Tears and Ice Cream

“Love is watching someone die”. – Death Cab for Cutie

They huddled close together in the dimly lit living room. Some were perched on chairs, others in laps, and the youngest sat on the floor. Spooning the creamy vanilla ice cream into their mouths, laughter filled the room. “Remember when…” and “This one time…” anecdotes dominated the conversation. The family hugged one another, rubbed each other’s back, and reminisced for several hours.

This was not a birthday party, not a reunion of kin, or any other occasion that would normally cause celebration. This is my family before the dawn of April 23rd, 2005, and my grandfather, Jerry Wallace Lee, had just passed away in his home after a courageous struggle against sarcoma cancer.

I chose this lyric from the song ‘What Sarah Said’ because I feel it could have been written concerning the night my grandfather died. Diagnosed several years previously, he had been coping fairly well. His doctors were optimistic about his chances, and naturally, so were we. Despite the lack of hair and weakness spells that came and went, he was still capable of doing most things just as he had before. My family and I visited my grandparents often, and were expecting much more time with my grandfather, at the least, a few more years.

I was a freshman in high school. Due to the frequent visits to my ailing relative, I missed many days of school and my grades were less than stellar. Not only did I have to adjust to high school, but I also had to cope with a tense home life. It seemed my mother was always crying, absorbed in hushed conversations over the telephone with her own distraught mother. At fifteen years old, I had no idea how to handle her emotions, or mine. I refused to be honest with myself, or others. He could not die; he would not die. God would never do that to me, or so I thought. One essential truth I failed to realize was that as much as God had given me, he could take away from me just as quickly… which he did. And I could have been fifteen, with my naive viewpoint of death, or fifty, equipped with years of life experience, and I would not have been ready to watch him take his last breath.

“So who’s going to watch you die?”

As we circled around his bedside, and sang his favorite songs, I knew that he was no longer there. His chest shuddered with every breath, and he began to make ragged noises in this throat. I held his hand; his fingers limp against mine, and began forming the regrets in my thoughts. I regretted never asking what his parents were like, or what kind of child my mother was. I regretted never telling him that he was the finest example of visible goodness and kindness in my life. I hope, somehow, that he knew how much I adored him. As I recall that night, I remember the multitude of faces, young and old, that smiled through the tears. We were singing, whispering our proclamations of love, and tenderly embracing the person who had changed our lives dramatically. While it is a scary thought for us all to imagine our time of death, I wish to go like he did– peacefully, surrounded by those that love me, those that would not mourn, but rejoice. It was what my Papa would have wanted. That and maybe a heaping bowl of the ice cream we ate half-heartedly afterwards, a feeble attempt to normalize the event that had just occurred. As we swallowed the sweetness, our throats were calmly soothed, which were ragged from weeping. He would have approved—he always did enjoy a good dessert, just like his granddaughter.

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