There are Golf Courses in Heaven
by: Katie Spragg- Zolnai
Not very many people in this world are lucky enough to have someone genuine, smart, caring, and loyal to look up to. I am blessed to have a family full of people like this. But two of them stand out above the rest; My grandparents: Doug and Evelyn Spragg. They, in my opinion, were a match made in heaven. The dedication that these two people had to their friends and family was beyond words. In my eyes, they were perfect. Will Rogers is well known for the quote of ” I never met a man that I didn’t like”. Well, in the case of my grandparents, There never was a man, or woman for that matter, who didn’t like my grandparents. They were just so nurturing and genuine that you couldn’t help but like them. It was an impossible feat to dislike the Spraggs.
I have many memories of growing up and spending time with my grandparents. No offense to my other grandparents, but my Grandma and Grandpa Spragg were by far my favorites. They never hesitated to get down on the floor with me when I asked them to be my “students” and play school. They came to most, if not all of my dance recitals and the money I received from them for my birthday and Christmas went towards the dance lessons. One thing to know about Grandma is that she was short. She stood around five foot one inches tall. As I grew taller, I would get down on my knees to hug her so that she wouldn’t feel so short. When they came to my high school graduation my mother took a picture of me and Grandma with me down on my knees, in my graduation dress, and my arms wrapped around her. I recently found that picture and have it by my bed. My mother, father, and I always spent Thanksgiving at the Spraggs. One of our many Thanksgiving traditions was a card game that I first learned how to play when I was about 12 years old: Liverpool Rum. Grandpa loved to throw us off by filling the air with his “aw phoey-s” and ” oh dears”, then he would lay all his cards down and win the hand! In between hands, Grandma would sneak away from the table and work on dinner a little bit at a time, but we never noticed her getting up from the table. Then at the end of the game, she would appear and say “Dinner’s Ready” and all of us would be beyond amazement because when we got to the table, there would be all the Thanksgiving fixings. When they sold the house and moved to Quail Haven, a retirement community, I looked at the kitchen and jokingly said to Grandma ” How do you expect to cook Thanksgiving dinner in that kitchen?” She giggled and at that moment, I knew that there would be no more of Grandma’s home cooked Thanksgiving dinners. If I had known that the Thanksgiving before was going to be the last one she would ever cook, I would have not taken it for granted and certainly would have eaten more.
Grandma and Grandpa’s house was always fun. There was always something to do. One of my favorite things to do with Grandma was playing “Heart and Soul” with her on her piano. I would always play the treble part and she would play the bass part. As I got older she taught me how to play the bass part and we would laugh when I messed it up and then cheer when I finally got it right. One of my favorite toys to play with at their house was a “My little pony” play set that they would always get down from the attic so that my cousins and I could play with it along with some other toys that were there. Grandma and Grandpa had a few neighbors that I always looked forward to seeing while I was there. Frank and Florence Bukowski, and The Bourgons. Peter Bourgon was my age and we would ride our bikes around the neighborhood and build tree houses with whatever scraps of wood and fallen branches we could find. Grandma and Grandpa loved to come and see our tree houses and always praised us for our creativity. Grandpa would sit and color with me and we would talk about how school was going and how I liked my dance classes, but he would always fuss at me and my cousins if we put our hands on the walls, or if we didn’t walk on the plastic runners that protected the carpet, or didn’t sit up straight. We knew that he meant well.
