A year ago, I watched a man die. Here's what I learned.
Last September I was driving through Portland, Oregon on vacation with my mom when I got the call from my dad... My grandfather wasn't going to be around much longer.
He was in the hospital with a number of infections, could hardly function or think, & decided he wanted to give up & go home... Which meant that he wouldn't survive for long. In other words, he had chosen to die. At first, I was angry. Because I loved him. Just days earlier, I had stayed late with him in the hospital for two straight nights before my mom & I's long awaited vacation... Things were looking 'not too bad', so my mom & I had the confidence that we could take our trip while the rest of our family kept an eye on him. Even after I left, I talked to him over the phone a few times, trying to encourage him to see the "bright side" - as I had my whole life. I always had this crazy ability to lift his mood whenever I'd visit or call. You could just tell. He was like a different guy when he was talking to me. But not this time. No one could convince him to live. And I didn't understand why anyone would choose not to live. But then I thought about how biased I was. I mean, at 23 and single, it's hard to comprehend what it's like to be 84 and having just lost your wife 7 months prior... I remember her funeral - watching my grandfather give his last look at my grandmother & kissing her on the forehead before they closed the casket. I knew I was going to have to encourage him more than ever. But this time, with my grandfather facing death, there was nothing more I could do. I started to feel guilty for leaving. How could I go on a trip & just assume that he was going to be okay? I started to regret it. It ate at me. One of the biggest reasons was one that I haven't ever told anyone about until now. (If you're not a person of faith, that's okay, just know that what I talk about next is my personal religious belief, so I'm going to express it. It's not meant to sway anyone away from their beliefs.) You see, my grandmother had always been an absolute angel. She passed away unexpectedly one night & that was that. No dramatic moments like this. It was sad, but I wasn't worried for her because I knew she was a strong Christian. I had full confidence that she was with God. My grandfather however had lost a lot of his faith over the years of his old age. I had been wanting to talk to him about God for awhile but just never did because... you know how it is... it can be awkward to bring up sometimes. I would here and there, but I knew I wasn't resonating as much as I could. And now I felt horrible because he was about to die & I hadn't taught him about God's mercy & forgiveness through faith in Jesus. Somehow, some way, the hospital waited to discharge him until October 1st, the day I got back from my trip. And from that point on, I decided not to leave his side until he died. When I arrived to my grandfather's house from the airport, I was anxious. I'd heard that he was very dazed & confused and couldn't really move at all. Or even talk. Almost like a vegetable. What would he look like? Would he hear me talk to him? Would he know me? What if he died overnight while I was sleeping? It's eerie. That's what most people associate with death. I was no different... I was scared. I didn't think I could look at my grandfather the same. I walked in the house and gave my dad a hug. The ambulance had already dropped off my grandfather at the house on a hospital bed and helped my dad set it up in the corner of the living room. And there he was, just laying there, fast asleep. Over the next few days, my aunt flew in to stay as long as she needed to & our whole family was in & out of the house. We also had AMAZING hospice workers come visit who helped us change him & do everything we needed to do to keep him as comfortable as possible. He mostly slept for the first couple of days. At times, he could open his eyes a little & mumble out some unintelligible words. He could hardly drink water from a spoon without coughing. And of course he couldn't eat. But, strangely, things seemed to get better. Hospice assured us that he could hear us, and when we told him we loved him, sometimes he would perk up and say it back. He even squeaked out an "Amen" after the Hospice pastor's prayer one day. That night, it felt incredible to roll his bed up to the TV & put on a baseball game & try to make things "normal" again. My dad was even able to feed him a few spoonfuls of ice cream that night, which absolutely made his day. Experiencing this for about a week took away the 'eerie-ness' of death. I knew death was coming, but it no longer scared me. Because it was no longer a mystery to me. It was still my grandpa laying there. Not someone else. I no longer viewed him as just a dying man. He was still my grandpa as he always had been. It's just