An affliction of the heart
My thumb and forefinger began the all-too-familiar motion of gently orbiting the polished metallic band around the base of my ring finger on my alternate hand—a habit of mine that had been known to expose itself at the worst of times, and a method that I could rely on to provide a temporary detachment from the harsh reality of whatever pressing matters I might face at any given moment. When I desperately needed empty, meaningless thoughts, I focused my attention toward that mundane task I performed to occupy all of my headspace—no room for other thoughts to intrude. This time, however, it appeared that my fidgeting had failed me. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t escape the thoughts of the horribly unfortunate situation that had brought me to the hospital that bleak autumn day. I was informed mere moments before I arrived at the hospital that my grandfather had suffered from an affliction of the heart.
The elevator let out a high-pitched ding to notify its occupants that it had reached the end of its journey. My head snapped into a position where I could watch the two dull metal doors slowly separate to expose a hallway. Here I stood—the end of the road. In just a few solitary moments I’d come face to face with my ultimate fear, one shared by every human since the dawn of time—loss. I stared at the empty sterilized hallway that lay ahead of me, shrouded in blinding LED light, one that strained my eyeballs the longer I looked.
In times of death, people often refer to moving toward a bright white light, the great unknown, thought of as heaven or some other idea of an afterlife. I considered for a moment that I had entered Heaven, granted a one-time VIP pass to visit with my grandpa as he passed over to the other side, an opportunity for one final grand gesture, a vain attempt to try and adequately communicate just how much he meant to me, how heavily he had influenced the person I’d become, along with joyous, yet painful, memories we had shared together.
A lump formed in the back of my throat. I practically choked on all those beautifully chosen words I considered using to comfort my grandpa, knowing somewhere deep in the very fiber of my being that they were more so meant to comfort me. Waves of guilt washed over me, that I’d get to carry on with my life while this man rotted away. A kind-hearted soul of this caliber certainly would never find itself in my life again.
I progressed down the long linoleum-coated pathway, a feat that in and of itself seemed equivalent in difficulty to scaling Mount Everest—as if the air had gotten thinner and made it harder to breathe the closer I got to facing my grandfather. I reached the door I never wanted to reach, the one labeled “301”, the one that housed my favorite person in the whole wide world, but also something terrifying. Behind that door lay evidence of the fact that in the end, we all fall, no matter what a person accomplishes in their brief time occupying this mortal plane. It always ends the same, with death as the only certainty in life. I extended my shaky hand toward the door handle and slowly twisted for what felt like an eternity, but actually closer in time to the five-second mark. The door swung open to reveal my grandfather, dressed in a white hospital gown, with a surprising look of happiness on his face. An unexpected yet very much appreciated glimmer of hope in his eyes, now privy to the knowledge that he, in fact, would be okay. Despite the dread that still hung over me, his story didn’t end that day. He still had plenty of fight in him and a lot of life left to live.