Christmas day 2011 I lost my paternal grandfather. His body had been shutting down for many years. My grandmother had done her best to keep him in good health. She began by forcing a healthier diet upon him that took out all of his favorite things: fried foods, salty foods, sticky foods, and his favorite deserts. He still would find ways around this. For instance, when he would drive himself to the store, to church, or to the exchange club he would stop at a restaurant and pick up one of his new found delicacies. One of his favorite things had been fried catfish. My entire life, we had grown up sharing that as a regular family meal, and, since he was unable to get it at home, he would go to the southern home cooking food across the street from his house. After many years of this, my grandmother relented her pressure and allowed him to enjoy himself more as he was able, but still no salt. Then his health began to plummet, and he progressively spent more and more time in the hospital. His spirit was gone; most of the time his consciousness was nowhere to be found.
It was nearing Christmas, and all of the family had come down to spend this one together. We were cloistered in one section of the waiting room at the I.C.U. After the usual discussion of “how have you been” and “what’s new with you,” the topics changed to more interesting matters. My Uncle Denny loves to insight controversy. He is not ill spirited but just does it out of sport. While this was going on, I was busy working on my thesis for the honors program. I had thirty pages to write by the end of March and was nowhere near finished. My thesis was a discussion of Immanuel Kant and whether or not his ethics was teleological or deontological. At one point during the conversation, my uncle asks me whether or not that was Christian. He is not ignorant, and the question came out of left field , but all of a sudden everyone was looking at me. I was in no mood to address all of Kant’s philosophy with them, but the simple answer was yes; he was a Christian, but he was definitely not a southern American protestant. About an hour later a bell sounded. The bell was to signal that family could come back and visit the patients.
There was only a certain allotment of time in which the family was able to go back and visit. The hospital had strict rules on the number of people who were able to go at one time, so the family went in sub-groups. It was Christmas Eve and I was heading back to see my grand-father for what would be the last time. As my father, my brother, and I talked with him I made the comment that the monitoring device that the hospital had attached to his finger was “lit up like Rudolph’s nose.” My grand-father, always the man to distill life and passion into others, began to sing his last Christmas song, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer. To be honest, it sounded terrible and was missing some of the lyrics, but it was the most beautiful Christmas carol ever to be sung, because he sung it. It was the last time I heard my grandfathers voice, the last time we could share an “I love you,” the last time our souls would be found as I was to continue on my journey. As I, my father, and my brother walked back into the waiting room of the I.C.U. we knew.