My Grandpa Ken Skelly was such a strong man. He worked so hard to provide for his family. Eight children and his wife. He was a no-nonsense man but he had a smile that could light up a room. All of us kids were close to my Grandpa Ken. And when he got older and his health deteriorated, I made sure to step up and help where I could.
There are many memories as a child of spending days and sleep overs at my Grandpa’s house. His door was revolving with the local kids who used to play with us there. I mostly loved our time riding together in his truck when I was really small. As he got older, I cherished his stories of the past. I am sentimental this way as I wished I had a tape recorder for my Great Uncle Angus and his stories as well as my Grandpas. When my Grandpa first got ill, he was in the Ponoka Hospital. My mom was working in camp so when she was in camp, I made sure to step into her shoes and drive to Ponoka to see my Grandpa and make sure he was well taken care of and comfortable. When he was in the hospital in Ponoka, he told me, this is the room your grandma was in. I am in her room.” It had been over 20 years that my grandma had passed. But my grandpa knew. I hugged him in that moment and told him grandma was with him. Being in health care for many years and a Nursing Attendant for years this helped me understand his care needs and how to help him. Eventually he moved into the Bashaw Lodge. This transition was so hard on him as he wanted all of his belongings with him, but it was not realistic.
I drove every other night to Bashaw for two and half weeks from Millet until my Grandpa was settled and comfortable. I would visit with my Grandpa, keep him company and eat supper with him. Our bond grew stronger and there was nothing like giving my Grandpa a hug and a kiss when I would leave. My Grandpa had the best hugs. They were strong, loving and warm. As I reminisce, I am crying missing the feeling of those hugs and seeing his smile and hearing him laugh leaned over with his hand on his knee.
Well when I was living in Lethbridge my mom had called me and said, “You should probably come down this weekend. We are going to visit your grandpa as he is not doing so well.” At this time, he had been moved into the Bashaw Hospital. Little did I know I would spend the next week by his side. Everyone came down from all over Alberta, B.C. and Saskatchewan. All of us cousins were together trying to support our parents who were supporting my grandpa as well as us kids.
My Grandpa was suffering. My Auntie Roxy and I began sponge bathing him and tending to his nursing care needs at the end. I believe this was our way to give back to him and because we were in his room twenty-four seven, we knew when he needed something. The nursing staff was amazing with my grandpa and all of us. I guess that also comes with being in a small town and knowing your patients personally. I had known most of the woman there since I was in kindergarten. My grandpa became coherent at some point and boy was he hungry. He asked my dad (they had been best friends before he and mom married and worked together for years. They had a very close bond) to make him pork hocks with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes. My dad spent hours cooking that meal to perfection on low. My grandpa ate that meal and savoured every bite. It was his last meal.
As my grandpa’s lungs were filling with fluid. I laid on one side of the arm of a chair and my auntie Roxy on the other arm with my Grandpa in the middle, night after night. We counted in between breaths, we panicked when it was too long. We just wanted him to be free of his suffering now and to go be with my grandma Edna. The next day all of my grandpa’s children gathered around him and they sang. They sang the songs my grandma would sing to him. Running Bear and Fraulein. To this day if I hear Fraulein, The Rig Song or The Old Rugged Cross I am instantly sent to memories of my grandpa and his celebration of life. It was a beautiful moment. Watching his children gathered around him, honouring him. That moment was so special. One I will never forget. All of us grandkids sat back and watched taking it all in. The amazing part about this moment was these songs came on the radio. No one brought in a tape or started singing randomly. I know this was my grandma. She had her children, grandchildren and husband together. She was telling everyone she was there and everything was going to be ok. The room lit up bright, as if the heavens were shining down. There are no words to describe how beautiful it was in that moment. Later that night we all thought (even the nurses) it would be my grandpas time to go join my grandma. Once again myself and my auntie Roxy laid there on the arms of the chair with our heads on my grandpas’ chest. All of a sudden, my grandpa took a huge deep breath in and let it out. As he let it out all of the dimmed pot lights surged with the whitest light. My auntie and I sat up staring at each other in shock, I looked around and everyone else was sleeping. I don’t know how many seconds went by and we realized my grandpa did not take another breath in. We thought this was it he was gone. All of a sudden, he took a quick breath in and the lights dimmed again. We laid back down on the arms of the chair and watched him breath for the rest of the night. We had asked the nurse later on when she did her rounds if there had been a power surge in the rest of the hospital in the last half hour and she stated no with a knowing smile.
The following night was the same. My mom and I went outside for a cigarette. She looked at me with pain in her eyes and said, “Sometimes I wish you didn’t know as much as you did.” She wanted to protect me from the hurt we were all feeling at this time. We were all exhausted, dirty clothes, greasy hair and wearing our winter boot liners in the hospital as slippers. The nurse came in at one point and said on her way in for her shift all of the street lamps were flipped upwards into the night sky shining their light. This is how she knew my grandpa was going to pass. My mom made an executive decision and told me were going home to have a shower and to have a good night sleep in her bed. As we left, I hugged my grandpa as tight as I could without hurting him. I kissed his lips and told him it was okay to let go and go be with grandma, that she was waiting. My mom did the same and said goodbye to her dad. We both knew that would be the last time we saw him breathing in his physical form. We were both so exhausted we didn’t say much on the way back to Millet that night. We got to my moms. We took turns showering and climbed into bed. I think we were both asleep before our heads hit the pillows. We woke to the phone ringing. It was still dark. I said, “Mom…grandpas gone.” She said, “I know.” My mom answered her phone. I heard her tell whoever was on the other end, “Okay. Thank you. Get some rest. I will see you tomorrow. I love you.” She put the phone down and I gave her a hug and told her I loved her and that I was sorry. My mom hugged me back harder and thanked me for all I had done and said she loved me too. It’s a moment in time I will never forget. The sadness still affects us all but we know my grandpa is pain free, happy and with my grandma.