(Based on a true story–names have been changed, and some facts have been altered.)
(Flowers in Spain, my photo)
Little George, a boy of 10 years, moved to stay at his grandpa Leroy’s house in rural Indiana after his parents had died in a tragic car accident a year ago. George was sad about his parents’ death, but it was somewhat satisfying for him to be at his grandpa’s house now, considering that it was away from all the memories he had about his parents. He could start anew with Leroy.
On a certain fateful evening in mid-February, George and his grandpa were playing cards at a table next to a warm fire. The boy loved his grandpa dearly. All throughout the school week, George would look forward to those Saturday nights during which he could leisurely spend some quality time with his grandpa. He didn’t mind what they would do: they could play cards, watch a movie, read stories, or anything. George simply valued the loving presence of his grandfather.
Leroy was a strict man as a young father to his sons, especially James, who was George’s favorite uncle, but Leroy had mellowed out over time. With his grandson, he could offer unconditional love and attention. While George was at school, his grandfather missed him very much. Leroy did have the company of his wife Adriana throughout the day, but his true treasure was little George. Leroy mourned heavily the loss of his son Alvin and his daughter-in-law when they had passed in the car accident. Adriana was a big help then. Now, though, Leroy wanted to spoil his grandson to make up for all of the tough love that he had shown to his children. For Leroy, George was like a second chance at being a tender dad.
As the card game progressed, Leroy began to feel a pain in his head, but he continued to play without saying a word. The pain only increased. Leroy excused himself to grab a glass of water and a Tylenol, but, before he made it back to the fireplace room, he had passed out and hit his head on the floor. George heard the noise in the kitchen and ran over to see what had happened. He shockingly gazed at his grandpa on the floor. Leroy was yelling and shaking. He let out with exasperation, “George, call an ambulance.” George rushed over to the nearest telephone and dialed 911. “My grandpa fell and hit his head on the floor. Come quick!” George shouted into the speaker on the phone.
Within minutes the paramedics came to the scene. They assessed that Leroy needed to be flown into a Chicago Hospital immediately. The chopper took off quickly just as Leroy’s wife Adriana pulled into the driveway on her way back from the store. Adriana entered the home and found a paramedic sitting with George at the kitchen table. The paramedic told her, “Your husband had a serious head injury while you were out. He’s in route to Chicago for emergency trauma care. I’d suggest that you take your grandson with you and leave for Chicago immediately.”
Adriana left for Chicago and arrived three hours later. On the way into the city, Adriana had George call Leroy’s two best friends, Mary and Isabel. George also phoned his uncle James, who was to fly in from Texas with his wife as soon as possible. Adriana, George, and the two friends arrived at the Neurological Intensive Care Unit around midnite. Leroy had already been to the Operating Room. The surgeons couldn’t do much to help him. It seemed like death was coming soon. At eight in the morning, the nurse figured that Leroy was brain dead. She called the chaplain to attend to the family as they mourned the unofficial loss. Chaplain David entered the hospital room fifteen minutes after receiving the page. Long periods of silence mixed with a few short verbal and nonverbal exchanges of consolation from the chaplain. It struck David that George was so concretely glued next to Leroy’s bed. The young boy was shedding intermittent tears and passing his little hands along George’s chest, which moved occasionally with a faint heartbeat. There was clearly something special about this relationship between grandson and grandfather.
As time passed, the family members and friends began to open up. They told stories about Leroy and cued the chaplain into the family dynamics and the situation that had brought Leroy into the hospital. It became evident to David that many deeply loved Leroy–but none more than George.
Around eleven that morning the doctors and family members decided to remove all respiratory and heart support from the brain dead patient. It would be a matter of minutes until Leroy’s heart activity would cease. As the heartbeat weakened George stayed resolute, standing at the bedside. He would not remove his gaze from Leroy’s face or his arm from Leroy’s chest. About twenty minutes after the removal of life support, George looked back at the group, which now included his uncle and his uncle’s wife. He stated quietly and with some strength, “I think he’s gone now.” Silence prevailed for a few minutes after the grandson’s matter-of-fact, yet grief-stricken comment.
The chaplain decided to speak up when the silence seemed to have run its course. He asked little George with some tenderness, “Is there anything that you would like to say to your grandpa as he goes?” George thought for a minute and replied, “Can he hear me?” The chaplain responded, “I don’t know, but it can’t hurt to try.” Then, looking directly into his grandpa’s eyes, George let out with many tears, “Grandpa Leroy, I promise I’ll do well in school for you. I promise.”
David J.W. Inczauskis, n.S.J.
(Cross near La Alberca, Spain, my photo)