Living Without My Hero

The spotless floor and the pure white walls still haunt me as I remember walking down the hospital hallway. Each door reminded me of someone hurting, and what hurt the most was realizing one of them was related to me. His frail body lying hopeless, not able to care for himself, not able to talk or even move. As I looked at him, I tried not to let my tears show. Even though he couldn’t see me, I knew he could feel my presence.

I grew up going to my grandpa’s house almost every day. Being in his house still gives me such sweet memories of him. No matter how bad of a day I had or what kind of mood I was in, my grandpaalways knew how to make it better. The day he couldn’t predict how I was feeling was the day I started to know something was wrong.

One day in the fall, I went to visit him to see how he was doing. I was with my mom after soccer practice. We walked through the front door, and as soon as I stepped through, I saw a blank stare across his face. He looked at me like I was a stranger. I looked at my mom, who had a sad smile on her face. I watched her as she sat down quietly and spoke so softly to him I couldn’t hear. Tears started to stream down my face as I realized that my favorite person in the whole world, somebody who I had looked up to for so long, had no idea who I was.

Every day after that, all I could think about was that blank stare. How could somebody just forget you? Did he remember all the times we hung out just the two of us? Would he ever remember me? These questions raced through my mind every day, and they were driving me crazy. I had so many scared, conflicted emotions, and I didn’t know how to handle them. Nobody understood me. Nobody could make me feel better, and all I wanted was to be able to talk to him one more time.

After that, he got even sicker. His body started to shut down. When my family would walk into the hospital, the nurses would tell us a new thing that was happening. He wasn’t the grandpa I knew. He wasn’t the one I had played with all my life. He couldn’t help me with my problems, and now he couldn’t even help himself.

As I walked into the hospital room for what I didn’t know would be the last time, I went in with a smile on my face. I sat down on the side of his bed. His eyes were closed, his breathing slowing. I spoke to him softly, reminiscing on all the times we had togeth er. I relived every happy moment I had with him, telling him I would never forget him. In my heart, I felt a tug and a pull because I knew he heard me. He was with me through my heart and soul, even if he wasn’t there physically.

My grandpa died Dec. 15, 2010, the day my world turned upside down, and I realized I would never speak to him ever again. My last memory of him was me sitting by his bedside, letting his wonderful life slip away before me, but knowing he lived the best life he pos sibly could. He changed a lot of lives and helped a lot of people. I hope I changed his life as much as he changed mine.

— Jamie Palermo