When I was young, my grandpa had a major stroke. I don’t even remember what he was like before that, and I’m sure my memories are those of a sheltered child with a so-so understanding of what was happening. My grandma was driving to BC from Saskatchewan and what I remember being told is that all of a sudden he started speaking complete nonsense. It was a long recovery, and he never fully healed.
Visiting my grandparents in their 2 bedroom (might have been 3) apartment in Moose Jaw, I remember labels on every piece of furniture. “Chair”, “Door”, “Fridge”. My grandpa slowly regained some speech, but was often left searching for words. One summer, he kept saying “horse” and pointing outside. “Ok grandpa.” Whatever. There were no horses outside and teenage me wasn’t the most patient. (Some things haven’t changed.) He was adamant there was a horse outside, and was getting frustrated. I looked outside at the construction; still no horses. Until I realized he was talking about the sawhorse blocking the sidewalk. He wasn’t wrong, there were horses outside.
Fast forward 20 years. After my grandma passed away, it became difficult for family to care for grandpa, and he moved into a care facility for veterans.
The last time I saw him was his 90th birthday in 2012. I felt a little guilty for not visiting sooner, but the truth is that I actually just WANTED to see him. Time isn’t endless, but at this moment I had time. So last weekend my husband and I packed up and headed to Wascana Rehabilitation Veteran’s ward. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was nervous and emotional. Grandpa hardly knew who I was years ago – what would it be like this time? Would he be comfortable with me, or would he be unsure of the stranger who kept trying to hug him?
This is the story of our Happy Happy Day.
We parked the car in Visitor Parking, and walked towards the front door. It was so late when we arrived at the hotel the night before that even the most comfortable king sized bed could not have facilitated enough sleep. I was already holding back tears, uncertain of why I was flooded with so much emotion and we weren’t even inside.
When we stepped off the elevator on the 3rd floor we had two options, left or right. The locked door to the left should have been a give away. Grandpa had always been a huge fan of walking, and 94 years of wear on his body wasn’t about to stop him.
When we found our way through the locked door, we were greeted by someone who turned out to be Lynette, the nurse I had spoken to on the phone. “I’m here to see my grandfather.” “You must be Ed’s daughter, from Kamloops,” she replied.
We walked towards the nurses’ station and turned right. Grandpa’s room was at the end of the hall, across from huge windows where you could watch the sky and trees. No one called him Yodie, they called him Bill. That was new for me; for most of my childhood I actually thought Yodie was his name. Grandpa was sitting in his recliner, sleeping. Lynette rubbed his knee gently. “Bill, your granddaughter is here. Ed’s daughter.” She asked my name, and repeated it to grandpa. He woke up, looking confused as to why someone was disturbing his wonderful nap.
“Hi grandpa, I’m Tiana.” I pulled several wedding pictures out of my purse. “This is my dad, Ed. That’s your son. And my mom, Dar. Do you remember Dar? And that’s me, and my husband.” I pointed to the picture, and then back to Brandon who was standing at the foot of the bed. “That is my husband, Brandon.” He might not have been sure who I was, but it didn’t seem to stop him from being happy to see me. We held hands as I talked to him about the Calgary, hockey and reminded him of my name. “Windy day,” he said, looking out the door into the hallway windows. “11:30. No 10:30.” He corrected himself almost immediately. He was sharper than I expected, and he seemed to be doing very well considering his 94 years.
I suggested a walk outside, knowing that’s one of his favorite things. “He walks almost 24 hours a day,” Lynette would later tell us. We headed down the elevator and into the courtyard. He was chatty and polite, offering to follow me. We did a couple laps of the fountain in the middle, before heading back through the building to the front of the hospital. There, we sat under the trees (picture above), watching the breeze blow the leaves and listening to the birds. “Wonderful day,” he said. He always said that. Grandpa didn’t hesitate to ham it up for the camera when Brandon took a few pictures. Waving and smiling, he was so happy to be outside.
11:30 came quickly, and we headed back inside for lunch. The nurse came to grandpa’s room to tell us lunch was ready, and lead the way to the cafeteria. I asked Grandpa if he’d like to come to dinner with us later that night. “Whatever, whatever, whatever.” he said, smiling. That seemed to be his filler when he couldn’t find his words. Grandpa’s lunch was huge – they were definitely not under-feeding him! It consisted of soup and crackers, casserole, vegetables, mashed potatoes, and strawberry ice cream for dessert. He seemed very concerned that I was going to leave, so I pulled up a stool beside him. He pushed his food towards me. “Here,” he said adamantly. I told him I’d already eaten, which was a lie.
While I was sitting there fighting with grandpa over who should eat his lunch, a lady came up behind me in her wheelchair. She carried a whiteboard with her, and did not speak. I noticed she was behind me, but I didn’t notice she kept playing with my hair until she pulled on a strand too hard. She retracted her hand quickly, and Brandon chuckled. She had been admiring my hair for 5 minutes before I caught her. I turned around, and smiled at her. She rubbed her hands over her fine, thin hair. Maybe hers used to be like mine, or maybe I reminded her of someone she knew. For the rest of our visit, she followed me around.
After lunch, which he didn’t eat much of, we headed back to grandpa’s room to say goodbye. We wanted to pick up a few things for him, recharge (it was emotionally exhausting), and come back in the afternoon. Grandpa and I sat on this bed, tears gently streaming down my cheeks again. What was wrong with me??? “Grandpa, we have to go now. We will be back to take you for dinner.”
“OK. Whatever, whatever, whatever,” he replied, smiling.
“I love you grandpa, see you later.”