The Best/Worst Trip Home Ever
Updated: May 23, 2021
Where have I been? Why haven't I posted any new adventures in a month? For those of you who make it through this mammoth post, I'll explain, and hopefully you're all okay with this one breaking my typical "adventure" conventions.
A Miraculous Recovery
The evening of Friday, February 5, 2021, I got a message from my mom that my 90-year-old grandpa, "Bump," had a bad fall. He's fallen several times the past few years and was very lucky to never get seriously hurt, but the nurses and aides that care for him in the assisted living facility were very concerned that he had broken his hip this time. He was rushed to the hospital where they soon confirmed it was broken and thus scheduled surgery for the following morning. Once they got a look inside, the surgeon decided a replacement would be better than a repair, so that is what they proceeded with. The medical staff said Bump should be just fine as he is in such good health.
My heart was hurting. For everyone I have known in his age group who breaks their hip, it inevitably becomes the beginning of the end. And I was not ready for it to come to an end for Bump. I sent out emails to my faithful prayer warriors to pray so hard for Bump's health and full recovery. Even my 6-year-old nephew led his family in a prayer for Bump. He just didn't seem like an old person who was close to the end yet.
Saturday afternoon, following the surgery, my aunt said he ate all of his (liquid) lunch and he looks good. We were all still praying and staying quite positive that he might beat the odds and enjoy a full recovery.
On Monday during visiting hours, my mom got to spend the day with him in the hospital. She said he was pretty alert and was eating fairly well. He was being quite brave and was thanking his nurses, even when they were poking him with needles. By Tuesday, however, it was determined through some tests that Bump had suffered a stroke (or a series of mini strokes) and now his left side was immobile and his speech was garbled, but he still knew my uncle Greg by name when he came to visit. Greg also noted that Bump lifted his left arm on his own, so it looked like his post-stroke condition was slowly improving. We continued to celebrate the small wins and we all remained positive that he would pull through.
My cousin Lindsay spent the day with Bump on Wednesday and he told her he had to get better so he could get out of there. I was very glad to hear that he declared this because it meant he still had the will to live and was not yet ready to give up. Bump was still sleeping a lot, which can be a "side effect" of the stroke, but overall, he seemed to be progressing nicely and they thought maybe 2 or 3 more days in the hospital.
On Thursday, my uncle James, who flew up from Florida, came to visit Bump. Bump knew him, knew his name, and was eating even better than before. And then the best news: The medical staff determined that Bump had improved enough to be discharged from the hospital tomorrow. We were overjoyed.
In the meantime, my family had made a decision that upon his release, Bump would return to his assisted living apartment with my grandma rather than go into rehab/transitional care, for an undetermined amount of time, where he would be in isolation and unable to have any visitors. By contrast, if he goes directly back to assisted living, he'll have to be in quarantine for 14 days, but after that, he and my grandma can continue life as usual together, in familiar surroundings, and with visitors. Unfortunately, this would also mean his physical recovery would not progress as quickly, and he'd need to remain in a wheelchair for the rest of his life, but considering all of the factors, getting him back "home" seemed like the best option, whether he has 2 weeks or 2 years left on earth.
Friday morning, February 12, Bump was discharged from the hospital, set up comfortably in his "quarantine" room, and my grandma was temporarily moved to her own room for the next 14 days. Everything seemed to be on the upswing and, praise God, our prayers had been answered.
A Turn of Events Kicks Off the Beginning of the End
Five days later, on Wednesday, February 17, my mom called me from the car on her way to see my grandpa. In this 30-second phone call, I was told that my grandpa was declining fast and his nurse was suggesting we all get there to see him soon. I stumbled downstairs, vision blurred by tears, and busted in on my husband's work call. He took one look at my face and immediately hung up. All I could get out was, "Bump's dying." Then I broke down like I never have before. I was so incredibly sad and mad at the same time. My heart broke. I felt helpless. I felt guilty. I felt duped. I felt like this was a nightmare rather than a reality. I felt my grandpa slipping through my fingers while I stood there and bawled inconsolably.
