“Some people still make promises and keep those they make. When they do, they help make life around them more stably human.”
When I was a little boy, I made a promise. As the years whisked by, I wasn’t so sure I would be able to honor my pledge. The question one may ask. Can a little boy’s promise have any merit?
A Doctor, whom I’ve never met, quietly entered our minuscule cold space in the hospital emergency room. Our privacy only concealed by some flimsy curtains haphazardly dangling around us. I vividly remember her startling me when she placed her hand on my left shoulder from behind, and said, “You know why you’re here, right?” “Yes, I do, she’s…she’s gonna die,” I replied.
My grandmother for as long as I have known her always feared death, especially if it were to happen while she was alone. When I was a young boy, around seven years old, I overheard a conversation she had with my parents and grandpa while seated in the living room about her anxious thoughts. I sat completely motionless in my bedroom trying to process and understand what death meant. Why did she feel this way? I’d hold my breath to prevent moving so I would not miss hearing a word. The sadness and compassion I felt for her self-induced plight overwhelmed my emotions. I could feel my body droop from the heaviness I felt but did not comprehend the weight I just placed on my shoulders. The sensitivity of the moment pushed me to the point of rushing out of my bedroom from where I eaves dropped to offer her my sympathy. I tearfully told her, “If I’m alive, that will never happen.” I made a promise to her not to worry. Grandma would hug me and say, “No one knows when they will die.”
What is a Promise?
If you look up the word “promise” in the dictionary. It’s defined as a declaration or assurance that one will do something or that a particular thing will happen.
I’ve experienced more broken promises in my life than I care to admit. I believe this is the reason why I take them with intense conviction. When I give my word, I truly am sincere about holding myself accountable. If for some reason I’m not able to fulfill my word, it’s because an unavoidable circumstance prevented me from it.
Sadly, many individuals view a promise as a casual, meaningless act to shrug off and not think twice about it. This form of pledge weakens trust between people — damaging the relationship they share. I honestly dislike lame promises.
The Meaning of Death from a Little Boys Perspective
Reflecting on earlier years of my life, I’m convinced, for a young boy I was clueless about the responsibility I committed too. For a small child, that was a huge responsibility to uphold. I didn’t understand what death meant at that age. Anytime I heard an adult mention that this person or that person died, my interpretation of mortality translated into meaning people disappeared, and I would never see them again.
When I offered the question to my family, “Where do we go when we die?” The answer I received was, Heaven. “It’s the most beautiful place you could be,” they would say. Then I would respond with, “Then why are people so afraid to die?” I never received my answer. They probably assumed I’m much too young for an explanation. However, years later, it occurred to me how powerful my question was for a seven-year-old.
I rationalized death by what I learned from my elders. When babies were born, they were a gift from God to people who want to be parents. So, my limited knowledge of life, in general, concluded God needed them back.
As I matured, I continued to carry my grandmother’s burden. I would speculate from time to time whether my grandmother would die alone. It became evident the odds of her doing so were alarmingly in her favor. The awareness of the situation caused me to take precautions on her behalf.
My grandmother led an extraordinarily hard life. It wasn’t uncommon for her to share her stories with anyone who would listen. Usually, that would be me, because, well, you see, grandma’s ability to retain friends were far and few because she was over the top melodramatic. Her voice cracked with emotion on cue anytime she spoke of her past, escalating into this utterly high pitch shriek that would annoy me to no end. Oh, how I can still hear her ear-piercing tones continue to echo in my head and make my face contort thinking of it till this day. However, all her drama didn’t force me to love her any less. In fact, I loved my little four-foot eight-inch grandma with all my heart. According to her, I was her guardian angel.
I still grin thinking of my grandpa’s tightly cinched lips wrapped around his cigarette filter drawing extra hard when grandma would go into one of her wailing sound of despair moments. The tobacco of his cigarette would glow amber orange making it disappear in a fraction of a second.
Tears gushed down her cheeks when she spoke of being raised in poverty on a farm in the early 1900’s, rural Hungary. She was the oldest of three siblings. Her father kept her from going to school after the fourth grade. To make matters worse, her mother lost her eyesight due to an aggressive form of cataracts. So, the responsibility of household chores, and raising her siblings, fell on her too. She dreamed of one day having her own family, but also desperately wanted out of her own.
Most of my grandma’s life came with complex challenges. A difficult pregnancy carrying my mother caused her to become very sick, never to have any more children. They fled from their homeland of Hungary during the Russian communist coup of their government, then spending two years of their lives in an Austrian refugee camp, embarked on a trip from Austria to the United States to begin a new life. A not so perfect marriage to my grandfather, but the hardest heart breaker endured was losing her only child to an early death at forty-nine, my mother, January of 1989. Two and a half years later, my grandfather died of a grieving heart.
