[Note: I actually returned earlier this week, and wrote this post shortly after getting back. However, the emotional nature of the post led me to hold it until I could edit it under calmer conditions; I've decided to leave it unedited.]
The trip went well. However, much of it was spent visiting relatives (my grandparents) who are very ill, so one can hardly call the trip cheerful. In fact, it's likely that on Monday evening I said goodbye to my grandfather for the last time.
One gets the impression from books and movies that last discussions with people are supposed to be cathartic and moving. Instead I found it heartbreaking, which is I guess moving, but not quite the positive feeling I felt that one was supposed to get from such an encounter. I sat there for hours on Monday listening to stories of the past; stories of my grandfather and grandmother meeting before WWII, stories of my grandfather's adventures when he was in the Navy (WWII), stories of my grandmother following my grandfather while he was in the Navy, stories of their travels after the war, and stories of his time as an aerospace engineer. They were stories of when he could walk, stories of when he had both legs, and stories of when he could sit up without help. I also listened to stories of the future: when he'd get his (prosthetic) leg, when he would be strong enough to walk again, and when he'd be strong enough for them to operate on his melanoma. I don't know which were sadder; those of the happy past that is forever gone, or those of the future that will not come.
It's odd, but one of the things I thought of while watching my grandfather was some of our old mice when they were days away from death. At that point they've often started losing their hair, have stopped being able to clean themselves, and they have a hard time even moving to the food dish. They're jittery and shaky; it seems as though it takes them much thought to decide what they want to do, and even then they seem indecisive and easily distracted.
My grandfather was one of the inspirations of my young life, an engineer who worked on super-secret projects and knew everything about how planes worked. He was one of the reasons I went to college. He was the reason my major upon entering college was engineering. Now he's dying, and it takes him half a minute to gather his strength and his thoughts so he can talk.