The Man I’ve Never Had the Chance to Thank

11 Sep

            May 17, 2008, I think I am delusional; the man I have been staring at for the past five minutes is grandpa. The one, who all his children and grand children have been calling papa, is now lying inside a casket, wearing all black and white. It can’t be true because my dad and I are planning to visit him next weekend; my schedule is extremely hectic.  I always thought I had a long time ahead of me to spend with him; I started to focus on other things.  I’ve never had the chance to tell my grandpa what I always wanted to tell him. But still, this can’t be true because he and I need to have a little talk about why he’s been lying on the same bed for seven years.


 Joseph Charelus embarked for United States in the early 1960’s. For most Haitians, Guantánamo Bay and Saint Martin were the only ways out from misery. They were aware of the consequences if they got caught crossing the border, but that still wouldn’t stop them from looking for a better life. Joseph left his wife and six kids in Haiti and promised them a better future.

            Life was less complicated in 1960’s; grandpa quickly got his green card and started working right away. For decades, he kept on working in the U.S. He went to Haiti once, but saved as much money as he could save so that some day he could bring his family to the promised land, the United States.

        Working two jobs, barely ever eating anything healthy, he started to get sick. In the late 1980’s, his health declined. Grandpa was diagnosed with hypertension, diabetes and a stroke. He was then sent back to Haiti in order to see his wife and kids for the last time. He remained in a coma in Haiti for about three or four months before he finally regained consciousness. He then came back to the U.S; working two jobs, but began to lose a lot of weight. He got really thin; you could count every little bone on his body. People would tell him to stop whatever diet he was on, but that didn’t stop him to reach for his goal which was to get his family by his side.

        In the early 1990’s, his dream finally came true. He finally got his wife and kids by his side and he stopped working two jobs. His wife was doing a hell of great job taking care of him. He started to gain weight, he was eating healthy, and old man was looking much better. As the saying goes, “happiness doesn’t stick around for such a long time.” He started to get sick again. One day he would be just fine, the next day he would not know what was going on around him. He was a fighter.  He had a lot of faith in himself and he never thought that one day he would die from his illness. Like he always said, “I haven’t eaten anything from my grand-kids yet, plus I haven’t had any great-grand kids yet, there’s no way I am going to die now.”

       The first time Grandpa got sick, I was still living in Haiti. I would pray every day that he wouldn’t die so hopefully someday I would be able to see him at least one more time. He went to a coma for six months and then regained consciousness. His wife would stick by his side,   she never thought about leaving him. Because of his illness, it was hard for him to find a stable job. It came to a point where the hospital wouldn’t take care of him, first because he no longer had life insurance and second because he didn’t have enough money to cover his medical bills. Day by day, he looked more depressed. He would wake up, sitting in the same spot with one hand in his face; to Haitians, that’s a sign of depression. His biggest problems were always how he would be able to pay for his medical bills.

         His wife started to help out. She worked two jobs in order to help her husband pay for his medical bills and the household bills. She was helping him pay his medical bills but at the same time he was suffering because she wasn’t there to take care of him. He was now at the same stage where he had been before, knowing that he didn’t want to be alone but there wasn’t anything he could really do about it. He started to be discouraged.  He was the type who doesn’t like to bother people or fell like he puts people through too much. He started second guess himself about going back to Haiti to die or die here, the United States. His wife was there to comfort him.  She wasn’t tired of taking care of him.  But then he realized he made the right decision by not going to Haiti, but that didn’t mean his misery was over.

         In early 2000, he felt sick again. This time everyone thought it was over. Some people were getting annoyed by his sickness; some would say “it would be better for him if he died”, others would say that “he’s in misery”. This time he was in a coma for months. He usually regained consciousness after months, but this time it was different. I remember once where my dad, his son, had to almost make the worst decision of his life; whether he would let my grandpa die when he was supposed to die, or pull the plug. The nurse would call or would come and talk to my dad every day about the same question and “supposedly” she would discuss the benefit of pulling the plug, but my dad would always have the same answer, which was always a no.

       Two years went by and grandpa had been lying on the same bed and still was in the same room. Things started to change a little bit; his fingers were now numb, his eyes would water constantly, his beard was turning grey, he started to lose hair. My uncle would come every two weeks, shave him and give him a nice hair-cut. It was really sad to look at someone I knew who used to be very active, out-going and now is lying in one spot, and doesn’t have any idea what’s going on around him. Even though he didn’t really know what was going on, he still wasn’t about to give up.

         In November 2003, grandpa had been in the nursing-home for about three years.  His youngest son, Saint-Franc, finally had the chance to see his dad. It was hard to watch; a son is trying to talk to his dad, but there was no answer. He would stare at grandpa for hours, hoping that some miracle would happen, that my grandpa would finally say something because of Saint-Franc’s presence, but this wouldn’t happen at all. Saint-Franc will leave his room and come back, hoping there would be a change, but nothing would change.  

