LAST MOMENTS WITH JOSZI
My beloved grandfather died when I was five. He had a stroke and was hospitalized.
I have the vaguest recollection of being in the hospital waiting room. One at a time, my mother, aunt, godmother, and grandmother went up to see him. They returned tearful. I never got to say goodbye to my grandfather. Children weren’t allowed up to the rooms where the sick and dying lay.
Since my grandfather’s passing, I have been terrified of death. It didn’t help that mice and gerbils that I brought home to care for also died on my watch. I felt terrible about their demise and had to have my father or mother wrap them in cloth so I could bury them in the backyard.
After grandpa died, a pall was cast over my grandmother. She had dark rings under her red, swollen eyes for years til she remarried. My grandmother, who I adored, met a man from California whose wife had also died some years before. They got along well and, before we knew it, had plans to wed, which included a move to Los Angeles. It was 1963--a year after my baby brother was born. I was heartbroken and my mother was too, but she didn’t say anything, at least not in front of us kids.
Although I missed my grandmother terribly, she made good on her promise to visit
at least once a year, and I slowly got to know my new “step grandfather” who we called Joszi. Joszi was a mellow, amiable guy who loved to tell stories. He had a broad, toothy smile and loved to be photographed. He even dressed up in shorts and polo shirt so he could pose with a tennis racket I gave him for the shot.
My grandparents were married more than twenty-five years before their lives tilted in the
direction of change. But, on more than one occasion, my grandmother would say, plaintively, “the age is there.” And so it was. When they would visit, Joszi repeated the old vignettes stories culled from waiting on the rich and famous at the swanky hotel restaurant where he worked for years. He started to shuffle and, at times, stare blankly into space while at the kitchen table. It wasn’t long before he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
The downhill slide was predictable. Joszi, the bright and engaging man we used to know slipped away; he spoke less and less until finally all that was left of him was
his big, broad buddha smile. I loved that smile of his; it radiated love and lightheartedness.
I was in my late twenties and living in the San Francisco Bay Area, having moved out to California with my partner to pursue my doctorate in Psychology, when I got a call that
Joszi had been hospitalized. By the time I arrived in L.A., Joszi was already unconscious and on life support.
In the years between my grandfather’s death and my step grandfather’s hospitalization, I had dealt with my dread of death by participating in numerous meditation workshops on Conscious Living, Conscious Dying led by meditation teacher, Stephen Levine and his wife, Ondrea. Hundreds of people--some healthy, others ridden with cancer, AIDS and disabling illnesses--attended these workshops. Slowly and hesitantly, I faced my terror of death. People at these workshops talked courageously about their own fears and doubts while others recounted their experiences with loved ones who paid visits after dying. I found myself allowing for possibilities I refused to consider before.
Fortunately, having faced my fear of death before, I found the courage to visit my grandfather in his hospital room. I found this bald, ninety-two year old man curled up quietly in a fetal position, breathing ever so slightly. I stood there for a long while just gazing at him. Finally, I summoned up some more courage and spoke to him sub vocally, thanking him for his great love, for his devotion to my grandmother, and wishing him peace and serenity. I don’t know how long I stayed; it seemed as though time had stopped.
I finally left, returned to my grandmother’s apartment, and spent the rest of the evening
in a solemn yet serene state of mind. Around midnight, one of Joszi’s daughters called to tell us he had died. A true buddha had passed on; and he departed with