The Bucket List, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman as terminally ill men finding meaning and fulfillment in the last months of their lives, brought back some tough memories for me.
Memories about my grandfather, and his own death bed wishes.
My grandpa was a simple man, and very dedicated to ensuring my grandmother would be taken care of after his death. He was scheduled for open heart surgery--and this was in the mid-80s, when the procedure was not quite so common, and the outcomes not quite so positive. He was scared, and he was certain he was going to die.
The night before the surgery, he spoke to me privately in his hospital room:
"Promise me you'll look after your MaMaw," he said. Tears were starting to well up in his eyes. "She trusts everybody, and people will take advantage of her."
"I promise," I said. But I said it just to make him feel better. I didn't have the means or the ability to protect her. Hell, I lived more than a hundred miles away.
"Really, the neighbor kids [who, he thought, routinely stole from him] will tell her they need money for clothes and food, and she'll give it to them. You have to promise me you'll keep her from being taken advantage of."
"I will, I promise." We both burst out crying, uncontrollably. I didn't want to lose the one person in my life who seemed to understand me. He was scared of dying not for himself, but because of the void that his passing would cause for those he loved.
I remember that evening as one of the first times I told him I loved him, and really understood what that meant.
He didn't die immediately; he died about three weeks after the surgery, from a blood clot passing through something it wasn't supposed to.
I really enjoyed The Bucket List, particularly Morgan Freeman's performance. But as I watched the characters mark off high-end, expensive activities from their travels around the globe, I kept making comparisons to my grandpa's very simple death experience. While Nicholson and Freeman sought to reach inner peace through extravagance, my grandpa reached his through his concern for those he loved.
I like his path better.