"Do you hear that, Hon?" I can tell it's a question my 90 year old grandfather does not really want to ask.
"What is it? What am I listening for?" I answer him, worried but selling curiosity.
"Tell me what you hear." He isn't giving me any hints.
So we stand in the hallway of his room, tilting our heads like cockapoos and bending our ears toward the walls. I hear nothing.
"Is it your radio?" When he isn't enjoying his beloved silence, my grandfather listens to his radio with an earpiece so he can sleep at night. Or maybe instead of sleeping at night. Rush Limbaugh and G. Gordon Liddy are some of his favorites. I try not to hold that against him. At a very young age, I know I'll have to wait to move out before getting anything pierced, tattooed, or dyed purple.
"Not my radio, I turned off all electronics."
"Birds chirping outside? Maybe squirrels on our roof?"
"No, no. It's something else," he says, discouraged. His misty blue eyes narrow at me, he is worried too.
We go on and on like this until my dear grandmother comes in to his room to ask him to leave me alone. She is always peacekeeping and alleviating hurt. She feels the tone of my voice without hearing any of our words and she asks him to leave me alone so I am not a part of this sadness. A part of his dying.
But I won't have it any other way. I won't leave him.
I was very young when my grandparents took my little family in years ago. They never gave us a time limit or a date when we needed to be out. They accepted all of us: our laundry, our dog hair, our cat hair, and a volcanic upheaval to their typical orderly way of life. It had been years since their immaculate home saw a diaper or a crumb. He was a retired Brigadier General in the Army and she was his classy and hardworking officer's wife. There wasn't even dust on the floorboards.
Oh, but how quickly we changed all that! After years of having us live with them, they endured not only cities of crumbs but also: busted garage windows, rundown mailboxes, teenage meltdowns, astronomical grocery bills, stray animals, ER visits, flooded basements (from washing machine overuse, no doubt), chauffeuring duties to school/work/orthodontist/school dances, and more stress and worry than two people over 68 should ever have to bear.
So when my grandfather, whose legs had already begun to swell, asks me to listen to the sound he is hearing, I listen hard. I want to hear it, too.
"What do you think it is?" I can hear nothing but my grandmother humming.
"Well, it sounds like..." He really doesn't want to say, "like...a chorus? Far away."
"You mean a symphony?" I try to negotiate syntax knowing he listens to classical music from time to time but never choral.
"No. It's definitely singing. Many people singing. A chorus. And I think it's just for me."
It's happening. We don't have more time. All these years of together, how do I say it all? How do I tell him all my heart has to say?
My grandfather had a spiritual upbringing in his youth but had been a pretty devout atheist much of his later life. When asked about his stance on God he would tell me by trade, he is foremost a scientist (doctor), and therefore his beliefs are based on proof. As a smitten granddaughter, I followed suit with a more agnostic tone. For me (and I suspect for him, too, all along) I reserved the right to change my mind if ever I felt I should.
"It's getting louder, Baby. You still can't hear it?"
"No, I really wish I could, but I can't." He knows what I mean. For the first time, I can see there are tears in his eyes too. I push mine away. I want him to know I am strong enough to stay with him.
"Are you afraid?" I ask, shooting straight from the hip like always.
He looks down at a body that is failing him. "A little."
With that, I hold his hand and stop hiding my tears.
"I'm so sorry I can't go with you," I erupt like a ridiculous lovesick girlfriend leaving her boyfriend for an out-of-state university.
"Wow," he is distracted, "it's almost annoying it's so loud now," and we both laugh.
"Do you think...' I start, "do you think those are...angels singing?"
All my life he is the logical, practical, authoritative, and respected figure of our household. Nobody wants to disappoint him and everyone wants to make him proud. I am not so sure my last ditch effort to throw in heaven-speak is going to be met with anything but disdain from the man who needs proof before all.
"Well, hell," he says looking up at me with that Jimmy Stewart grin. "I don't see why not. Nothing else makes sense. It's like nothing I've ever heard, Honey. I cannot believe this is all for me. But WOW is it beautiful..."
I close my eyes and hold his hand. We have nothing more to discuss.
My grandfather did not live many more hours after hearing "the chorus." We did, against his will and in a panic, call the ambulance to have him hospitalized, hopeful that maybe medicine would let him stay with us longer. It bought us one more day and night. He passed with his family by his side. Ever since that afternoon described above, I have no trouble believing in what I cannot prove. I have no doubt the chorus he was hearing really were angels coming for him. Just for him. I was there and I couldn't hear them. Only he could. And apparently they were annoyingly loud.
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