I never questioned her faith in God. She was aware of all her abundant blessings. However, all the life altering encounters she endured left her moderately bitter and terribly depressed for years to come. Knowing her life story, I could offer lots of compassion, patience, and forgiveness. My heart always burdened for my grandparents. They always struggled with the English language resulting in a lot of frustration, not only for them, also for me and my sister. I had to interpret everything for them from English to Hungarian. Plus, they were combative people. I’m sure all the hardships mentally and emotionally scarred them.
Spending many days alone after losing her only child and husband wreaked havoc on her spirit. Yes, at times, she would spend weekends and holidays at my home during that period, but existing in her home all alone starved her emotional needs that we require as humans. Anytime I visited, she would break down and cry profusely in my arms. Because she had withheld affection from others, she craved it desperately from me. When I held her close to my body to comfort her, she would bury herself into my body like a frightened child, all because she desired human touch.
A Prayer Answered
Eventually, fifteen-years later, 2006 to be exact, my grandmother’s health began to deteriorate in the form of heart issues. Honestly, it did not surprise me. She had been carrying a broken heart for many years. It finally took a toll on her.
I remember leaving work after a long day. It was a cloudy, January afternoon; it snowed about three inches throughout the day. I waited patiently in my vehicle for the traffic light to turn green to make my left-hand turn towards home. The entire time I’m waiting, I had an uneasy feeling something was wrong. I was contemplating whether I should make the drive to my grandmas to check on her, or not. When the light changed from red to green, I switched my turn signal from left to right at the last second to pay my grandmother a visit at her home. I’m not sure why I did, but I felt inordinately compelled to check on her. My hope was the snow removal company I hired cleared her porch, sidewalk, and driveway. If the work performed did not competently meet my grandma’s standards, she would take it upon herself to do the work. I constantly worried leaving her alone; she would never listen.
While driving down the street towards my grandma’s house, I noticed off in the distance all the accumulated snow was still in her yard! I drove my car up my grandma’s driveway, only to find my grandmother sprawled out backward on top of her evergreen bushes. She fell off her three-foot raised porch while sweeping the snow off! “I knew it!” I shouted out loud.
To my horror, I saw my puny little eighty-pound grandmother laying there motionless. Immediately, I became ill with nausea. I left my car and walked towards her frail body thinking she, in fact, died alone from falling. I became paralyzed with fear as I stood and stared at her closed eyes. Then suddenly, her eyes popped open causing me to have another wave of fear surge through my already fatigued body, not to mention almost having a heart attack myself.
“I knew you would come,” she said. Tears rolled down my cheeks in relief. “How did you know grandma, how?” I replied. “I prayed to God he would send you,”
I asked her if she could move or if she felt incapacitated in any way? She said, “I’m ok but cold.”
I slip my hands and arms ever so delicately under her fragile little body, swooping her up, to make our way into the house where it was warm and dry. After speaking with my grandma, I determined she had been outside for at least three hours on top of the bushes, alone.
Realization of the Situation
Another indication of a major problem was memory issues. One afternoon, while at work, I received a phone call from one of grandma’s concerned neighbors explaining they found grandma sitting on the street corner curb four hundred feet away from her home, sobbing uncontrollably after leaving the grocery store; she couldn’t remember where she lived. I felt completely helpless in that moment. My thoughts went into trouble shooting mode, calculating and formulating a plan to help grandma. What am I going to do, I thought? We had fifty-six miles between her home and mine. Her life is ending, and my life is crumbling from divorce. All these events are going on at the same time.
She did exceptionally well for an eighty-six-year-old woman living alone up to this point. She valued her independence and would not give it up for anything.
Living alone made matters worse. Grandma’s fear of death intensified. She worried herself sick even more. The thought of being found home alone decomposed beyond recognition was her issue. These repetitive thoughts haunted her. Realistically, this could have happened. The challenge for me was to prevent it.
Many more situations continued to occur. I legally became my grandmother’s caretaker from that point on for almost three years. Failing health landed her in a nursing home which became her new residency just short of three years before she passed. Grandma never regained enough strength to go back home.
In the beginning, grandma detested living in the nursing home. She was terribly angry with me for a few months. I visited her frequently to monitor her care. On one occasion when I visited her semi-private room, I said, “How are you doing today, grandma?” She looked at me with big sad eyes, her face scrunched up, giving me an intense glare. Without warning, she took her right hand and flipped me off! Yup! My grandma gave me the proverbial bird! Stunned, but not surprised, I smiled and replied to her, “Sorry you’re having a BAD day.”
She passed her days and evenings by calling my cell phone repeatedly to schedule prison breaks from the nursing facility. It was always the same. “Drive your car up to the door near the recreation room and pick me up, I want to go home” she would say.
Her memory continued to decline along with her health, but she never forgot who I was.
I finally received my dreaded expected phone call about midnight from the nursing home explaining my grandmother was on her way, by ambulance, to the hospital emergency room. I vividly remember asking the nurse if she was about to die? The person only urged me to make it a point to show up at the hospital. I hurriedly dressed to leave worried I wouldn’t make it in time to be with her. I drove as quickly and safely as possible but fretted about time.