The last time I had seen Bump was 6 months ago, and due to COVID regulations, we had to wear masks, meet outdoors, and maintain at least a 6-foot distance. So I couldn't even hug him. I'm honestly not even sure he knew it was me that day. But if I could have hugged him, he would have known it was me. He always knew my hugs.
Then it hit me. I told my husband that I needed to get there to see him now. Like, right now. Immediately. It was the strongest longing in my heart that I think I've ever experienced, a deep and aching need to be there. Now. He booked me a one-way ticket on the next flight out, which meant we had to leave the house in about 15 minutes. I rushed around, frantically packing a simple carry-on and my backpack, trying not to forget any necessities, and trying to remember everything I would need to work remotely -- away from my home office. I had no idea how much to pack because who knew how long I would end up staying. Then it occurred to me: I need to pack a funeral outfit.
My heart sank.
It's hard enough putting together outfits to wear in public after a year of COVID isolations and shutdowns let alone a respectable outfit for your grandpa's funeral. It almost felt morbid or pessimistic to come that prepared, but I knew I had to.
We left in a flurry, my husband speeding as fast as he could down the mountain pass to the airport. Thankfully, the weather and road conditions were perfect. On the way, we were notified that my flight had been delayed by an hour, so we were able to slow ourselves down some, but that delay also meant my connection in Denver would be as tight as they come and I had a huge chance of missing it. I told myself I would just stay the course and deal with whatever comes. No sense in stressing out about it yet. As a random thought, just before we arrived at the airport, my husband suggested I buy a pack of Kleenex before I boarded. He dropped me off with a hug at the departures doors and off I went with tear-filled eyes.
While waiting at the gate, I had a few snacks and some water to tide me over, and then one of the airline staff announced that if any passengers were going to be making a connection in Denver, we should get in line to speak with her about possibly changing a connecting flight to something later, so that we wouldn't miss it. So, I got in line and when I finally got up to the counter, I told her that I was just trying to get to Minneapolis before my grandpa passes away and I asked if there was anything she could do to help ensure I made my connection. She looked in her database and said, "Not really. Let's just hope you make it. But I can upgrade you to a seat closer to the front of the plane so you can get off quicker." So, she did that and I was a little grateful for at least that small advantage.
I usually take naps when I fly, but I couldn't relax on the flight to Denver at all. I was hyper-focused on how I was going to get off the plane the quickest and make it to the gate for my connecting flight. I was praying so hard that I would make it in time, because it was the last flight out of Denver to Minneapolis that night, and if I missed it, I would be spending the night in the airport. I obviously had no idea how much time Bump had left, but I told myself that if it wasn't in God's plan to get me there in time to see him, that I would need to be okay with that.
The First Miracle
On our final descent into Denver, a dad and his 9-year-old(?) son were sitting a row in front of me on the opposite side of the aisle. I could tell something was going on with them. The dad reached for the barf bag and I thought, "Great. Now I'm going to be near this puking kid." Shortly after, the dad called out locally, "Does anyone have any napkins or tissues? My son has a really bad bloody nose." I felt somewhat relieved and my compassion kicked in. Now, I didn't end up buying a pack of Kleenex at the airport before I left because I found one in my backpack from a previous trip, so I unzipped the pocket, called out to the dad, and tossed the pack his way. He thanked me and, if I'm being honest, I wondered if my good deed would build up my karma for making my connecting flight in a few minutes.
Once we landed, we taxied to the gate for what felt like an hour. My anxiety was building as I continuously checked my watch and willfully wished the plane to move faster. The flight attendant made final announcements on the intercom, telling us that 80% of the passengers on this flight will all be trying to make tight connections in Denver, so if any passengers are not trying to make a tight connection, they should stay seated and let the rest of us off first. But then she also made a point to say that they would be releasing us row by row and no one was to rush to the front.
I kept looking at my watch, checking the time, and checking the status of my connecting flight in the airline app on my phone. My connecting flight was scheduled to depart at 6:35PM. It was now 6:15PM and I was still on the plane.
