As one who gets out of bed between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. most Saturdays, finding me dragging myself from under the covers at 8 might have been your first clue that this wasn’t a regular day in my life. If you missed that one, perhaps attributing it to “maturity” or “virtue,” then seeing me sitting an hour later in a stark white room with a man shining bright, magnified lights into my eyes would have been a second piece of evidence. Dr. Walker was quite friendly, making me chuckle and attempting to put me at ease as he compressed my cornea with a Goldmann tonometer to measure my intraocular pressure and make sure I’m not developing glaucoma. Thankfully, the test came back normal. Unthankfully, the perky woman with the Peyton Manning jersey and matching blue spectacles was quite intent on selling me on the $350 pair of “trendy glasses.” Who knew Banana Republic even made glasses?
It had been nearly 5 years since my last eye exam, meaning that when the nice doctor told me he was going to be dilating my eyes, that small voice in the back of my head that catalogues things my oft-protective mother and grandmother tell me sent out a warning flag. The conversation in my head went something like this:
“Dilated eyes…doesn’t this mean I shouldn’t be driving…or doing anything?”
“You’re already sitting here in his office and he’s got a medicine dispenser in his hand. What choice do you really have?”
“Why didn’t I read that disclaimer on the form they had me fill out about dilating my eyes?”
“That male stereotype about not ever reading directions comes to mind…but don’t worry, if dilation causes any problems, the doctor will let you know. That’s kinda his job, right?”
“Point taken. Dilation only lasts for like…an hour right?”
“Unsure. However, one question for you. Who do you know that will hike over to Cumberland mall to pick you up at 9 a.m.? I thought so. You’ll just have to deal with it”
Had this been the only thing my day contained, I’d have had a funny story for later. However, prior to my eye exam, I had returned a call from my grandmother from friday night…a somewhat unsettling call related to my grandfather Watson (hereafter to be named “grandaddy”). Grandaddy has been receiving treatment for metastasized prostate cancer for the past few years. He’s been through every drug, experimental therapy method, and radiation regimen I could imagine. After months of three-or-more-a-week visits to oncologists and other physicians of all shapes and sizes, he was told just a few short months ago by his doctors that they’d done all they could do. Since that declaration, he had been in decline, as the medicine that was keeping him alive was no longer available. Despite this, he kept his spirits up, and set a goal to make it to he and my grandmother’s 50th anniversary. I was honored to be able to attend that event with them in August and celebrate their successful marriage. Since that event, I had tried to call at least every two weeks for updates on grandaddy’s condition. On Tuesday the 26th of October, I made just such a call.
When I called Tuesday, I was greeted by my grandmother, who told me that grandaddy had been declining still. However, she thought I could definitely visit him as he was still conversational, though he had lost the strength to walk and was now confined to a bed. We scheduled that visit for that Sunday, October 31. I went through my week as I normally would, working and spending time with friends. I ran twice. I filled out and mailed my absentee ballot. I bought some fuel injector cleaner. I scheduled an eye exam. I felt “responsible.” However, the call I made that morning had left me a bit shaken. My grandmother informed me that she thought I should come to her house that Saturday afternoon instead of the following day, as grandaddy’s condition had declined significantly in just four days. I told her I would do so.
I walked out of the eye clinic directly into an assault of light. A mighty heavenly body, forever venerated as a “mass of incandescent gas” and “a gigantic nuclear furnace” by They Might Be Giants, had decided to turn all of its life-giving energy into a war on my optic nerves. I walked to my car, started it up, and sat in the warm interior…trying to decide what to do. I will not bore you with the internal dialogue that went on here, nor the story of how I got home. However, suffice to say that I ended up having one of the most terrifying driving experiences of my life. I arrived at my apartment quite thankful, stumbled into bed, set an alarm, and tried to get rid of the corona that had tried to burn itself onto my retina.
I awoke a couple of hours later and decided it was time to head to my grandparents’ house. I left the apartment at roughly 2:00 and arrived at my grandparents’ house around 2:40, after having made my requisite 3 wrong turns. It seemed that the sun had decided to relent a bit from all out warfare, opting instead to leave a few billion photons as “military advisors” to make sure I remembered my poor choice. However, in place of the sun’s fury came something worse…a migraine. I’m pretty sure this migraine wasn’t actually related to the OD of light my eyes had experienced, as I’ve had them before with no real reasoning as to why. However, this one was one for the record books. I actually had to pull over at one point, as the pain was a bit unbearable. As it usually does, the pain lasted about half and hour before subsiding, just in time for me to arrive at my grandparents’ house.
Grandma met me at the door, and told me grandaddy was awake. However, upon seeing him, I’d have to say that “awake” was a relative term. Grandaddy was in a hospital bed in the living room, wrapped in layers of sheets. The only movement I could see was in his eyes, which would focus in a specific spot for half a minute, and then dart quickly in various directions for the next half. He had lost nearly all of his hair, and most of his weight as well. He attempted to speak at various times, but I was informed that he had been unable to even receive water in over a day and could not form words because of that. I had not known what to expect emotionally, but what I got was better than anything I could have imagined.
I sat down beside granddaddy, nearly speechless at his condition. I began to speak to him softly, and then louder as I realized he probably could not hear me. I told him how work was going and described my looking into degree programs to use my ability to take classes for free. I told him I planned to watch the GA-Florida game with a friend later. I told him I came because I cared for him and wanted to see him again. After all of this, I began to recount to him and thank him for the fun I had with him over the years. As I did so, I began to break down. In an instant, I was suddenly overwhelmed with memories. I had visions ofping-pong in the basement, playing on his old Apple computer, the time he hit tennis balls with me despite his failing knees. I remembered the trips to their property in the country, where I would attempt to chop down “trees” for firewood with my tiny hatchet. I remembered driving his tractor, mowing the lawn with the “super scalper,” and hitting whiffle-golf-balls in the back yard. I was overwhelmed with joy for this man and what he had meant to me in my life, and the best part was that every memory was a good one.
After about ten minutes, I went and spoke with my aunt who had diligently stood beside my grandmother through the worst of the last few weeks. I hugged her and told her that this was a good thing…the suffering would finally be over. I shared some of my favorite memories, and let her share some of her toughest experiences. I stayed nearly an hour, and then took leave of them at around 4:30. I went from there to a friend’s house to watch the game…the experience of which will be omitted for time’s sake. In any case, it was about 9:30 when I left their house. Upon getting in my car, I realized that I had left my phone there during the game. I saw that I had a text message, and upon reading it, I sighed deeply. Less than an hour after leaving their house, my grandaddy had breathed his last. I now sit at my computer, my eyes physically more open than they should be, and my heart more open than it has been in a while.
I am both proud and honored to call myself a grandson of Gary Watson. He was a man who was generous, considerate, and overall loved people well. Grandaddy, I love you, and I will miss you, but I thank you for who you were for me. I hope I may carry your name well and act in ways that would make you proud as the years go by. I know that you are in a better place now, and I look towards the day when I can join you there.
The word dilated means an enlargement or expansion in bulk or extent…basically, to make larger. I’ve been spent today. My day went from a simple morning medical check-up to one of the more emotionally trying experiences of my life thus far. I feel that my understanding of myself and my love for people has been enlarged today. I am both joyful and thankful. The Lord is good to me, and He gives rest to those whom He loves. I go now to rest, and hope for the day when I can enter into rest eternal.