My grandmother, Evelyn, died on October 6, 2005, exactly 9 years to the day that my uncle, Frank, died of a heart attack and about 6 months after my aunt Carole died of a stroke. This time was incredibly hard for my family, but I know that it was the love and the dedication that we have for each other that kept us going. Grandma’s final journey was a short one. She wasn’t in the hospital for very long and from what I remember, her death was peaceful and she wasn’t in a lot, if any pain. The Wednesday before she died, my dad went to Pinehurst to help with Grandma and to be with Grandpa through the whole ordeal. I became angry at my dad because he would not allow me to go with him and I was afraid that I would never get to say good bye to her. I decided to write her a letter and send it with my dad for him to read to her. A letter thanking her for all that she had ever done for me and how much I loved her. My dad had a hard time reading it to her and let me know it when he talked to me later that night. On Wednesday night, Dad called and told me and Patty (my step-mother) to plan to come down Thursday since things were not looking good. Thursday morning came and we got the call that Grandma had passed away that morning. I was absolutely devastated. I had lost my favorite grandmother and a wonderful friend. What was worse for me was that I was not able to be with her when she died or even view her body for a sense of closure. We had the funeral a week later with her ashes in this tiny box. It was so hard for me to believe that she was in that small box. Even then, I didn’t feel that I had any closure. Even to this day, I wonder if I really have gotten over her death. I think about her and look at her picture every day and every once in a while I hear her talking to me. During one conversation, she told me how wonderful Heaven is and how much she missed Grandpa. She, at one point, wanted me to tell Grandpa that she missed him, loved him, and that there are golf courses in Heaven. I decided not to give Grandpa the message yet because I knew that he would get upset. I eventually would give him the message.
In December of 2006, Grandpa moved, much to my delight, to Richmond to be closer to my Dad, Patty, and me. I took advantage of him being so close by visiting him as often as I could, and as his schedule would permit since he kept himself busy by playing Bridge. One thing that I always laughed about with him was when he would call me, he would always say something along the lines of “ Hi Katie, this is Grandpa. I was wondering, if it isn’t too much trouble, if you would like to go out for lunch (or dinner)”. And I would almost always accept the invitation because I loved spending time with him and all I had to do was provide the transportation. He would always cover the check, leave the tip, and then give me money for gas. We usually went to either “Friendly’s”, “Max and Erma’s”, or “The Cheesecake Factory”. After the meal, we would run any errands that he needed to run and then head back to his apartment and sit and talk about how life was going. I cherished every moment that we spent together. Grandpa and I spent Thanksgiving of 2007 together at my step-grandparents’ house (The Baileys) and then spent the afternoon at his apartment playing Liverpool Rum. He won one game, I won one game, but we were too tired to play another game, so we decided to hold off on the third game and play it at a later time.
Grandpa started having some problems that required nursing care. I offered to come and help take care of him, but Grandpa and my dad turned down my offers to help come take care of him. I felt that it was my duty as the granddaughter who was in the nursing field to at least offer to help. He developed a Urinary Tract Infection and an infection in his foot that got to the point where he had a hard time walking because he was in pain. The staff started to bring his meals to him, and while this was great for Grandpa, the water glass that they brought was half the size of the glass that they get in the dining room. Since he couldn’t get up to get water from his own kitchen, whatever water they brought him was the only water he got. He became dehydrated and both my step-grandfather and my father sat with him and tried to get him re-hydrated by handing him one glass of water after another. few days later, Grandpa’s foot had gotten worse and he was still pretty dehydrated, so the retirement home called 9-1-1 to transport him to the hospital. He was admitted to the Hospital for care. Due to some car problems, I ended up picking up my dad from his work and driving to the hospital to see Grandpa. When we got up to his room, I could tell that he was in agony. I tried to hold his hand and talk to him, but he shook me off of his hand saying that it hurt to even be lightly touched. I wanted so badly to give him a hug, but I knew that I couldn’t. Grandpa was saying ” Just take it off. Cut the whole leg off.” I jokingly said “I’m sorry Grandpa, but I didn’t bring my chainsaw with me, so I can’t cut it off” He sighed and said,” That’s too bad”. Grandpa’s nurse gave him a dose of pain medication and a few minutes later, I left to go up to school to work on an assignment. While leaving the hospital, I received two visions. One being that he would be dead by the end of the week and that he would finally die when we all had left. I found validity in the last vision because I figured that he came from a time where the man of the house was supposed to be strong and never show signs of weakness, especially in the presence of women. It was one of those moments where I started to mourn as to prepare myself for the worse, but still hoped that he would pull through. Either way, I just wanted the pain that he had to go away.