Normally, I am not one to be rude or push my way through to get to the front of any line or crowd, but today, I really felt like I had to do something more aggressive if I had any chance of getting on the next flight. As soon as our plane came to a halt, I immediately unbuckled and stood up to get my carry-on out of the overhead bin and started moving toward the front of the plane. As soon as I reached the "first class" section, a guy about 6-foot-3 saw me in his peripheral vision, and he stood up in the middle of the aisle, fully blocking it to ensure a peasant like me from economy class wouldn't have any opportunity of deplaning before he did.
I was angry but there wasn't much I could do except stand there and wait my turn. The aircraft door connected to the jetway took forever to open. Despite "80% of the passengers being in a hurry to catch a tight connection," it seemed like nobody was in a hurry except me -- oh, and the guy behind me who I overheard say to someone else, "I bet she's on the same connecting flight as me." I half turned around and asked him, "Are you trying to get to Minneapolis?" He replied yes. I nodded.
I looked at my watch and it said 6:30PM. My hope was waning fast. The door finally opened and I don't think I've ever seen first class passengers deplane so slowly in my life, and even after all of the flight attendant announcements leading up to this. I tried to balance my want to push through everyone with some forced patience, and let me say it was not easy. I finally got off the plane and started running through the jetway and I immediately located gate B26, which is directly across the concourse from B25, where we deplaned, except that the concourse is completely divided by the moving sidewalks, so I and my Minneapolis connection buddy both took off running to the end of the sidewalk and then double-backed to B26.
The door was shut.
The screen read, "boarding closed."
No gate agent present.
My heart sank. Again.
Except! Our plane was still there, connected to the jetway, even.
My connection buddy seemed even more desperate to make this flight than I did. He ran all the way down to the next gate where he asked those gate agents if they could let us on our plane. In the meantime, a gate agent slowly appeared from behind a partition at B26 and made her way behind the desk. My connection buddy came running back, breathless, exclaiming, "You've got to let us on this plane. They said you can. You've got to."
She replied flatly, "I don't got to do anything."
My heart sank. Again.
I was about 2 seconds away from playing the "my grandpa is dying" card when she reluctantly picked up the phone and called down to the plane to ask if they would still let two passengers on (after all, it wasn't OUR fault that we were late). Praise God, some angel on the other end of that phone said yes. I was unbelievably relieved and yet a little in disbelief.
We walked toward the closed door at B26 and I and my connection buddy hustled down the jetway. My brain was still in a tizzy, but I think I found my correct seat -- it was an open seat, at any rate -- and I sat down and got myself settled. I tried to calm myself down because I had made it. I was officially on my way to Minneapolis. I was going to get to see Bump, and I prayed that he could hold on through the night until I could see him tomorrow morning.
A few short minutes later, the plane began pushback. While we were waiting in line at the deicing pad, the pilot's voice came across the intercom to give us a status update. He explained that we needed to get deiced, which should only take a few minutes longer, and then we were something like plane #21 in the lineup for the backed-up runway, so blah, blah, blah, "we'll be leaving as soon as we can and thank you for your patience."
Almost as an afterthought, the pilot begins to apologize to us passengers for the delay in pushing back. He tells us that, "United Airlines had a computer glitch which prevented us from leaving as scheduled."
I'm not a big public crier and I nearly started bawling right then and there. My eyes welled up. Without a shred of doubt, I knew that "computer glitch" was God's doing. That was the single event that allowed me to get on that flight.
Our arrival in Minneapolis was delayed by about a half-hour. My uncle picked me up from the airport around 10:00PM and I cannot tell you how exhausted I was at that point. What a whirlwind, stressful, and emotional day that Wednesday was.
Thursday: Visiting Bump on Day 1
The next morning, we all got up relatively early and got ready to leave for the assisted living facility to visit Bump. My sister joined us, as well. All morning, everyone was telling me what a great day Bump had yesterday. He was still pretty sleepy, but he was interacting and talking with everyone and was quite alert when he was awake. I was happy to hear this, but inside, I knew that that was most likely his last hurrah before the final farewell. I was glad that many of my family, including my mom, got to have that wonderful day with Bump.
