The first experience I had with death that I remember, that had a significant impact on me emotionally was when my great grandfather died. His name was Martin Simpson McKeeman, and he was my grandmother's dad. I don't remember knowing his full name as a child. To me he was "Grampa" ... and he meant the world to me.
|Me and Grampa celebrating my first birthday.|
I spent a great deal of time with my grandmother, Mimi, while I was growing up. She was the youngest of four kids. She lost her mom many, many years earlier, and she was the only one of the McKeeman children living in Colorado with Grampa. When he could no longer live on his own anymore, he moved in and Mimi became his caregiver.
I was too young to remember any of the details. What I knew was that Grampa was wonderful. He was in his late eighties by the time I was born. I guess I knew he was elderly - I mean, he used a walker, and Mimi had to help him in and out of the bathtub - but that's not what I remember most about him. I remember he used to stand in front of the sink in Mimi's kitchen and wash dishes. He always had a bunch of white boxes filled with Luden's cherry cough drops, and he wore a little beanie on his head that my mom knit for him. He was also the best playmate ever. He never got tired of hanging out with me. If he ever lost his patience with me, I don't recall it. He used to pretend he was a doctor, and I would bring my sick dolls to him. He would pretend to give them a shot and make them all better again. We hung out, me and Grampa.
I also remember that he really liked ice cream. There was a Dolly Madison by Mimi's house - an ice cream fountain kind of shop where you sat on stools at the bar and employees would serve milkshakes and marshmallow cokes. Mimi and I would go in there and she would get ice cream - mostly vanilla and Rocky Road - and they would scoop it up into a cardboard tray and cover it with a sheet of thick plastic. Grampa and I ate lots of ice cream together.
|Me and Grampa. I'm wearing my Alice in Wonderland dress here, so I must have been about five years old.|
There came a time when caring for Grampa got to be too physically challenging for Mimi. She chose to put him in a nursing home. I knew even as a child that this decision was an extremely difficult one for her to make. She and I visited him at the home all the time.
He hadn't been there very long - maybe a couple of weeks - when he fell and hurt his hip. I don't remember now if he broke it. I was at least ten or eleven then, but I can't remember the exact year he left Mimi's home. I do know that he'd been healthy up until then, and that his health declined once he'd made the move.
One night, Mimi and I went to visit him. We brought him vanilla ice cream and we spent quite a long time with him. We got him ready for bed and tucked him in. He hugged me and said, "I love you, Jennifer" before the two of us left that night. Later, Mimi told me that those were the last words he ever spoke.
My mom was the one who broke the news of Grampa's passing to me the following morning. I slept in a white canopy bed with burgundy bedding, and I remember her sitting down on the mattress next to me. I know now that she was incredibly sad about Grampa's death, but she knew how difficult the news would be for me to hear. She was stoic for me. He was a huge part of my life, but she'd gotten to love him a lot longer than I had. As many memories as I had stored up with him in them, she had at least a thousand more.
Grampa was ninety-seven years old when he died. He went to sleep that night and never woke up. He was healthy, as far as we all knew. He didn't suffer from cancer or any other illness. His life was long, and his death was peaceful. So are my thoughts when he comes to my mind.