To my son Tommy,
I am not implying that dying is any walk in the park. I'd imagine the whole end process is not the most enjoyable experience for the deceased while they were alive. But, and perhaps this may seem callous, death is harder on the living than it is on the dead. Let me explain.
When you are dead, most likely nothing really matters to you, at least nothing worldly. When you are dead, you probably don't care what type of wood your casket is made from. When you are dead, you don't have to worry about what suit they pick out for the viewing. When you are dead, you don't have to worry about all this and many many many more worldly things. These were things that mattered to you when you were living and now are things that are someone else's problems.
This is almost universal no matter what you believe. Don't believe in an after life? Then you won't care about much, not even about where they would spread your ashes. Believe in reincarnation? Think that you are coming back as a flower or something? Then you would be busy worrying about fertilized ground to dig your new roots in as the daffodil you have become. Believe in heaven? Then your soul has defeated death and transcended the pettiness of this earthly world and your soul is filled with love and only focuses on what truly matters. Believe in hell? Well, then you have much worse problems to deal with than who made it to the funeral. No, these things just don't matter to the dead.
Then why, if we realize it doesn't matter to them anymore, does the passing of our loved ones leave us with such guilt and regret? Why does grief fill us with the "Would've, should've, could've, if only" mentality? Perhaps it is because the living still think we have more control in this crazy world than we want to admit that we do. That is why we worry about what happened and what didn't happen. That is why we obsess over things that really don't matter to the dead and shouldn't really matter to the living.
Yesterday before your Great Grandpa Leo passed, I spent an hour sitting with him. I left work early, and I went down and sat with him. He didn't respond. Not sure he knew I was there. I stroked his head. I held his hand. I told him I was with him. I told him we all loved him. Occasionally he attempted a guttural response to seem to acknowledge me, but perhaps I was projecting a bit. But after an hour, I left. I didn't recognize that this was the last day and I was not there when he passed and I feel guilty. I only had to stay another two hours and I would have been there when the time came.
Your Grandpa Leo didn't get to see much of his father (Great Grandpa Leo) after they moved him to the home last week. Of course your Grandpa Leo is immune compromised with his chemo treatment for his own problems, so he needs to stay away from hospitals and such. He did get in there to see him a couple days ago though. But he feels guilty for moving him to the home and for not being able to visit as much as he wanted to. We all understand that he was doing what was best, but that doesn't lessen the guilt or make things easier.
And so it goes through the family. Each with his regret. Each thinking, "I should've been there" or "If only I had done this" or "Why didn't I..." Each of these thoughts and regrets and guilty feelings doesn't make a hill of beans to your Great Grandpa Leo right now. He knows he was loved. He knows we were there for him, sometimes in physical presence and sometimes in spirit. If what we believe is correct, than your great grandfather is headed towards those pearly gates and all the things that bothered him on this earth (and that still will bother us for some time to come) probably seem so stupid and petty. He is up there shaking his head and chuckling that big deep belly chuckle of his right now.
I know we are going to have to go through this again, yet I pray no time soon. We have a fair amount of people in our family that are in mortal danger. I often ask for forgiveness from your Grandpa Leo and tell him that I am going to make a bunch more mistakes before his brain cancer ends up running its course. He laughs and tells me he loves me and then laughs again and tells me "it" (whatever the it we are talking about at the time, be it money, or your grandmom, or the house, or donating his body to science, or all the petty worldly stuff) won't be his problem anymore.
Sincerely with love from your dad,
P.S. The day I went up to the home to see your great grandpa, as I was leaving I stopped to talk to the nurses. We kabitzed a bit and we talked about who I was related to. They were used to seeing your Great Uncle Kevin up there often. They told me how they got freaked out the day before when your Grandpa Leo visited his father. Your grandfather and great grandfather both look so similar right now that the nurses thought your great grandfather had gotten out of his bed and was walking the halls. They thought this perhaps was a miraculous recovery until they figured it out. We all laughed out loud at the mix-up. And for even that I feel guilty.