This first visit was hard for me. It was the first time I'd ever seen Bump that "incapacitated." He was lying in his hospital bed in his room, covered with cozy blankets. His skin was pale and a little yellow. He looked good, all things considered. To me, he just looked like a sleeping Bump.
Bump's primary nurse, Suzy, was sitting by his side when we arrived. Bump was asleep, but he was wearing these headphones that were connected to a small microphone that we could shout into to help him hear us. He would wake up from time to time, but he was pretty groggy. My aunt would shout into the microphone, "I love you, Dad!" and sometimes, he would respond "I love you, too, Sue." One of us would shout, "You're the best!" At one point, my cousin Lindsay, about an inch from his ear shouted, "We love you, Bump!" and he responded with, "Are you talking to me?" We all laughed so hard at that.
One of the times we shouted to him that his family is here and we all love him, he responded, "That's the way it should be."
Thursday was the day my brother was planning to come visit Bump, too. He had been running a slight fever the past couple of days, however, so when he arrived at the assisted living facility, my brother had the staff administer a rapid COVID test. It was positive. My brother was not allowed in the building and was not able to see Bump before he passed.
Thursday was also the day that the hospice team came to perform an initial assessment of Bump to see if he qualified for their care. They were very kind and helpful and asked us a lot of questions. They told us they could feel the love for him in the room. The hospice team also told us what kinds of things we can expect to see as Bump nears the end of his life. And they explained that we shouldn't risk giving him anything to consume and that if we wanted to do something to comfort him, lightly massaging him is a great option. After their assessment on Thursday, the hospice team confirmed that Bump was "in transition."
Despite sleeping most of the day, he actively wanted to be holding someone's hand at all times. We would "rotate" hand-holders all day long for him. He would squeeze our hand off and on. At one point, my cousin Lindsay had been holding his hand for a long time, and she got to a point where she had to tap out and she was trying to free herself from Bump's grip, but as she tried, he only squeezed tighter and tighter and wouldn't let her go. We were laughing so hard and couldn't believe he still had not only the strength to do that but the wherewithal to tease Lindsay.
Later on, a team of us ladies grabbed a bottle of lotion, removed his white socks, and gave him a relaxing foot massage. He responded to this with some visible foot and toe wiggling, and if you stopped, he would wiggle some more to get you to continue.
After a pretty groggy morning on Thursday, later that afternoon he seemed to perk up slightly, even asking for some water. We were provided these small pink sponges on a stick (kind of looked like a Dum-Dum sucker) and were told that we could dip the sponge in water and feed him some that way, because his ability to swallow was waning, and we risked aspiration if we gave him too much. So when we used this sponge on a stick to give him some water, we were yelling to him, "Swallow, Bump!" to ensure that he was actively swallowing it. After a few rounds of this, he told us he wasn't getting much water and that "the straw needs to be wider". That also made us all chuckle.
After dark, Suzy the nurse returned with a large order of Arby's for all of us and helped Bump drink a larger amount of water from a cup instead. And then she also got him to eat some applesauce and chocolate ice cream. I do believe that was the last bit of food he consumed, because the next day, he was no longer able to swallow.
All day long on Thursday, we could see his lips moving in his sleep, like he was forming words. After a little while, my cousin Jen realized that he was reciting the Rosary in his sleep. I knew then that he was ready. As much as I didn't want his life on earth with us to end, I knew that he wasn't going to rebound, and now I just wanted him to go to heaven peacefully without any pain or suffering.
Friday: Visiting Bump on Day 2
On Friday, most of us returned to spend the day with Bump again. He looked slightly worse than the day before and noticeably more yellow, but he looked so peaceful. He was also less responsive than yesterday. I walked around his room and took photos of memorable Bump "things," like his watch, items of clothing, his collection of rosaries, his golf clubs, his hockey awards, etc.
