Ruth Haldeman

The Longest Day

The sun was shining and everything was going great. Sure, Grandpa had been in the hospital for the past two days, but all signs seemed to be pointing to him coming home soon. In all respects, everything started normally that Sunday morning. Normal, that is, until Dad came in from the barn with a change of plans.

“Grandpa has taken a turn for the worse. He’s not responding and the doctor has advised the whole family to travel to Syracuse to be with him. I’ll make a few calls to find someone else to preach this morning for church, but we’re definitely driving to the hospital instead.”

Obviously this was shocking information. I mean, just the day before he had been talking and laughing, alert and responding well to treatment. Even so, we all hurried to get ready and within half an hour we were on our way, with Dad driving record time. That hour and a half went by in a blur.

We pulled into the parking garage, then went through the process of admission, scanning licenses and picture IDs. Finally we were given name tag stickers allowing us access to Grandpa’s floor. Then we had to navigate the maze of hallways and elevators to find our way to Grandpa’s hospital room. We were met by Grandma, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, and Grandpa’s Brother and his family: 17 of us in total by Grandpa’s bedside.

Both because it was Sunday and to give each other strength, we held church and had a prayer service in our little semicircle. There were prayer and Bible readings through broken voices, then singing songs that were Grandpa’s favorite and crying so hard. Grandma’s prayer was the hardest to listen to; a prayer of submitting Grandpa to God and a firm, calm, a little bit sad resolution to going home alone and letting Grandpa go to his heavenly home.

Periodically the nurses would come check in. Once a doctor came, upping the pain medication to keep Grandpa comfortable. The time in between their visits was spent in hushed whispers and eyes moving between the clock’s slow hands and Grandpa’s labored breathing. Regrets were voiced, but along with that came stories and memories with Grandpa and the whole family.

Lunch time came and went. I finally brought myself to hug the forlorn figure on the bed for what ended up being the last time. The tubes and machines keeping him alive were nothing like the strong farmer man I grew up knowing. Walks to the waiting room were a welcome diversion, as were conversations with my friends online. I ended up eating some peanut butter crackers later. The thing I worried most about at that moment was honestly just whether I would be the reason for someone going into anaphylactic shock. Seems like a rather small thing to be worried about while in the situation I was, but at the same time, both were and are a matter of life or death.

After being there for four hours, Grandma made the decision to switch Grandpa’s oxygen mask out with just an oxygen tube to make him more comfortable. As soon as the nurse switched devices, with my Grandma, mom, and aunt looking on as previously trained registered nurses, Grandpa became visibly less strained. Still, earthly time was getting shorter and shorter.

It was like being on eggshells, bittersweet, waiting for THE moment to happen, but we wanted to cherish every moment up until then, partly entertaining hope that a miracle could occur. Walks down the hallway became shorter and shorter, not even wanting to be away for any time, but needing space from everyone else at the same time. Tear stained cheeks, bleary eyes, and weary faces filled the room. Kleenex boxes were starting to empty; trash cans becoming full.

Time moved in slow motion. The room was quite small with only room for the bed, hospital machines, and a few chairs. Grandma and Uncle Dan reserved the seats on either side of Grandpa’s bed. Uncle Dan had driven straight from Indiana as soon as he heard that his dad was nearing the end and hadn’t left his side since, and Grandma watched over Grandpa all day, just like Grandpa had watched over her for all 51+ years they had been married.

Suddenly, right before 4:00, Grandpa’s breathing stopped. Mom quickly looked for and found a pulse. At that moment, all the family gathered close, leaning on others for support, praying for peace and comfort, just watching the patriarch of our family slowly give up his earthly life for the heavenly one for which he had spent most of his life preparing. As we stood there together, Grandpa’s heart stopped beating, and he gave a great sigh, one that we like to imagine was his reaction to seeing Heaven for the first time. That moment, 4:08 p.m., although sad, is the happiest one I could imagine. We gathered everything up to leave; there was nothing holding us back anymore. No more anguish in waiting, only sadness to say our final goodbyes.

That day, the longest day in my life, seemed to all converge into one moment. Grandpa taught me not to take people or moments for granted. The meaning of life is not meant to be how long you live, but how well you live, including how much time you prioritize to spend with the people you love because you honestly don’t know how many moments you have left with them.

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