Today, Saturday, I had to work from 1:00 until 10:00, a bit longer than my usual 3:00-10:00. As I was getting ready to leave my Dad called to tell me that they were were stopping the pure oxygen feed on Grandpa, and they didn't expect him to survive the night.
Last Sunday he fell outside his home and hit his head pretty badly on the pavement. He never regained consciousness after that. He spent his last week in an ICU in Kansas city, the first three days on a respirator to help him breath. We went to see him Thursday, but it was like he was already gone. He groaned, and occasionally flailed his arms weakly. His arms were horribly bruised from the repeated blood tests, and he kept trying to remove the oxygen tube from his nose, and the support collar from around his neck. I think that finally his family decided that he knew what he was doing, even if he never opened his eyes or spoke a word.
Merle Euler was a strong, proud man. He wouldn't have wanted to continue like that. During the last few years as it became harder for him to hear and move around, I imagine that he thought often about the day when he would finally be released And I imagine him now, reunited with his first wife, our Maxine's namesake.
I got the call shortly after I got to work. Grandpa died just about the time I was crossing the street in front of Wal-Mart. My coworker, Julianna, told me that I should go home, but that didn't seem like the right option to me. "What would I do at home?" I asked her. "If I'm going to be miserable, I might as well be paid for it." It wouldn't be me if I didn't come up with some lame joke in the midst of tragedy. "And besides, working will make this day pass faster." Which was true, but not the whole truth.
Grandpa was all about helping people. He must have driven back and forth to the airport hundreds of times after he retired, giving rides to friends and family who needed them. One thing that annoyed him about getting old was that other people had to help him more and more, and he was physically incapable of returning the favor. My job at Wal-Mart is a service job. It's all about helping people. OK, it's partly about helping them to spend their money, but I help a lot of people to find what they are looking for, even if they're not sure of what that might be.
Today I showed some wedding rings to a young couple, and talked with them about our sizing options, how we keep them in stock, and how far ahead they should be purchasing them. It was a joyful experience to play even a small role in such an important part of their lives. While I was helping them a grumpy old woman came in asking for help with watches. She was a serious test of my patience, but I believe that I passed. By the time she left, she surprised me by saying, "Thank you."
I helped a couple in their 40's as he bought a birthday present ring for her. I didn't have a lot of input on the choice, but I clarified some information about the rings and (again) how we do sizing. They had only been married for nine years, but they already had that comfortable feel of a couple that has been together forever. She even said to me that it seemed like they had been together forever, "but in a good way!"
Today was also the day with the mother who was getting her five and two year old daughters' ears pierced. That was a bit of an ugly story, which ended with five-year-old Freedom on the floor throwing a tantrum as we tiptoed around ringing up the rest of the purchases. Associates from other departments were asking us about that one for the next hour.
Julianna explained my situation to the people who needed to know, sparing me from doing it again. I broke down a bit when I told her, though I managed to regain my composure before it got out of hand. It still pushed me to the edge whenever those people brought it up. They were just expressing sympathy, and reminding me that if I needed to go home it was okay.
But the whole truth is this: in my mind today was a sort of memorial to Grandpa, who loved to serve others. And I found joy in the offering of it, even though the tears and difficult customers.
When I got home Maxine was asleep. Horyon shared with me that Maxine had said a couple of strange things through the evening. One was "Great-Grandpa nay-nay." 'Nay-nay' is Korean baby-talk for sleeping. That's what we told her when we went to visit on Thursday. In the last few weeks she has become a sort of random-delay echo, with things she has heard resurfacing at the oddest times. And I suppose it was also the case when she said to Horyon, "Great-Grandpa bye-bye," which means exactly what it sounds like.
Before we left the hospital on Thursday, I had a few moments alone with Grandpa, and I told him that I was so glad he had a chance to meet our Maxine. And I told him that I would miss him.
He was the man who taught me respect for my elders. To hear that he was proud of me was the biggest compliment I could ask for. He had a bit of a corny sense of humor, but anyone who knows me wouldn't be surprised by that. He will always be my role model for the ideal grandfather, and I hope that someday I will live up to that standard.
I will leave you with the note he wrote in the Bible which he gave to me as a Christmas present in 1986:
"I was very proud when you were born and I have been proud of you every minute since. You are everything anyone could want in a Grand-son. All of our Love, Euler grandparents."