An eerie detail that came to light as I was photographing his watch was that it had stopped.
He still wanted to be holding someone's hand at all times today. Even though he could barely speak at all, he was still communicating his love for us through his hand squeezes.
We massaged his feet and lower legs again today, but he didn't ask us for anything. Suzy told us they were unsuccessful in getting him to swallow any of his latest dose of pills. We knew we didn't have too much time left with him.
When the hospice nurse visited Bump today, she said he was her last visit of the day, so she stayed with us for a bit and answered our questions and she also asked us questions about Bump, who he was, etc. She confirmed that his vitals were as expected and told us that the next thing to watch for is labored breathing. She told us that we were very lucky that Bump was in such a peaceful state throughout all of this, because it usually doesn't go that way at the end of life. Hearing this made me feel even more blessed to not only be a part of sending Bump off, but also knowing that God's mercy on my grandpa and on us was undeniably present.
Saturday: The Second and Third Miracles
When I woke up at my aunt and uncle's house on Saturday morning, I looked at the Verse of the Day notification from my Bible app.
My heart stopped. It was Psalms 23:4.
I couldn't believe it. Of all the verses to show up today.
We headed back to be with Bump. He was not responsive to anything today. We could hold his hand, but no more squeezing. As the morning advanced, the labored breathing we were prepared for set in. All of us got closer and surrounded Bump with as much love as we could. We held his hand. We held his head. We shouted to him how much we loved him. We told him it was okay for him to go.
At some point, a hospice nurse came in and confirmed he was in the "active dying" stage. We knew the end was probably coming soon. Then, nurse Suzy came in to check on us and Bump and she alerted us that it would be coming soon. Not long after, my cousin Jen revealed a six-pack of PBR. I haven't consumed alcohol in several years, but to participate in a toast in honor of Bump, I had a little bit. We all did.
Just before 3:00PM, he very suddenly opened his light blue eyes very wide, only I don't think he saw us. We all shouted to him, "Hi, Bump!" "We love you, Bump!" He closed his eyes, and we watched him take his final breaths. Then we all sobbed. I know he felt our presence and our love surrounding him. I know that contributed to his incredibly miraculous, peaceful exit.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.
I'd never experienced watching someone's last breaths. It was simultaneously beautiful and gut-wrenchingly sad. But I am so grateful I was able to be here for it, sadness and all.
Part of me was relieved he went quickly without feeling any pain and part of me wanted to stop it from happening. I almost felt a sense of helplessness -- like a bad dream when you're trying to dial 911, but try as you might, no matter what, your fingers touch the wrong numbers or your phone malfunctions.
I know he was fully in God's hands, but I couldn't help but feel the urge to help him or somehow stop the progress. Stop the inevitable. As it transpired before our very eyes.
As much as I didn't want my beloved grandpa's life on earth to come to an end, it was undeniably evident that he had the peace of God within him.
I know God was right there, calling him home. Welcoming his good and faithful servant home.
Embracing the Distractions
Because I'm the type of person who "gets things done," even when the situation is stressful, I dived in and started helping. I wanted to honor my grandpa in a way that he deserved. I wanted everyone who didn't know him to feel like they knew him and to understand why we all loved him so much.
So, I dusted off my journalism skills and wrote his obituary.
I collected some of our favorite photos of Bump that best depicted his life and I added quotations from former hockey players and their parents and then created a slideshow to display during the visitation.
I accompanied my mom, my aunt, and my uncle to the funeral home to select flowers and finalize arrangements.
I designed a printed program containing photos to honor his life.
I reviewed and edited the lovely eulogies my mom, my aunt, and my cousin wrote.
I collected favorite memories of Bump from us grandchildren so that the priest could use them during his homily at mass.
I don't list all of these things to call attention to everything I did. This list is a reflection of how special my grandpa was and it contained the things I distracted myself with so that I could convince myself I was okay with losing him. When the tasks were done, and the distractions were gone, I realized on a very deep level, so was my grandpa.