The next day started off with a call from my dad telling me that the doctors decided to put a central line into his jugular vein and Grandpa had been transported to the Cardiac Care Unit and was on a ventilator. The central line didn’t concern me, but the fact that he was on a ventilator scared me. I knew that my grandfather did not want any heroic measures taken to prolong his life, but my father and the doctors believed that if they could keep his vital signs stable with medications and the ventilator, that his body would be able to concentrate on fighting this infection. The infection wasn’t just a Urinary Tract Infection, but had gotten into his blood stream. His body had started to go into Septic Shock. After the phone call from my dad, I went straight to the hospital. I took my books and notebooks with me to the hospital so that I could study while I was in the waiting room. My final exam was that night, so I decided to set up a study area in the waiting room and then every hour, go into Grandpa’s room and talk to him and help the nurses. Thanks to my dad, every nurse on the unit knew that I was in nursing school. During the next couple of days, all of the nurses that worked with Grandpa asked me why in the world I was only going to school for my LPN, and not my RN. I told them that going back to school to earn my degree was in my future plans. I learned a lot by staying at the hospital and looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing. The nurses even let me stay and watch them draw arterial blood gasses from Grandpa, while they asked the rest of the family to leave! One thing that I was allowed to watch was a Cardiac Ultrasound done on Grandpa. The ultrasound technician talked me through what we were looking at and what it would look like if there was something wrong such as Cardiomyopathy, valvular stenosis, Pericarditis, and Endocarditis. I assisted the nurses do wound care on Grandpa’s foot and on both arms where his arms were weeping from the IV fluids. I learned how the ventilator worked and what all of the settings were. I took advantage of the fact that Grandpa had been placed on this floor, by asking the nurses and doctors a lot of questions and applying the information that I had learned in school thus far into what Grandpa was going through. One thing that I was particularly proud of was that when one of the nurses was did an assessment on Grandpa, she could not get him to open his eyes and respond to her. I came up to the bed and said ” Hi Grandpa, it’s Katie,” and of course, he opened his eyes for me and he gave me a slight smile and a small tear came down from his eye. Of course, at that time, I realized that as much as I was learning and actually enjoying myself, I had almost forgotten that this patient that I was working with was not just any ordinary patient, but was my very own Grandfather. I was almost ashamed that I had, at times, looked at him from a nurse’s point of view and not just the loving, doting granddaughter’s point of view. Even though he was on a ventilator and sedatives and couldn’t talk, we had a lot of mental conversations. I sat by his side for most of the time and tried not to talk too much so that he could get his rest. I just sat there and listened to the ventilator inflating and deflating his lungs and I watched him sleep. I mostly wondered what he was going through, what he was thinking, and what he wanted us to do for him.
Wednesday came with the hopes that Grandpa’s kidneys had decided to “cut back on” during the night. I decided to go on to work that morning and told dad to call me with any and all updates. I didn’t last long. I could not stop thinking about him. I was afraid that he would die and I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to say good bye. My boss let me leave to go to the hospital. My cousins had arrived that morning after driving through a long, snowy night from New York state and were at the hospital when I got there. We went in to see Grandpa and stayed with him for awhile. My Uncle Glenn and Aunt Laurie arrived mid-morning and my Aunt Carolyn finally got into town after having some troubles with her flights from Florida. The day was filled with visitors ranging from the extended family, friends of the family, and members of Huguenot Road Baptist Church where my Dad and Patty, my step-mother, go to church. Wednesday afternoon, while I was sitting with Grandpa, Geeta (Grandpa’s nurse) came in and told me that Grandpa had just been put on Contact Precautions for MRSA in his blood, urine and sputum. I applied the knowledge that I had learned in school and taught some of family what MRSA was and the extra precautions that we needed to take. I taught them how to put on and take off the gowns and gloves that we had to wear and to wash their hands before and after leaving the room. My dad smiled proudly as he watched me teach. Finding out that Grandpa had MRSA infuriated me. I knew that he was not going to get better and that this infection was going to take his life. I started to place the blame on the facility where he lived because I thought that someone there was not doing their job correctly. I had a lot of “If they had only done this or that, he would not be here” and “If they had been more careful and observant of him, he would not be in this situation” sorts of thoughts, but quickly realized that none of those thoughts and placing blame on any one person was not going to solve the problem. I realized that I was just going through the grieving process and that what I was thinking and what I was going through was normal.
