When I was 17, my grandfather developed cataracts. As an enthusiastic grandfather, he adored his grandchildren and took great delight in watching them grow from babies to adulthood. Of course when the first of his grandchildren began having their own children, he could hardly wait to see their babies.
Unfortunately this was when his eyes gave out. Once the cataracts started, it only took a few short weeks for him to go blind, and treatments weren’t good enough back then to change that.
He could dimly make out light and dark but not much more. He missed the opportunity to see the great-grandbabies’ smiling baby faces and we all knew that caused him great pain.
With each new great-grandchild’s birth, he lamented how much he wanted to see all those laughing, happy-faced great-grandchildren. It was an ongoing topic in his conversations, but there was nothing we could do and try as we might, describing their looks and antics to him was clearly a second-place option.
We all remember so many times hearing him say, “If ONLY I could see their faces, even one time, I’d die a happy man.”
When they came to visit he bounced them on his knees, talked cootchy-coo with them, and learned to recognize their voices. He called them all by name and wanted every detail about their growing up recounted to him.
Twenty years later when medicine had advanced enough, his doctor informed him that he could, if he still wanted, apply to be a candidate for a double corneal transplant. Due to his advanced age and the newness of the operation, the doctor couldn’t make any promises about what the quality of his vision after the transplant, but since even his doctor knew how bereft he felt without his “grand-baby vision,” he let my grandfather decide.
My grandfather told his doctors, his nurse, and anyone who’d listen, he would do ANYTHING to see his great-grandchildren even one time.
By then he had nine unseen great-grandkids.
Once he received approval for the operation, he told everyone they should all be ready to bring the babies over after the operation. Some of these “babies” were now well into teenage years.
Corneal transplants are not an event that can be scheduled. The operation is done when the corneas become available. So we waited, knowing that we were waiting for someone to die so that my grandfather’s and our happiness would happen.
We prayed when this happened, that the donor’s family would know their generosity in a time of sorrow helped bring a truly joyful event to another family.
When my grandfather’s doctor received word that two corneas were available, he told the family to bring him in immediately to start the surgery preparations.
His doctor, in the meantime, was so invested in this operation going well that he himself booked the next flight from Massachusetts to Florida to pick up the corneas and hand-carry them back to the surgery room and my impatient-with-excitement grandfather.
The surgery went fine and Grandpa was sent home with his eyes bandaged to recuperate. The true test would happen when they removed the bandages two days later. Then we’d know if the transplant “took” and if he’d see again.
We waited, eager to hear.
We rearranged schedules so we were at the ready. The phone-tree was in place to make the calls. Kids were cleaned and scrubbed. Gas tanks were filled. My aunt Ruth made her famous family potato salad to feed everyone — IF the news was good.
Two days later my aunt Ruth drove him to the doctor’s. As she stood by, they removed the bandages.
He could see!
Although his vision wasn’t completely restored, a careful fitting with glasses brought his vision back to nearly perfect.
My aunt phoned the GREAT news and we spread the word!
That brought about the biggest family celebration you can imagine. Over the next few days and weeks our family visited again and again, bringing all nine great-grandkids to see — and be SEEN by — their grandpa.
The kids brought their pets, their favorite toys, school science projects, pictures of them at scout camp, they even brought friends to show and meet my grandfather.
My grandfather saw Christmas that year. He saw the New Year’s ball in Times Square drop as Guy Lombardo played. He saw great-grandkids tobogganing down the backyard hill onto the iced-over pond. As soon as the snow abated in early spring, they took him to see our summer camp, the place he and my grandmother lived in the early years of their marriage. He saw a world he had not seen for nearly twenty years.
Each time the kids visited, he would say over and over again, “All I wanted in life was to see those kids. I’m such a happy man now.”
Only two months after his operation, my grandfather died in his sleep at the age of 86.
Although we were sad to lose him, we were comforted by knowing that he had died a happy man, with his life-long wish fulfilled.
(This story was published in the book, “Heartwarmers of Spirit,” and printed by the Heartwarmers folks who have a delightful newsletter you can subscribe to at http://www.Heartwarmers.com )
My aunt Ruth just sent me an email with more info about my grandfather’s story. She says …
Your story about Poppa reminded me of an incident that happened after his eye surgery. You know how dry he could be. We were in the doctor’s office going over what Poppa could now do and Poppa said, ” What about sex? Can I have sex?” My dad was asking questions about sex! I was looking at the wall and wishing I could disappear into it. The doctor looked a little taken aback, after all Poppa was in his 80’s, but he finally said, “Well, yes, I guess that would be okay, and Poppa said, “Great, cause I haven’t had any in years.”
This doctor. was very strict and stern, never ever even smiled, but suddenly he burst out laughing, then Poppa said, “Gotcha.”