire life. He and my Grandpa were best friends since they were kids. When I was growing up Bill and his wife Bernie were just part of the family. I remember the four of them – Bill, Bernie, Grandma & Grandpa – playing cards in the kitchen while my brother and cousins and I read or watched TV or played games in the front room. That’s just how it was: Bill & Bernie, Grandma & Grandpa.
Then Bernie passed away. And then Grandpa was in the hospital and then he passed away. So then it was just Bill and Grandma.
And it is, still.
They married almost two years after Grandpa died. They just celebrated their ten year anniversary. Then Bill went into the hospital.
He went in on Saturday after he reacted badly to the anesthesia from a recent surgery. He couldn’t walk; he didn’t know where he was. Bill, like pretty much everyone in my family (blood or not), is fiercely independent so this had us all scared. When their in-home nurse came by for her regular visit she said that Bill had to get into the hospital and there was no way that Grandma could take care of him on her own. When mom told me she was driving down to Paris, IL, to see them there was no question that I would be going with her.
Wednesday we arrived at the hospital in Terre Haute, just across the border in Indiana, and we learned that my Grandma had been in the emergency room that morning. She’d been feeling faint, nauseous, and so out of breath that she knew she needed to get checked out. Good thing she did, since she had atrial fibrillation.
She kept saying that she must be the luckiest woman in the world and that God must want her to live to be 100, because who else discovers this condition while they happen to be in a hospital and when they happen to have two loved ones coming in to help out?
And it’s a good thing we arrived when we did. Grandma had been at the hospital almost constantly since Saturday and she was exhausted. Hospitals aren’t meant for sleep anyway, and when you’re filled with anxiety for someone you love who is right next to you and you can’t do anything to help, any nascent slumber disappears the moment he mumbles or moans or moves. So, we took her home that night so she could rest and helped get her organized the next morning before heading back to Terre Haute.
Before we left Chicago Mom & I had the mistaken idea that I’d be able to get some work done while we were gone. It’s not that I didn’t want to help out, not AT ALL, but lately my life’s been a bit intense. There have been a lot of amazing developments happening all at once and that means I’m working every available minute. I have people relying on me; contracts and obligations to fulfill; expectations to meet. Surely I’d be able to connect at my grandma’s house or Mom could drop me off at a coffee shop for a couple of hours.
Obviously I’ve never really been in this situation before.
There was no time except for when we were in Paris, and while Grandma had DSL so I could take care of some emails I couldn’t connect with my computer. AT&T has no EDGE or 3G Internet connection so my phone was just a phone until we got back onto I-70.
When I could I explained to those who were expecting information from me that my Grandfather was in the hospital and I would respond when I was able. I knew it would have been more accurate to say my step-grandfather, but that would have required too much explanation and I didn’t feel it did justice to the impact Bill’s had on my life.
Bill is to me now and always has been Bill. My Grandfather was an “ornery old cuss” and a larger than life figure, a blue collar guy with a wrinkled brow and white v-neck t-shirts and the smell from the flick of his Zippo lingering whenever he left the room. He was also the man whose fudge made me wish for the holidays almost more than Santa. And Bill was Bill. He was a smiling figure, a man with not much to say but a lot of love to share.
And he is, still.
Before I left this afternoon Bill was talking with the physical therapist. He knew where he was; he was smiling and joking and was the Bill I remembered from, well, from forever.
He may not be my Grandfather, but he’s my family. He’s my Bill.