by Annah Grace Morgan, Foundation Director
My Granddaddy would have been 90 years old on Monday. We lost him to lung cancer 3-1/2 years ago. With all of the “Spirit of 45” celebrations last week, my heart has been aching for my American hero, my strongest connection to the Greatest Generation.
My granddaddy was a WWII veteran. He dropped out of school in 6th grade to work on his family’s farm. (Although, he later used part of his GI bill to go through “continuation school” when he returned from the war.) He was drafted into the Army when he was 18 to fight in World War II. He always said he was “just a poor ole plowboy” from Asbury, but I know better– he was one of the richest, smartest, bravest men in the world! Until he was drafted, he had never been further than Gadsden, and he had to hitch a ride to Guntersville where his orders had him report to be transported to basic training. My granddaddy is the only person I can remember ever hearing about who actually gained weight during basic training! I can’t imagine how scared he must have been headed from the farm across the world. When he was in the Army, he made stops at Fort Benning, Anniston, Kentucky, England, Germany, France and Belgium. Every time it got really cold outside, he would talk about how it was nothing compared to how cold he was around Christmas in 1944 when he was walking and sleeping in the knee-deep snow in Germany. He was great at helping me keep things in perspective, but he never did it in a condescending way. He was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge on January 15, 1945…just 26 days after he officially entered combat. He was only 19 years old when he lost his right eye after being shot off the back of a tank. When he was shot, he had the wherewithal and courage to roll out of the tank tracks to avoid being run over and then follow the medic almost a mile to a safer place. He selflessly served our country and sacrificed so much for all of us, even until the very end.
Granddaddy was diagnosed with lung cancer in September 2011, and he fought with all his strength against the cancer, the malnutrition, the chemo and physically, mentally and emotionally-challenging combination of all of these things WITHOUT the support of hospice. I ask myself why every single day. You see, we waited until our doctors said “It’s time for hospice.” And that conversation never came.
I learned that watching your superman wasting away for months and then slowly suffering with very little hope of survival is one of the biggest challenges my faith has ever seen. But as a silver lining, I am indescribably grateful to have had one week in a palliative care unit with him. It introduced me to the hospice movement, and I will always treasure the special time we had together when his symptoms were finally managed, and we knew his time was limited. Precious days. That week, and my own personal experience with grief, shaped who I am today. As I sat in Granddaddy’s hospital room the night before he died (low on sleep, food and emotional fortitude) knowing we had mere hours left, I wrote this blog post. Here’s an excerpt I feel inclined to share in hopes that it may help someone who is dealing with grief as well.
“I am praising God for the life that this incredible man has led. I am beyond thankful to have the opportunity to spend these last days by his side and tell him how much he means to me. I am able to come to terms with a reality in which my Granddaddy is no longer with me. I have literally dreaded this day (or tomorrow or whatever day the Lord finally decides to call Granddaddy home) as long as I can remember. See, my Granddaddy has had several “scares” over the years. So many to the point that every time the phone rings after around 10 p.m., I freak out thinking that something has happened to Granddaddy, but he is a survivor. He has ALWAYS survived despite all odds. Until I experienced the loss of a close family member last February with Poppa, I believed that my Granddaddy would be the first to go. And until I learned through that loss how to handle grief, I truly believed I could not survive the loss of my Granddaddy and selfishly prayed that he would live forever! The past few months– culminating in the past few days specifically– have been almost unbearable to watch. My once vivacious Granddaddy has diminished from a strong 6’1 heavy frame, to diminished 5’8 or so 120 lb. skin and bone. His eyes that once sparkled with life, love and hope now only dully beg for mercy from Our Creator to take him away from this pain.
I have learned that I go into a really weird production mode when I am grieving for someone I love (probably at least in prideful part) to avoid the “ugly cry” in front of my friends and family. I try to take charge of the stressful/grieving situation probably because I am deflecting the complete loss of control I feel by over-controlling some smaller or more insignificant detail in my life. In this case, I showed off my inner control-freak by keeping a detailed record of the timing of the medications/treatments my granddaddy has been receiving and/or constantly re-organizing and cleaning the living space here at our happy home-away-from-home, the “Huntsville Hospital Hilton Presidential Suite” AKA MST1757. I am trying to figure out why I do this. I think I feel like I have to be strong and be happy no matter what happens because I’m such an emotional person, and I understand that people are influenced by others’ emotions. If I’m happy– I can make others happy. If I’m a basket-case, I will make others a basket-case. I also feel like I have to show that I never waiver in my faith of my Sovereign Savior…It is God’s will, and I know it’s for the best. I WANT to be as strong as I act, and it’s only through God’s grace I can do it! But it’s almost a “fake it til you make it” moment. I have to act as if I NEVER question His will, which honestly is a bold-faced lie. Who doesn’t question God’s sovereignty in the face of suffering?! Not I, although I usually try not to admit it– at least out loud!
Another thing I have learned through all of this mess… How much God must love us. His love is perfect and so amazing. I cannot comprehend it fully with my tiny human mind, but this suffering (or watching Granddaddy suffer, which is suffering to some degree) has allowed me to get to know my God a little better, I think, and I’m trying so hard to be grateful for that. God– divinely sovereign, in charge of ALL things in this life (very unlike my silly attempt in the control-freak nature I have!)– willingly gave His one and only perfect, sinless Son to SUFFER and die. Granddaddy cannot have food or drink by mouth and he is struggling to breathe. It is hard to watch someone you love dehydrate, starve and suffocate. But God, with every ability to change it, ALLOWED His SON to suffer these 3 things and then some for a sinful race… for me. So we could have everlasting life united with our Savior. Glory to God. By His grace alone, we will see Granddaddy again one day. By His grace alone, we will get through this suffering and this loss. By His grace alone…”
There will not be a single day that goes by that I will not miss my Granddaddy until I see him again in Heaven. He touched SO many lives, and I hope he is now able to see now how much he was loved by everyone that knew him. He was incredibly humble, and every time I would tell him how wonderful he was, he was laugh dismissively and say that I must be confusing him with someone else.
I think of him every day when I come to work at Hospice of Marshall County. I am grateful to work for an agency that cares for people who are grieving. I am so thankful to be a part of the hospice movement. One of the biggest regrets of my life was waiting too long to secure hospice care for him. I watched one of my favorite people on the planet suffer without the support he needed from professionals during the last 6 months of his life. Knowing that he could have been comfortable with a much improved quality of life if only we had known/understood more and advocated harder is what drives me to work at raising awareness and funds for the hospice movement! Please don’t be in the same situation, folks. Ask questions. Push for your loved ones. Stand up for them and don’t be afraid!!! Don’t regret coming too late like I do. Ask for help when you need it. It’s the bravest thing you can do for your loved ones and for yourself.