I'm a little slow today. I just switched to Sanka. So...have a heart?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Death's Telephone Tree

Six and a half years ago, my grandmother, the person I loved most in the world, died.

And although everyone knew she was sick, I never understood, even then at 20, the logistics of the "Death Telephone Tree." "How," I wondered, "Does everyone find out that you're sick and/or dead?"

Tonight, I learned the answer - as I originated it.

Now, I'm not writing this post because I want sympathy or condolence notes; it would be improper for me to collect condolences on behalf of my grandfather, because even though he was married to my grandmother (he's not my blood grandfather - he died in 1970) and even though I love him in some far-off way, and even though I have a relationship with him, in some far-off way, his death will be akin to a great aunt's death. A sorrowful event, but a distant event.

Nevertheless, because I am the muffinmaker and the soup cooker, and the card writer, and basically the last half-assed embodiment of a caring family member (our family isn't terribly close, we love each other from a far... with years between contact.) I called my Grandfather's hospital room today, because I was sure he was out of the ICU.

Papa went in on Friday or Saturday for some vascular surgery - the vessels in his legs haven't worked right for years, and he recently got a cut on his foot that didn't heal for quite some time. So, this weekend they brought him in for surgery on those veins. As a side note, he had shrunk down to 90 pounds, because he hasn't been able to swallow for the last month, and has been living off Ensure.

Today, I called his hospital room, expecting him to be tired, but with it. What I found was far more concerning. My grandfather has a girlfriend, who is a Filipino woman in her mid 60s. My grandfather is about to turn 94. She answered the phone and I told her who it was, and asked how he was doing. She told me, "Not well," and I pressed a little further -- only to find out that my grandfather was diagnosed with throat cancer today.

Yes, yes, "Ohhh, how horrible." It is, I've said it for you, I don't want condolence notes.

My grandfather could whisper into the phone, but couldn't speak audibly. They're starting Chemotherapy on him tomorrow, and the reports we're getting are cautiously optimistic, but he's almost 100 years old. Regardless of what happens, he hasn't long for this world.

After receiving the news, letting my grandfather know that I was going to pray for him and send him good vibes, and thanking his girlfriend for being there for him, I started the Telephone tree.

I called my mom and let her know. She wasn't surprised. She called her sister, and then called me back later on during dinner, to thank me. She's thanking me, because next weekend, I'm flying up to Pensacola for the weekend to be the Family's representative at the proverbial deathbed. Now, he may die (I hope he doesn't) or he may not, but I'm the one going up there to say a last goodbye on behalf of my family if the time really is here. I'm doing it mostly out of a sense of obligation to my Grandmother, but also because I have very little faith in the other three cousins besides my Brother, to make any sort of attempt to be here as the clock winds down. And I couldn't live with the guilt if I let my grandfather die without at least making one trip to Pensacola, where he moved two or three years ago.

My mother has a thing with terminal illness, because she watched her father die slowly. She can't be around it. And miraculously, as prickly as I am, in a crisis, I am very, very good. So, I'm flying up to sit beside the patient and listen to stories and play mini-checkers, and do whatever I can to pass a pleasant weekend that absolves me from two years of shoddy visitation when he lived 30 miles from me, and six years of spotty communication with him. On behalf of Me and my Family. We sort of forgot about him after my Grandmother died. She was the star and he was her pedastal.

Once I started the ball rolling, and mom called to thank me during dinner (which surprised me, because I didn't expect any gratitude for this mitzvah) she emailed me later to tell me that she had called her sister, who had spoken to Ellie recently (my third cousin [who's pushing 80]) and she had asked about my grandfather, and to please let her know of my Grandfather's condition. And so I did...

And now I'm starting to understand how news spreads through a family.

It comes to one. And to one two. And from two to four... and on, and on, and on.

Until everyone knows - that someone is sick... or that someone has died.

I figured I would have played the "ball roller" at least twice, eventually with my parents. But I never thought it would be me who pushed the ball with my grandfather... I feel a little too young to have put this machinery in motion. But if I can get a result of some outpouring towards him, and some goodwill sent his way, that he recieves, then I will have done a good thing. And I'll be okay with what the immediate or near future holds. Hell, I have no choice but to be okay with it, but I'll feel like he will die knowing that people care about him. And that's important.