The constant beep-beep-beep sound continued from the heart monitor. The rhythms became more erratic as the minutes passed. I sat quietly, feeling numb, next to my grandma’s limp little body listening to her dwindling beats from the screen. It was just her and me alone, together. She laid on her back completely still with her eyes open; head tilted in my direction, with a very distant stare.
I drifted into my usual deep thinking that I so often do, revisiting moments over an entire life time we had exchanged over the years. My thoughts were grateful in the way of having the opportunity to talk with her the day before, knowing full well the end was near.
While sitting in silence, the reality of what was transpiring at this very moment hit me hard. I began to speak to grandma telling her how much I loved her and thanked her for being my grandma. What I didn’t expect was when I did speak her heart rate increased. The more I talked, the more her heart beat faster. When I stopped, talking to her, the rhythm slowed. Is this possible? I questioned myself.
The kind doctor entered unannounced once again, startling me in our space, checking my grandmother’s progress.
The doctor said she heard me talking, “more than likely she can’t hear you because of the administered pain meds,” she responded. “I begged to differ on that opinion,” I said.
So, I demonstrated to the doctor what I had discovered. Intrigued, she spoke to grandma, but she did not respond to her, only me. The doctor said that she would leave us alone for now. She quietly left while I continued to speak with grandma.
I fielded a couple of phone calls from my sister, and my then fiancé, asking me how I was holding up. They asked me if I wanted them to sit with me. I encouraged them to stay home; I would be just fine.
After I had finished taking calls, I proceeded to tell my grandmother that her life was not meaningless in any way. I also wanted her to know that she did the best she could with all of the life challenges thrown her way. I told her it was a privilege of mine and my sisters to be her grandchildren. We would remember her for long as we live. I would never forget all the beautiful things she had done for me as a small child and continued into my adulthood. I know we had our difficulties; all of us did.
Her heart started beating a little bit stronger, as I talked. I stared at her expressionless face and deep into her lifeless eyes. I intentionally made direct eye contact with grandma thinking she could still see me. I sensed what little bit of life she had left was slipping away from her. Maybe she is still hanging on, I thought? After all, she always had an enormous amount of will power. Concluding this must be the case. I gave her permission to leave. I told her if she’s tired, she’s free to go. I told her not to worry about me, I found somebody who is good to me and more than likely I’m going to marry her. I also told her not to worry about being here alone.
“I’m here grandma; I promised you I would be here, right to the very end.” When I said that, her heartbeat started to slow as if she heard everything I said. I continued to hold grandma’s hand, caressing it the whole time. I thought for sure my emotions would get the best of me, but they didn’t. I actually felt relieved knowing that I provided the need she so desperately wanted, and I had fulfilled the promise I didn’t know I could keep. Most of all, I felt the weight lift from my shoulders that I have carried since age seven.
I continued to stare directly into her eyes watching her spirit leave. I saw her soul within her pupils slip away right before me. Her shallow breaths dwindled to almost nothing. The heart monitor displayed weak rhythm bursts, and then to a flat line, ending with one continuous beep. With her final breath, she exhaled with an eerie sigh of relief — an empty shell left behind. Instantaneously, her appearance changed to resemble a person I once knew. At that very instant, I thanked God for allowing me to usher her back to Him. That moment was seared into my heart forever.
My tears dripped all over her body. I said to her, “I promised you, grandma, I promised, If I am alive, that will never happen.”
When you make a promise, do you keep it, or just pacify the person you’re giving the promise to?
“The more chaos and brokenness I’d encounter in my life the more supernatural miracles I witness.” John C. Gyorki
John is currently an Electrical Skilled Tradesman for the University of Michigan. He has over 32 years experience in his field. He resides in Southern Michigan with his wife, Maryann. He spent four years in the Marine Corp as a 7011 (Aircraft Launch & Recovery Tech). After his tour, he completed a four-year Inside Wireman Electrical Apprenticeship with I.B.E.W. (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers).
At a very young age, John developed a love for reading and hoarding books and has continued to do so. It wasn’t uncommon to see him writing notes about something. John believes inspiration comes from an intentional reading of the word and following the Lord. He feels it encourages better living and thinking.
When John is not working, writing, and reading, he is trying his best at being a husband, father, grandfather, brother, son, friend, and uncle. On occasion, you’ll see him making sausage and jerky or fermenting cabbage and pickles. He is always put in charge of making Hungarian Goulash over an open pit fire. No one else is allowed!
“My goal is to foster traditional family community and common sense thinking.”
“I enjoy reading books about personal life experiences. When people are at their lowest, broken point, and then making a victorious comeback.”
John C. Gyorki
John is new to the writing and blogging world
You can join him at ThinkerMe.com or email at john@ThinkerMe.com
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