The Swap

I was walking back from my lunch break on Wednesday. I decided to call my mum to ask her how my grandparents were doing, as they were meant to be getting on a cruise that day. But for some reason, they were getting cold feet. They didn’t want to go. And I didn’t know why.

My grandfather had his first heart attack at 33. He was told he wouldn’t live, that he would never be able to raise his children or meet his grandchildren. He went on to have two grandchildren and raise his two children like any other father would. He had his second heart attack in his 60s. He was told he wouldn’t live, but yet again, he defied those cardiologists and went on to outlive not one, not two, but three of those cardiologists. When someone is told they’re not going to live, they can do one of two things: survive or accept. And each time he was sick, his mind accepted that it was the end, but his body kept going.

My mum hesitated. It was around 1:20pm. “Your grandfather is in hospital. He was admitted this morning. We didn’t want to tell you until we had more information.”

It’s not unusual for my grandfather to be in hospital. I mean, he did have two heart attacks, so it was obvious his heart wasn’t that great. But each time he was admitted there, we prepared for the worst. I wanted the details, I wanted to know if I should leave work right then and there to go see him, I wanted to know what the doctors were saying. My dad had gone over in the morning to convince them to go on the cruise, but arrived to find my grandfather disoriented and in pain. He called an ambulance. The doctors said that he had a temperature of 30 degrees Celsius and pneumonia. They were putting him on antibiotics, but it would take around 48 hours to know if they had worked. They also said that if they didn’t work, they didn’t advise putting him on a respirator. But the antibiotics were working, his temperature was getting better, and we were told that we didn’t need to come to the hospital.

I went back to work, cried, went to a meeting, did some work without really doing much, and went home. I went out for dinner that night, and at 9:25pm, I got a call from my Dad. It was the call. Not THE call, but the call where they say you need to come to the hospital. We raced there, we got to the hospital, only to find that it was after-hours time, and that we had to enter from the Emergency area. I went to the small window, and asked to see my grandfather. They called the ward, but no answer. Called again and no answer. They told me I would have to wait five minutes and I told them that my grandfather might be dead by then.

I walked away to get some fresh air, and my phone lit up.

Two words.

“He’s gone”


My mum was the one who messaged, my boyfriend of five years was the one who held me as I let out a scream. In the middle of the public Emergency ward, in front of people waiting to go in for serious ailments, I wailed. I cried and shook and tried to breathe. And I was angry. It was only when they realised he had died that they let me go upstairs.

My boyfriend had to guide me. I was numb and disoriented. He guided me into the lift, down the hallway, to the bed where my aunt and uncle sat next to. I refused to see the body. I had seen my boyfriend’s grandma’s body after she passed away, and that was the last picture I had of her. My aunt and I hugged and cried and questioned how it had happened. His blood work had come back to show that he had suffered a mini heart attack in the last week, and that his organs were starting to fail. He hadn’t known any of this. He was 85.

The calls and messages that followed were strange for me. And that’s where this title comes in.

When I was in high school, there were always people who would take your phone or laptop and change your birthday on Facebook. The messages would flood in, with people wishing you a happy birthday. You’d sit there, stunned, questioning why people were messaging you. It wasn’t your birthday. It was probably someone else’s. But then you’d realise that someone had changed your birthday on Facebook and it would all be some kind of joke and you’d laugh and be glad that you still had a birthday for people to celebrate.

I felt numb when the calls and messages happened, because it felt like it was wrong. I felt like saying “no, you’ve got the wrong person. My grandfather is still alive. This is a trick, and you fell for it”, but it’s not a trick and it’s real and he’s not here anymore.

I feel like I’ve swapped places with someone else. The funeral is today, but I feel like I’m going to the funeral of some distant relative or a grandparent of a friend. I didn’t think that so much could change in one day.

The last time I saw my grandfather was on Friday night last week, a week ago today. I sat next to him and we chatted a tiny bit, but nothing of too much substance. I dropped him and my grandmother home, kissed his cheek in the car, and drove home. I didn’t get out of the car and hug him. I didn’t sit and tell him how much I loved him. I didn’t ask him anything to get a great response, to get something that I could remember forever as The Last Time. I should have told him I loved him, or something, or asked more about his past. I should have seen him more than just once a week at family dinner. And I regret that. I think it’s important to remember that anything can happen in one day, and that you need to hold people really close to you.

You just never know what might happen in one day.

1 Comment
  1. You’ve made me tear up and cry.
    He was a wonderful, amazing, intelligent funny, cheeky and beautiful man. He will be sorely missed!