9 days ago I lost one of the greatest people in my life. My Opa (German for grandpa) at the age of only 76, passed away after a two and a half year battle with Melanoma. I am just so incredibly saddened by this loss and I'm hoping by getting some of these thoughts out it will help with healing/grieving process. I have little to no relationship with my father and so for me that's more what my Opa was...a dad...he walked me down the aisle at my wedding, he was in the hospital waiting room when I was having both of my babies, holidays, birthdays, CUBS games, he and I were so close and did so much together...I can't believe that's over.
Opa and I at my wedding reception 08-08-08
Beckham, Me, Opa, & Kyle (my brother) at a Cubs game, summer 2010
We were very lucky to have him with us for so long...the average life expectancy after being diagnosed with Melanoma is only 10 months, Opa was with us for 30! We're even luckier if you take into consideration that (with the exception of the last few weeks) the last two and a half years were pretty great...he had chemo and radiation, had a couple of surgeries, but he always recovered well and he suffered from very few side effects (and sometimes NONE). This was a blessing...but sometimes I think this is what has made it even harder...he always seemed to bounce right back...the cancer was always there, and unfortunately he never responded to any of the treatments he was given but, until the very end, he never even had any symptoms...no pains, no sickness, nothing. I guess I was always just hoping against hope, that he'd just keep on keeping on. I wasn't in denial, I knew how sick he was and what the ultimate outcome would most likely be...he had tumors EVERYWHERE--his throat, abdomen, spine, every time he went for a scan they found more...but honestly, if you just saw him out and about, and weren't told, you would have thought he was perfectly healthy.
Beckham, Oma, Kendall, & Opa, February 2011
Opa and Kendall, March 2011
Opa and Beckham, bowling buddies, November 2011
The last few weeks though, boy they were brutal. I wouldn't wish what he went through on anyone...it was terrible to see someone you love deteriorate right before your eyes. About eight weeks ago, he became VERY disoriented and irritable, my mom was at my grandparents home and called his doctor and he told her to take him to the ER...later that night we found out there were new tumors...this time, in his brain. The doctors said they'd start radiation immediately, but due to the size and quantity of the tumors, they'd just be buying him a little time...maybe 6 months to a year. We were all heartbroken, but still optimistic, we'd heard this so many times before, and like I said, he had always just kept on going...he started radiation, and after 3 weeks there was another trip to the ER, he was in lots of pain...he said his whole body was hurting. They took another scan and found more tumors, they were in his chest on his back...and they found that the radiation had done nothing for the tumors in his brain...some tumors were the same size they'd been a few weeks prior, others had grown larger, and there were new ones. The doctors said they thought he had two weeks to two months left to be with us. It was like our worst fears were coming true.
Kendall and Opa, visiting during December's hospital trip
Me and my Op's, visiting during his last hospital trip, January 2012
Over the next several days my mom and Oma (German for Grandma) coordinated everything for him to come home...they set up for hospice to be at the house, got all of his supplies--hospital bed, wheel chair, ca mode, pain meds, etc.--delivered and set up, and then he was discharged...the doctors said there would be good days and bad days, days when he'd seem perfectly fine and able to carry on normal conversation and days when he'd get confused or not seem to make much sense to us. He was home for two weeks. I managed to make it over there with the kids as much as I could--everyday or every other day, and tried to make a few last minute memories. For the most part, he had good days, there were times when he asked what seemed like goofy questions and he had a few conversations with people we couldn't see, but he always knew when we were there and knew who we were and was able to squeeze out a few smiles for us.
