He was laying there in that same beige recliner that had been his for years. His head was tilted back, his mouth open, his face gaunt, his breaths like gravel.
I walked into the trailer and my grandpa lay there, but he wasn't the same.
He had hardly moved in days, water having to be squeezed into his mouth with a sponge, soaking his desert-like tongue and dribbling down his throat. But even that was too much. The inability to swallow that small amount caused him to choke, but the lack of muscle throughout his body didn't allow coughs to expel it.
I fought the urge to just walk away. I wanted to help, but it seemed like helping by wetting down his dry mouth was only causing him more pain. I tried to squeeze out enough water that would moisten his lips and tongue without letting it run down his throat.
He just stared at me. I could feel him watching me and thinking something, but his atrophied body wouldn't let him say what it was.
"I love you," I said.
His hand that I was holding moved. It hadn't moved in days, but it had something to say now. His dry fingers, just skin and bone, held my warm flesh tightly as he slowly took it and put it on his chest. Twice he tapped his scrawny frame, right above his heart.
"He says, 'I love you too,'" my grandma said from the next chair.
My grandpa's hand dropped back to the recliner, having used all of its minute strength to convey that last message.
I talked to him and prayed over him, and he stared back. Mom and I curled up on the floor and couch that night, not wanting to leave, waking every few minutes when we couldn't hear breaths being taken from his chair.
The next morning I said good-bye. I went back home only to receive a message the next day that Grandpa hadn't made it through the night. That truly was good-bye.
I think about this on Veterans Day, because my grandfather fought in the Korean War. He would tell story after story about his experiences if you just let him talk, but he wouldn't say a word if you actually asked a question. Even 50 years later, it was still too raw, too hard, too traumatic to conjure up those memories on purpose.
Grandpa never felt appreciated for what he did. Not many veterans do. However, at his funeral service, his casket was wheeled in by his beloved family. It was covered in an American flag, and he was given a 21-gun salute.
"He finally got the appreciation he never felt when he was alive," my mom said through glassy eyes.
His service was appreciated. His life was appreciated. His love was appreciated.
Even at the end, when he wasn't himself on the outside, I could still look in those eyes and see him looking back at me. He wasn't necessarily a man of love during his life, but I knew in those last moments he was.
So happy Veterans Day to my late grandpa and to all those who serve. We see you.