In my mind, my childhood was much different than that of my friends’; while they yearned to have sleepovers and spend as much time with each other as possible, I looked forward to quality time with my family. I truly cherished the moments I got to spend with my aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins. The love and happiness that my family shared created a comfortable, warm feeling that I couldn’t experience around my friends. Unfortunately, all great things must come to an end. Three years ago my grandfather passed away at the age of 66 and any ounce of warmth was robbed from us all. Nonetheless, the comfort and warmth that my family presented would be restored in the form of the awe-inspiring stories told by those closest to my Grandpa Mike.
My grandfather was passionate about many things in life; his family, riding his bike, and telling stories to name a few, but above all he was passionate about helping those in need. After receiving a BA in Mathematics from St. Joseph’s College, my grandfather decided to follow his passion and went back to school to acquire his MS and PhD in Clinical Psychology from Purdue University. He went on to teach at multiple universities before settling in as head psychologist at Roudebush VA Medical Center. Here, his patients shared one thing in common despite coming from a variety of backgrounds; each of them had at one time felt shunned by society.
Knowing his patients felt such pain and pressure from other members of society, my grandfather made it his goal to understand his patient’s story in its entirety. He established bonds with these people that were unbreakable and in the end they were the ones to restore my families warmth. His patients told our family stories we had never known; how my grandpa had literally saved their lives or how in one short talk, his influence had altered the downward spiral in which they were headed. Personally, I was astonished. It was easy for me to understand how much my grandpa meant to me, I loved him, he was my blood. My family. I had no clue that so many others (others I was unaware even existed) felt exactly the same.
At the age of 35, doctors told my grandpa that he had colon cancer. After a brief struggle that included multiple bouts with chemotherapy, it seemed he had defeated cancer. Unfortunately, 20 years later doctors discovered a “mass” within his colon, which they believed to be a result of his previous chemotherapy treatments. They called for the immediate removal of the mass and my grandfather returned to the hospital once more. The doctors told us that they intended to simply remove the tumor-like mass, however, during the procedure complications arose and doctors removed too much of his colon. This led to further complications as my grandpa was in and out of hospitals and nursing homes.
Eventually, an infection spread through his body. This infection reached his heart and nearly proved too much for him to handle as he suffered a severe heart attack. The heart attack took a heavy toll on his life and as a result, my grandpa laid in a coma for over two weeks. This period of sedentary lifestyle left my normally healthy looking grandfather weak and susceptible. He was required to begin therapy as soon as possible.
Everything after this was somewhat of a blur to me. He would leave the hospital and for his physical therapy, which usually took place at a nursing home. Unfortunately, he would become septic and return to the hospital in a couple of days. It was clear that his body could not function with the amount of colon that was left. My grandfather switched between the hospital and the nursing home an additional three times, each time marking an additional degrading of his health. Eventually he was so ill that he fell back into a comatose state and my mother and her siblings were required to make a tough decision. They decided to have him stay in the nursing home, which ultimately meant he would die because the infection poisoned his body. Although this was an extremely hard choice, everybody knew that there was nothing else the doctors could have done for him because the same process would continue to repeat.
At the funeral, we weren’t expecting the turnout to be so great, but over 100 people showed up. It was here that his patients recounted their experiences with my grandfather; here we learned he had saved their lives. It was really remarkable to see the amount of lives he touched. During the ceremony, I spoke in front of nearly 100 people knowing that he would have been very proud of me. In the middle of the speech I remember thinking to myself, I want to be like my grandfather and when I die, I want this many people to have loved me.