        In late 2005, my dad had received a phone call saying that grandpa was getting worse. He couldn’t eat because he wouldn’t open his mouth whenever the nurse was feeding him. They would fight him to open his mouth, but he still wouldn’t do it. Knowing that he wouldn’t eat or drink, we all knew that he was going to die by starving himself. He then went through surgery where they had some type of tube put in his stomach. They would use the food as if it was an IV therapy, but instead of going through his vein, it went through his stomach.

       As his grand-kid, I really didn’t want to see a tube going through his stomach. So I kept my distance. I stayed away from the hospital because I didn’t know how to deal with it and I sure didn’t find anyone to help me get through it. My parents would go see him every other day, my grandma would go twice a day, making sure that her husband was in good shape and had everything he needed. That’s still didn’t bother me to know how he was, I would ask my dad about him but then I’ll say “no explanation”. He stayed on the tube for about a year until his body started to reject the food. They would switch him from one food to another and his body would still reject it; my dad and grandma started to be worry a little bit because they knew if his body continued to reject the food that he would die. It took the nurses a lifetime till they finally found a food that his body wouldn’t reject.

        For almost two years, he had been doing just fine. Although he couldn’t talk or do anything besides sleep, everyone’s life was finally on track. Everyone was focused on themselves. My dad was spending more time with us and my grandma was working regularly. May 7th, 2008, it’s a date I won’t ever forget. At two o’clock in the morning, my dad received a phone call and someone told him that grandpa had passed away in his sleep. No one ever knew how he died; all we know is that he died in his sleep. It was the worst news I ever got in my entire life.

        I felt guilty about his death because I felt like there were a lot of things I could have done, but chose not do them because I thought I had my whole life to do them. As Haitian immigrants, our whole family came here on airplanes while our grandpa came here on a boat where his life could have end on the spot. He risked his entire life so that my family and I could have a better life, but I chose other things over spending time with him. I chose things that didn’t mean anything to me, but the guy that I should have been thanking and worshiping, besides God, every second and hour is now dead and I have never thanked him for what he has done for me. He used to say, “I came here through boat, you guys came here through airplanes so the Charelus’ younger generation can have a better life.” He did everything that he could so that we can have a better life, but before we could do anything with what we have learned, he was already out of the picture.

         I am staring at his body, not knowing how to feel. Should I be going crazy like everyone else right now or should I just stay calm? My cousins are crying; someone is holding my sister because she cannot stand straight. My older cousin shouted out, “Grandpa, it won’t be easy without you here.” My uncle and grandma were held down by others because they could not stand straight. My grandma got her beautiful black and white dress dirty from rolling on the floor. I feel like I didn’t do my part at all. I didn’t say what I always wanted to say. I wasted my time on things that were unimportant; instead I should have been by his side like everyone else.  I didn’t do that.

        Saint-Clair, papa’s elder sons tarts speaking and reminiscing about papa’s life. Tears are running down his eyes; he barely can speak clearly. He’s twisting his stomach like he has one of the worst stomachaches ever. Grandpa was a man that looks at all his children as if they were still his little babies. Like he used to say “you guys will always be my little babies, no matter how old you guys are.” Other than God, he is the only man that every Charelus gives thanks to every morning. He set the bar really high for us, the Charelus, so that we wouldn’t have to struggle through life.  If grandpa had to live his life over, I would definitely thank him for the hard work he had done for us, and I wouldn’t wait for the last minute to do it either. I have learned that tomorrow isn’t promised, so I would cherish and tell everyone how I felt about them.


9 Responses to “The Man I’ve Never Had the Chance to Thank”

  1. wilguite October 6, 2011 at 2:00 am #

    you making us proud MC……love you hun keep doing the good job I know with God help you gonna make far in life.

    • wilguite October 6, 2011 at 2:07 am #

      I remember when I got of the plane in Miami, he was the first one I called. My biggest regret till this day is not making an efford to go see him before he past away……………

      • mcthewriter October 26, 2011 at 3:00 pm #

        thanks Love, you and I have the same regret… at least I know he’s watching over us… he was a great man.

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  7. Princia September 27, 2014 at 12:23 pm #

    Life doesn’t come with a manual and we learn from the toughest and from the easiest. Do your part by keeping high the Charelus torch, keep that fire burning… Best of all your grandpa was surrounded by love, the most important is love …that love that still going through the veins of each of you members of the clan.
    A lifetime wouldn’t be enough to thank him. God The Provider, The Merciful, The Redemptor is now watching over his son- Papa Charelus has the best spot ever and is not worry a bit cause he knows all of you will do great; that’s why he strived for.

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