I named the week that Grandpa was in the hospital ” The week of Surprises” because during that week, I found out that Grandpa had leukemia.I also learned more about the stroke that Grandpa had before I was born. My dad told me of Grandpa’s determination to get back to normal by walking around the house, walker and all. Before Grandpa had one of his hips replaced, he learned the physical therapy exercises and did them before the operation so that when he came home from the hospital, he could start doing the exercises and get back to normal. One day, the physical therapist came to do these exercises with him and she said “Wow, there’s nothing else for me to do. Just keep doing what you and doing”. I also discovered most of Grandpa’s accomplishments. How he had fought under General Bradley during WWII and all of his accomplishments in the banking industry and his other activities while the family lived in Port Washington, New York. I knew that he was a banker, but I had no idea how involved he was in the community. He was a Past President of the Port Washington Rotary Club and a Past President of the New York Chapter of the American Thrift Institute. He was also a member of the United Methodist Church and a Past President for its Board of Trustees. The week was full of stories from my Dad, Aunt, and Uncle telling the granddaughters about funny and not-so-funny events from their childhood.
Thursday was Valentine’s Day came and Grandpa’s kidneys still were not working right. We were starting to run out of options and it looked like Grandpa was not going to pull through this. The doctors wrote an order to move him to a “Hospice” Status and an order to take him off of the ventilator. My family and I gathered around his bed and held each other as they took out the tube. We were prepared to lose him during the minutes that followed this event, but he breathed on his own and kept a blood pressure fluctuating between 112/70 to 118/80, which I was impressed with, but knew that once we all had left, that he would decide to pass on. While we were waiting for his Hospice room to be prepared, I sat with Grandpa and Carolyn. Carolyn and I were talking to each other and to Grandpa, when I felt Grandpa tell me “Take the family and go out to dinner. I don’t care where you go, as long as you are together. Take my credit card. I’ll pay” He liked taking the family out for dinner, so I again found validity in this message. I told Carolyn about the message I had just received and she agreed that we needed to go out for dinner. Around five o’clock that evening, Grandpa was moved downstairs, with all of the family in tow, down to the Hospice unit. This walk was one that I will never forget. Taking your loved one into the room that you know they are going to die in is very sobering and downright creepy. You could almost hear “the death march” or “Taps” sounding in your head. We arrived at the room and this room was absolutely beautiful. Gorgeous paintings, cabinets, a leather cushioned window seat and the most comfortable leather chair that I have ever sat in. We sat with him for about ten minutes and everyone was getting hungry and wanted to leave for dinner. I, of course did not want to leave his side because I knew that he was waiting for us to leave so that he could pass on. I ended up being the last one out of the room, but before I left, I went and kissed him on his head and said “Ok, Grandpa. We’re going to dinner now. Grandma is waiting for you. Do not be afraid because she told me to tell you that there are golf courses in heaven. I love you and we’ll play that game of Liverpool Rum again another time”. We decided to go to one of Grandpa’s favorite restaurants in Richmond, “Max and Erma’s”. I ordered the Fish and Chips since it was what Grandpa and I always had whenever we went there. As we were signing the check, we got the call from the hospital that Grandpa had died. As prepared as I was for this moment, I still cried. We went to the hospital and got up to his room to view his body. Carolyn asked me why the nurses hadn’t sat him back up since he was slumped over to one side and why hadn’t they closed his mouth? I asked her if she wanted me to close his mouth and sit him back up, but she said that she didn’t, that it was ok. I sat by his side, rubbed his hand and thought about how proud I was to be his granddaughter and how long he had hung on and fought this infection. He was pronounced dead at 7:40pm.
As I was driving home from the hospital, I was listening to “Somewhere, Beyond the Sea” sung by Celtic Woman. I had this picture in my head of a young Grandma and Grandpa running into each other’s arms (Just like they do in the movies) and dancing like they did at their wedding. I knew that Grandpa was happier now than he had ever been during the past two years. They were reunited with their true loves at last. It was, after all, Valentine’s day