Sallow skin rolls over tired bones, coils of memory in spidering veins, quiver of eyelids over dreams. He is a stranger. Whiskers like tree bark as I kiss his paper cheek. Shuddering breath. Arms bruised to shades of red and purple. This is the colour of cancer. This is the colour of endings. This road is hard marked and pain-smoke billows from eyes once vibrant and laughing - now glassy and fading.
There are no comfort in words. He knows the truth of it even behind the false hope of a good day.
"Is heaven the same for everyone? I mean, will Grandpa's heaven be the same as my heaven?"
"There's only one heaven."
"But will it look different to Grandpa than it does to me? 'Cause we don't really like the same stuff. If heaven's cool for me, will it be boring for Grandpa? And will Grandpa be able to see us from there? And will his hair grow back? Will he still be old? Will Grandpa meet Moses?"
It's the waiting that's the killing. It's the good day's that make the bad day's debilitating. It's the knowing. Knowing that memories of sickness are all the children will have. If I could, I would wrap them up in a bubble and float them back to those days before. Before his body betrayed him. Before his humour was wasted. Before he lost vibrancy for weariness...
...Pastel walls hold us in this cradle of family, hung in portraits and flowers and pinks and blues, Dundalk beyond the panes, farting dogs upon the carpets. We sit around the dinning room table, eating cheesies, playing Aggravation. He never stops singing. He rolls the dice and sings his numbers - sings his counting - sings as he sends my marble back to the start. He is happy and silly. He blames the dog farts on me - blames me through song - throws back his head and laughs when I deny. "I like this one, Scotty - she's a good one!" His face is cracked in lines of happiness, creases of life-well-lived. I tease him. I mess up his hair - silver shocks of curling comb-over. If ever there was goodness in a man, it is here in tenor sing-song glory...
He fell in love with me in an instant. Thought me daughter long before law made it so. Trusted me with the heart of his youngest. Smiled over me. Laughed with me. Prayed for me.
There is a picture of us - washed in 90's sunlight on the cement pad of a motel pool. He all smiles and good health. I, awkward child in blue rugby pants and grandpa's tractor sweater, leaning into him, grinning at the camera. I want this picture. More than anything, I want to see his face the way I want to remember him. But I can't find it and that kills me. I have only the memories that fight with reality, morphing from mirth to the waiting that has us tense and fighting inevitability. What if, for one moment, we could have him as he was? Freeze-frame that vitality like a postcard - him caught in a moment of joy, skin rosy and alive - scratchy penmanship on the back...See you later, Alligator. And goodbye would be a silly joke - we'd laugh over it and hang it on the fridge under the pink pig magnet so we could see the postmark: Heaven - and be washed in peace and shinny memories.
I watch him snuggle the granddaughter he'll never see turn four. I watch his pain weigh heavy and wish him only peace. I don't know how to feel. I don't know what I'm allowed to feel. I do know that I love him. I do know that etching his goodness into my children is a responsibility I will take seriously.
"Do you think Grandpa will be happy in heaven? Like, will he play and stuff?"
"Will he miss us?"
"No. Missing is sad and heaven is happy. But he'll wait for us. We'll see him again."