My whole life I'd only known my Opa to be atheist...and not just a wishy-washy one either...this is a man who had read the Bible...the entire thing, cover-to-cover and didn't believe. I'll tell you he was one of the smartest men I've ever known...except for in this belief (or lack thereof)...I had talked to my family and decided it would be a good idea to see if the pastor from my church would be able to come by and visit with my Opa. I called and talked to Pastor Bob on Sunday, January 22 and arranged for him to come by grandparents the following evening. Pastor Bob arrived at 6pm and at 6:28pm I was walking him back out the door. I truly believe that in those 28 minutes, I witnessed a miracle. I brought Pastor Bob in to meet my Opa and it was like an instant moment of clarity for him...he was talking to Pastor Bob completely normal...cracking jokes, talking about the Marine Corp, meeting Oma (five minutes prior, Opa was asking me when I was going to meet with Obama again!). After some chit-chat and building a little rapport, Pastor Bob told my Opa he knew how sick he was, and that normally he wasn't quite so forward or abrupt, but said that he just had to ask him point blank...do you know the Lord?...do you want to know the Lord?...to which my Opa said clear as day, "Yes, I do." Pastor Bob went on to talk to my Opa for a few minutes and then they prayed together, and with tears running down his face, my Opa accepted God, and was saved. My Oma was in the room, she was crying and had the biggest smile across her face...I was holding one of my Opa's hands and crying...when they were done praying, Pastor Bob was going to leave so my Opa could enjoy this time with his family, and my Opa looked at him and said, "I just have one question for you...where have you been all my life?"...Pastor Bob grinned a little and told him it didn't matter where he'd been, or if they had met twenty years prior, nothing would have been different, this was his time. It was amazing.
Over the course of the next 6 days, Opa's health deteriorated pretty quickly. On Wednesday he was complaining of a pain in his neck (another tumor) and by Thursday evening he was having trouble talking and swallowing. The next morning when the nurse came she said she thought he may only have about 48 hours left. I don't work on Friday's so the kids and I were there most of the day, and Bobby came over in the evening to visit and bring Kendall home...Beckham and I were there until 9 or so. Opa was still there, very alert and able to nod in agreement and to say I Love You. We went back over to the house Saturday afternoon, he had refused to sleep at all Friday night, and by the time we got there you could see how exhausted he was. We would bring Kendall into the room every now and then and she'd give him a kiss and he would give a huge smile. Beckham would come in and visit every now and then in between playing and say "I love you, Tic-Toc!" (another German-ish thing meaning, great-grandpa) and my Opa would nod his head vigorously to tell him he loved him too. At one point it was just my Oma and I in the room with him and I asked my Opa if he knew how much I loved him (which is silly, because I already knew he did!) and he shook his head, then I told him that Beckham would always remember him and that Kendall would always know who he was and told him if he was tired he didn't have to keep fighting for us, and that we'd all take care of each other...he shook his head again and a tear ran down his face. When I left that night, I said goodbye to my Opa, held his hand, and gave him a big kiss...he squeezed my hand and wouldn't let it go, so I sat with him for a few more minutes. Before I went to the car I told my mom and aunt that if anything changed it didn't matter what time they had better call me.
At 6am Sunday, January 29th the phone rang, it was my mom saying she thought I should come over...something was different. I woke up Bobby to tell him I was leaving, and headed over. When I got to the house, Opa's breathing was so labored and loud...his eyes barely open, and he was no longer able to let us know if he was conscious or not. My Oma, mom, aunt, brother, cousin, and I spent all morning with him in his room, I sat with him in his bed, my Oma, mom, and aunt were at either side of him, and my brother and cousin were sitting at the foot of his bed. I pulled out my cell phone and turned on Pandora and played some of his favorite music. We just sat there with him, telling him we loved him but that it was ok...he didn't have to fight anymore. His nurse arrived just before 10:30 that morning, and told us a bit of what was going on and how his body was beginning to shutdown and that there likely wasn't much time left...she went to take his blood pressure and just as she got the sleeve around his arm he opened his eyes wide and took a deep silent breath, that would be his last. I think I actually felt heartbroken for the first time in my life. It was so sad to know that he was gone...that I wouldn't hear his voice again (or at least for a very long time) or be able to call him on the phone, or go to a Cubs game or hear another bad joke.
I am so very sad for my loss...but I can honestly say that I am happy for him. He was in pain, he wouldn't have ever wanted to live like that. I know that he is in Heaven, and he is happy and healthy, has no pain and can take deep sweet breaths. I know that he is at peace. I don't know how people who do not have faith in God are able to handle such a loss...to think that they are just gone...it's just over...it seems like that would make an already sad time almost unbearable. I know that he is at peace and happy in Heaven and I know that I will see him again. This is the greatest comfort.
I love you the most Opa, I said it first and thought it first, hahaha!
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