I said goodbye to my grandfather this weekend. He was 97. He always knew the exact amount of time, expressed in months and days, until his next birthday. Last count: two months and 16 days.
As he was nearly 98, I can’t say his death was unexpected. He had serious health problems that became more so after my grandmother died this past May. He was hospitalized this past September and I thought that was it. So did he. “I’m the death patient,” he’d say, by way of greeting, to the nurses. “This is a lousy hotel,” he’d say to me. And, when I tried to tell him that he was going to get through it, he knew I wasn’t entirely convinced of what I was saying. “Alison,” he said, “you just can’t beat the percentages.”
Well he did that time, and I suppose I just assumed that he’d keep doing it. I also imagined that at some point in the hazy future there would be another hospitalization and therefore a chance to say a proper goodbye. There wasn’t. That was probably for the best, in the bigger picture. But at this moment, I can’t help but wish it had been otherwise.
I am glad, though, that I had a chance to write about him a little, in a story that he inspired. (The Heat Seeker, for World Hum.) When it was anthologized, he had the book special ordered at Barnes & Noble, and then asked to have his picture taken with it.
“I have only one objection,” he said, when I asked him what he thought of the piece. “Why did you describe me as bald?” And laughed, as he ran his hand over his hair-free head.
Just about this time last year, he and my grandmother were getting ready to overwinter in Florida, as they always did. Right before they left, he’d asked me for some of my recent writings, and I brought him a packet. “I’ll read every word and I’ll tell you what I think,” he said, as he took it from me. “But I’ll tell you right now, I think it’s very good.”