Sometime on the afternoon of December 31, 1999, my (maternal) grandfather suffered a massive stroke. My mom and (paternal) grandmother and younger brother Matt found him on the couch in his living room later that night, eyes rolled back into his head, pants soaked with urine. My (maternal) grandmother, who’d been sickly for years, was stuck on the couch next to him. She’d exhausted herself straining for the telephone, which was on a table a few feet away from the couch.
That whole night still feels like a sucker punch. It just wasn’t how the new millennium was supposed to start. Sure, everyone was prepared for disaster. But if catastrophe were to strike, it would be global – a shutdown of the world’s computers! blackness! chaos! – the kind of cathartic wiping-of-the-slate we’re always wishing for. This was far too personal.
I remember it being a surreal scene when the ball dropped. The ambulance had taken my grandfather to the hospital and the rest of us – me, some aunts and uncles – were gathered around my grandmother’s bed, where she lay propped up on some pillows, dehydrated and half-delirious, asking me to buy her cigarettes, talking about how she used to have conversations with a feeding tube that’d been inserted into her belly after one of her surgeries.
Midnight came, the lights stayed on, and so began the new millennium.
I think about that night every New Year’s eve; it’s impossible not to. But with today being the ten-year anniversary and also the end of the decade (both arbitrary markers of time, I know), I’ve been trying to put it all – that night, the years that have followed – into some cohesive perspective.
For me, it was the first of many moments this decade when things felt entirely disjointed – a little bomb goes off inside my grandfather’s brain, we’re all heartbroken, the rest of the world’s out partying.
It feels like everybody had the rug pulled out from under them at one point or another this decade. We were reminded that things – big things, small things – can change in an instant. Perhaps no one dealt with this reality more directly than my grandfather, who spent the rest of the decade in a nursing home, unable to speak, the right side of his body paralyzed, until he passed this August on a gorgeous, late summer day.