Forty-two years ago, I witnessed something that has softened the blow of losing loved ones. Although I was able to see the inherent blessing it had been to my life, it took years to be able to share this story.
In 1979, I was a sophomore in college, heading home for Easter break. As we crossed the Throgs Neck Bridge in New York City, I asked my friend to drop me off at my grandparents’ house in the Bronx. Although my grandfather had been diagnosed with cancer, he had recently replaced a roof for a neighbor. Being naïve, I didn’t think anything could stop Grandpa.
Entering the house, I noticed my grandfather had lost his round belly and his black-rimmed glasses seemed too big for his face. As soon as he hugged me, the weight loss seemed insignificant, and I was glad I had decided to visit.
The next day, my dad came to get me. Grandpa was having a hard time walking so I decided to stay. I went to the corner deli and bought a jar of Ragu and a pound of spaghetti. It was the first time my Irish grandfather had eaten pasta. He liked it and we had a good laugh. I didn’t know it, but this would be his last meal.
Grandpa loved his flowers. He asked me if the crocuses were up yet. I didn’t know what a crocus was, and it didn’t occur to me to pick one for him. Facing this final stage of life, I was strangely disoriented.
Grandpa began hallucinating. He was young again with his five children. He addressed his oldest son as if he were speaking to an Eagle Scout. Then he began scolding his sons, Red (my dad) and Jimmy, “Get over here, Red! Jimmy!” (This made me laugh, as I had always guessed my dad was mischievous as a boy.) His voice softened as he sweetly cooed to his two daughters, “Hop up on my lap.” I wanted to comfort him, so I hopped up on the bed.
For the next few days, unable to move his weakened body, my grandfather became unresponsive. But when his pastor came to visit, he sensed his presence and reached out to greet him.
That night I couldn’t sleep. I got up and sat with Grandpa. At about 2 a.m., his face grimaced with pain. So, I lifted his head and gave him his pain meds. Then I gently laid his head back on the pillow to rest.
Suddenly, his eyes opened without the slightest trace of pain. He effortlessly sat up by himself. He appeared incredibly happy and surprised to see something beyond the corner of the room. He gazed forward in awe and held out both arms as if he were reaching for a precious loved one. He wore the most peaceful, joyful smile I have ever seen. My jaw literally dropped as I stared at him in complete amazement. Then he calmly laid back, and after three quick breaths, he passed.
For years I have asked myself, “What did Grandpa see?” Was it our creator, angels, or his mom and dad? Of course, I don’t know. But without a doubt, I am certain when our life here on earth comes to an end, there is something prepared for us that will bring a smile and a peace unlike any we have ever known.
Bernadette Bonanno lives in Albany, N.Y., and can be reached at email@example.com