With my brother's recent COVID diagnosis, we decided to put off Bump's visitation and funeral mass until after my brother could be cleared to attend, which wouldn't be until the following week. In preparation for the visitation, we poured over piles of photo albums, read or reread newspaper clippings and heartfelt thank-you notes from former players and their parents, sifted through trophies and awards. Despite being the product of a very poor childhood and never even graduating from high school, it became palpable the thousands of lives he touched. He was a remarkable man who lived a great life.
Outside of family, the first couple to arrive at the visitation on Tuesday, March 2 was Ron and Carol. They purposefully made their way around the room, stopping at each collection of Bump memories. All of a sudden, there was a commotion. Ron had started to collapse and my uncle Greg caught him. Ron's condition was concerning enough that my cousin Jen called 911.
Within minutes, we could hear sirens and then the parking area near the front entrance of the funeral home was packed with emergency vehicles. They donned their COVID protective gear and wheeled the gurney inside. Minutes later, they wheeled Ron out and into the ambulance and raced off.
I didn't know it until later, but Ron had been my grandpa's assistant coach for over 20 years. He was pictured in 80% of the photos, mostly team photos, on display at the visitation. Sadly, we learned that Ron passed away the day after Bump's visitation. With other recent losses on March 4 like, Mark Pavelich of "Miracle on Ice" fame and Wayne Gretzky's father, Walter, we figured maybe God was busy assembling one heck of a heavenly hockey team.
The Funeral Mass and Burial
The following morning, we gathered at Bump's church for a Mass of Christian Burial. My cousin Emily brought one of his jackets to hang over the back of the pew where my grandpa always sat for mass every Sunday (until COVID restrictions prevented him from attending).
My mom and I chose "It is Well With My Soul" as one of the songs to be sung. The service was beautiful and emotional and above all, honoring.
Then we got in our cars, turned on our hazard lights, and lined up in a funeral procession to head to the Catholic cemetery, where Bump's plot was prepared and waiting. The weather on this day couldn't have been more beautiful -- blue skies, lots of sunshine, and even an unseasonably warm temperature for early March. In making our way to the plot, we had to trudge through some wet snow and mud. My mom spotted something bright red half buried in the white snow. She retrieved it and was amazed to see that it was a small decorative cardinal -- a sign that many believe indicates a visitor from heaven.
During the burial service, the priest asked us to respond out loud with words that describe Bump. My 6-year-old nephew was one of the first to offer a contribution: "Good person," he stated. A few seconds later, "Helpful." My heart was bursting. Somehow, this young and innocent child understood.
Overcome with Gratitude and Sadness
The funeral is over. His ashes are buried. But the sadness hurts. The reality that he is actually gone has set in. Looking back, it all seems like a blur. All I know is that he was with us and now he's not. Surreal.
My cousin used the word "heartbroken," and I can't think of a more accurate way to describe how this feels. As odd as it sounds, we just weren't prepared for this. But nonetheless, God's presence was evident throughout.
It felt like a miracle that nurse Suzy listened to her instinct and alerted us to Bump's declining condition. It felt like a miracle that I made my connecting flight in Denver. It felt like a miracle that I arrived in time to see Bump before he passed -- I'm incredibly grateful for those 3 days. It felt like a miracle that our entire family could be there with him and be there together, supporting each other and sharing our love of Bump -- what a blessing. It felt like a miracle that Bump's passing was so peaceful.
I deeply thank God for His comfort, His peace, and His mercy. I thank Him for allowing me to get there in time and spend this precious time with family.
I am so thankful for all of the wonderful cards and the prayers that were raised up for me, for my family, and for my grandpa during this difficult time. I hope and pray that when my day comes to be called home, I can experience the same peace and love my grandpa felt.
Even though Bump would have turned 91 in June, his passing came unexpectedly to us. Even though he lived a full life, we are feeling a deep void caused by his loss.
Even though he has much to be proud of, we are exponentially proud of him.
And one last little miracle to mention: While waiting in line to board my connecting flight on my return trip, a woman in front of me was wearing pants that had cardinals on them.