Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The Day I Found My Grandfather's Corpse

So after yesterday's rather weighty subject, I though I would touch on an incident I related for a lighter, though perhaps no less macabre vein.

During the early 1990's, when I was in graduate school, I would occasionally come home for the weekend to my home town, where my grandparents and parents had effectively lived most of their lives.  My maternal grandmother had passed at this point, but my grandfather continued on, living in the house that he had lived in since the early 1900's.

The town I grew up in was small enough still that it had a downtown that one could walk to from their house.  I, having to have some car work done at the garage of the father of a high school friend, dropped my car off and walked over to his house.

My grandfather and I had an odd relationship.  For reasons completely related to nothing more than I was the first grandchild, I was the favored grandchild.  And as we lived in town, my sister and I saw them a great deal more than my other cousins.  He was the one that taught me to fish, that owned the cabin in Montana, that watched us innumerable nights when my parents went out, the one - with my grandmother - we always waited for to show up on Christmas morning so we could start opening gifts.

Seeing him was always bit difficult after my grandmother passed away.  We lived in completely different worlds: he had his Masonic Lodge and his small circle of activities he did, I was out and away in graduate school and the wide world.  But it still mattered to him that I came by from time to time, even if we had little to say to each other.

I first stopped by his house around 0730 and knocked, waiting.  No-one came to the door - unusual since he was always an early riser, but I thought little of it.  I took a walk around the block two or three times and came back and knocked again.  No-one answered.

Now, I was a little concerned.

I used the house key and opened up the front door, winding my way through the entry way and around to the living room.  The house was full of things that they had collected over a lifetime of living and travel and frankly was about the same as I always remembered it, in meaningful ways decorated and trapped in the 1940's and 1950's.  I tried to make as much noise as possible, worried I would scare him inadvertently.

"Grandpa, it is me" I called out as I entered the hall towards the bedroom.  Everything was still dark and silent.  I kept walking towards the bedroom, which was two steps down from the hallway.  I called out again, then slowly looked in.

There he was in bed, one eye open and one I shut.  I called out to him, walked over the bed, and gingerly pushed on his arm.

Yep.  He was dead.

Dead people are not really something that high school or college prepares you for - not so much that people dying (they die all the time, of course) as to what to do when you find a dead person.  It is not as if part of your high school health class included "Five Things To Do When You Find The Dead".

Oddly enough - at least oddly enough in retrospect - I was not in anyway alarmed, frightened, or nauseated.  Mostly I was puzzled.  What do I do?

Call my mother to let her know.

My mother was a school teacher and so, reaching out to her to her was bit difficult - you had to call the office and they then got her.  So I called, gave the secretary my name, and let them know I was at her father's house and he was dead.

They got my mother right away.  She managed to get the first few words out and broke down.  Her principal picked up the phone, said she would handle things there, and asked if I had called 911.

I had not, of course:  my grandfather was dead.  There was no emergency involved.

Hang up and call 911, she said.

I  dialed 911 (not surprisingly, perhaps, they still had a rotary phone).  "911, what is the nature of your emergency?" came the response.

I gave them my name, and that I was at my grandfather's house and that he had apparently died over night.  She took the basic information and said "We will send someone right over".  

"No need to hurry", I responded.  "He is not going anywhere". (Yes, I really said that).

The next thing was to call my father.  He was not in the utility yard but the dispatcher let me know they would find him and send him on as soon as they did.

So there I was, in my grandparents' house with my grandfather's body, waiting for someone to show up.

In a way, it was probably some of the most peculiar 10 minutes of my life.  The realization that there was a dead person to feet away from me yet somehow I was not alarmed by this was strikingly odd.  The thought that action should be taken but in fact there was no action to be taken was also odd. Waiting, because literally this was all one could do, was odd.

The family consensus, when all had been notified and everyone showed up, was that this was precisely what my grandfather would have wanted:  I was the favorite grandchild, so it would have pleased him greatly that I was the one that found him.  I remain somewhat unconvinced of this - to be fair, I was outvoted - but everyone else felt that it was a great relief that they had not found him.

The only other remarkable thing that happened that day was when the coroner arrived.  He was at least 6' 6', a muscular man with a shaved head that was exactly how one thought a coroner should look.  He apologized to used, but asked all to step into the dining room and close the door until they got him out. It then struck me that rigor mortis had set in and they would have to "maneuver" him around corners and turns to get him out.

Thankfully I was spared that particular picture - but what I am left with is the enduring image of him lying in bed, one eye wide open and one eye shut.  

It does make wonder what he saw with that open eye.


  1. Anonymous3:45 AM

    My condolences - that must have been upsetting. My Brother found my Mom who had died in her bed. It was expected - she suffered from pulmonary fibrosis and slowly slid to the condition she was found in. My Brother felt guilty for not being there at the absolute end, but there is no need for regret. We all knew the event was coming.

    Mom had been in home hospice and the nurse arrived, expressed her condolences to us and tidied up Mom's appearance (she would have appreciated that, Mom was never one to appear slovenly). The ambulance arrived to take Mom's body to the funeral home, as we had already arranged. Our grief was offset with relief, her suffering was ended. I'm sure she is with Dad up in Heaven.

    1. Anonymous, thank you very much - it was, oddly enough as upsetting as it seemed - Surprising in that we did not expect it, but not upsetting.

      Later that year, one of my cousins had a dream in which my grandmother met my grandfather in Heaven and asked him why it took him so long. I am not precisely sure it works that way, but we all took it as a sign.

  2. Replies
    1. I think you are right Glen.

      The only comfort in the situation was that per the coroner, he did not suffer at all.

  3. I was with both my mom and my maternal grandfather when they exhaled that last breath. Although sad, I mostly felt a sense of peace descending onto the room and though I had though I might have other feelings, I didn't. With mom, the coroner gave us a choice but we all went outside in the driveway and watched a spectacular sunrise until they had her loaded. With my grandfather, my grandmother was at a doctor's appointment so I picked up my wife and we went to pick her up and bring her back for a few moments before he was loaded. They had moved him from the reclining chair to the bed laying flat with a flower in his hands. My grandfather would have been spitting mad at that and I couldn't help but laugh inside while keeping a straight face for my grandmother's benefit.

    1. That is interesting (in an odd way; my condolences) that you felt a sense of peace. At least for me, I wonder if it was simply that there was nothing that could be done, so there was no other way to feel.

      That is a delightful story about your grandfather. I tend to think my grandfather would not have been happy being manhandled out the door.

  4. I think Glen answered well.

    1. He did STxAR.

      For some reason (I have no idea how they know this), they claim that hearing is the last sense to go before death. I wonder what eternity sounds like.

  5. Oh, my. Despite having numerous relatives die, I've never been present for the event. (either at the time of or immediately following) Once upon a time, everything was taken care of at home by family and friends, but in the past century or so, that's fallen by the wayside.

    1. It was indeed the way once upon a time Kelly - and still is, in some other parts of the world. People wiser than I have commented that it really does divorce us from death as the dying is most often done away, out of site.


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