Thursday, August 26, 2004

Hey Vito! 

My grandpa always seemed so big to me. When I was younger, it seemed like he could do anything. He did woodworking. He bought bikes from flea markets and garage sales and would fix them and sell them. I have never in my life owned a brand new bike. They were all built by grandpa. He was loud and talked with pointed gestures. He would point at things using his middle finger. Weird. When he smiled, he smiled with his whole face. His eyes smiled. Grandpa was big and strong and he could do anything.

The past 10 years, there's been a slow and steady decline. I think it started with Grandma's heart attack and subsequent open heart surgery. He just got slower. And smaller. And quiet. The years began wearing on him. His smiles were less frequent. He stopped woodworking, and building bikes.

Grandpa shrunk.

I have been in denial about this for a long time. But when I saw him last weekend, I was shocked. He looked so small and frail. And lost. He just sat in a chair and stared into space. When someone put food in front of him, he ate. When asked a direct question, he would respond. But he was just going through the motions. It broke my heart.

At the funeral home, he stared at the casket for a little while, my mother crying, her arm around him and they looked at grandma. He didn't say anything. Then he took his post in the nearest chair, and awaited the flow of people. We made sure someone was sitting next to him at all times. I sat next to him for awhile. People would come up and say "my condolences, Vito" and he would respond with "oh, you know...she hit her head" and he would reach back and touch the back of his head.

Did I tell you what happened? The week before, the ugly picture hanging behind their couch fell. Grandpa wanted to rehang it, and grandma decided to help him. She stood up on the couch. Grandma. With the bad knees. And chronic pain from a nerve disorder in her spine. And some kind of palsy in her arm, which she says happened from the anethesia from her heart surgery. Grandma, stood on the couch, and fell over backwards onto the floor and hit her head. At the hospital that night they pronounced her fine, but days later, as she lay in a coma, the neurosurgeon told my mother that the fall most definitely caused the hemorrhage. All from hanging an ugly picture. I can't decide whether to scream with rage or cry when I think about it.

I sat next to him as the people went by, kissing him on the cheek and giving me a hug. I didn't know most of them - distant relatives. It was OK, Grandpa didn't remember most of them either. After they would move on, I would look at him. "did you know who that was?" "no!" and we would have a little chuckle.

Before my parents brought him to Scranton, Grandpa dug out an old cigar box full of cash and rolled coins, and stuffed a big wad of cash into his pocket. Sunday was the viewing, at 4pm. Grandpa was ready in his suit by the time we got to Aunt Rose's at 9am. After a while we noticed the huge roll of money in his front pocket. Mom told him he wouldn't have to pay for anything and to put it away. The next day was the funeral, and sure enough, that morning the huge wad of cash was back. He would need some money for the lunch after the service, so we convinced him to put the money in an envelope. Dad took him downstairs to convince him not to take it all. Grandpa kept saying "I don't think I brought enough." Dad told me later than he had $10,000 in hundred dollar bills in his pocket, and could only be persuaded to leave $4000 at the house. He seemed a little shocked when the bill for the lunch only came to $650 (for 45 people). "I didn't think I brought enough!"

He seemed to perk up a little Monday night. Surrounded by family and food, and with the Yankee game on TV, he actually participated in conversation. He came over to tease us (me, mom, her cousin, and aunt rose) as we played rummycube again. He offered his assistance, he claims, but he really wanted to grab some more candy out of the bowl on the table. He ate candy all weekend, and we were glad to give it to him.

What to do with Grandpa. That is the million dollar question. He knows what he wants to do. He wants to sell the house, as he and grandma had planned, and move to Scranton. Aunt Rose was on board, he could stay with her until he got settled! But Aunt Rose is old, and the steps in her house are steep and narrow. He could fall and she wouldn't be able to help him.

Mom doesn't want him to move. Scranton is 6 hours away from Pittsburgh. She wouldn't be able to help him much. It's just too far away. She wants him to move into an assisted care center near Pittsburgh. He just can't live on his own. He can't live with my parents, either. Too many steps. No step. No more falling.

He wants to try it on his. He's insistent. He's stubborn. They drove back to his home in Sharon (2 hours north of Pittsburgh) and mom stayed with him this week, to help get things settled, to cook and freeze away meals, to teach him how to use the microwave and how to do laundry.

Tomorrow is mom's birthday. Happy birthday mom. Saturday Kevin and I are driving up to Pittsburgh for the week. I go every year this time for my vacation. We were supposed to spend the end of the week with my parents at Cedar Point in Ohio, but I'm not sure that will happen. It will be a very strange and sad week.