that his body was failing. It's part of life. We all die. And even though Hospice told us that this 'better' days would soon go away, and he would deteriorate quickly... These moments gave me perspective on life that I would never have had if he just died so quickly like my grandmother did. But, like hospice said... things got worse. He began to talk less & less over the next few days until he was in very bad shape. He would cry out in his sleep saying "kill me" or yelling out for my grandmother. He was disoriented. The only words he spoke were when he asked us why we kept saying, "I love you." He was figuring out that he was dying. This is when the alarm bells went off in my head again and I knew I needed to talk to him about God. Even if he couldn't respond, I knew he could hear me. I know that may sound weird, but it's true. Hearing is the last sense to go. Occasionally he would still perk up at the sound of his name. On October 11th, the hospice worker came over and told us that he didn't look like he had long left. My dad broke down crying. So I sat next to my grandpa for the rest of the night, telling him how much I loved him & how he was going to see his wife again soon & how it was all going to work out by putting his faith in Jesus's life, death, and resurrection... Which redeems us from anything we've ever done wrong. It's that simple. It felt like a million pounds off my chest. I knew he could hear me. I know he took it to heart. I know he believed me. I know I restored his faith in God. I was at peace with myself. My regret was gone. I had forgiven myself for waiting so long to talk to him about God. Then my family came over one by one & talked to him as well. Later that night around 11pm, I was back at his side, sitting in the corner of the room with him, praying with him, talking with him... Per the hospice worker's advice, I gave him permission to go be with his wife in heaven. I told him that if he was in pain, he was free to go, because we had told him everything we wanted to tell him. Especially me. I could now confidently say I'd done everything I needed to do. I no longer regretted anything. Whatever happened from here was okay. I was going to accept it. As soon as I told myself that, my grandpa started to turn gray, just like the hospice worker said he would. I called my family over, and within seconds, we were all huddled around his bed as his skin 'grayed away', his jaw dropped open, and his heart stopped beating. I still held his hand because I knew that I had just saved him through faith in God. All was well. All was right. The dead body in front of me did not disturb me. That was my grandfather, and I had just given him the gift of God's peace & forgiveness. That was all he needed. That was all I needed. My family prayed The Lord's Prayer before calling hospice & the funeral home. The rest of the week wasn't as hard as I thought it would be because I was so relaxed. Believe me, it's still weird to go to a funeral home & pick out caskets & all that... And pick photos... And invite people to say their final goodbyes... And to watch your grandfather's lifelong friend salute his casket right before they closed it... And to watch them lower it into the ground & seal it... And to throw flowers on top before you walk away & try to go back to a normal life. But it wasn't as hard as I thought it would be... Because my regrets died, too. He's at peace. I'm at peace. Why am I telling you all this? 1. Well, I wrote it for myself more than anything. To type it all out for my own peace of mind. 2. A story isn't any good if you don't share it. And it took me a full year after his death to share this story with the world. If you've got a story that scares you, tell it. You'll feel amazing after it's told. 3. I'm incredibly thankful to do what I do. I couldn't have taken 11 days off to be at my grandfather's side if I had a regular job. 4. Death isn't so scary anymore. I don't think it's eerie. It's part of life. It sucks, but I don't fear it anymore. Even my own. 5. Don't live with regrets. Call someone you love. Or someone you have a grudge with. Make it up to them. Doesn't matter who's right or wrong. You'll be happier. 6. You have a greater impact than you think on those around you. Whatever you do, good or bad, will effect other people. Help them see the good in themselves. Thanks so much for reading this today. I appreciate you. - Troy "No Regrets" Ericson
ps Here's a photo of my grandpa & I after my grandmother passed away. I was always shy about taking photos with him because he wasn't a fan of technology. But I wanted this one because I knew one day I'd cherish this one after he passed. And now it's my favorite photo of us. So don't be shy about photos.
pps Even though he didn't understand the internet, he was definitely my #1 supporter when it came to my career. You don't need to understand to support. ❤️