One Last Breath

I have been thinking about death a lot in the past few weeks. How does it feel to have death’s door opening for you? What happens after death? Why do we, as the loved ones of death’s tenants, grieve the way that we do? There is so much that is unknown about death to the average layman. I have been thinking about my death too. I don’t want that day to approach anytime soon, but when it is my time to pass, what are my wishes? It may never be the “perfect” time to have these conversations, but I do think that now is as good of a time as any.

As I wrote previously, my step-grandmother passed away on December Thirty-First. Just last week we said our goodbyes at the viewing and funeral. But death doesn’t give anyone reprieve. Today, January Thirteenth, my great-grandmother took her final breath and drifted into the unknown.

I feel sad, but I feel okay. Death was a drawn-out process for her – like I said with my step-grandma, Dementia is a brutal disease that strips away a person’s identity. I have so many great memories with my grandma. She is the grandparent that I spent the most time with as a child. My great-grandparents have lived on the same property as my dad for over twenty years. Every Sunday was a family dinner at their house. Every holiday was spent together. Half of my summers were spent with my great-grandma for years. The world has lost a great teacher/wife/grandmother/friend/mother… and she has finally found peace.

Everyone’s death is treated differently depending on religion, culture, the departed one’s wishes, family beliefs… In English class last semester, we read quite a bit about not only the process of preparing a body after death, but also about how differently death can be celebrated.

That got me thinking…why, in my experience, do we wear all black? Why is it such a solemn occasion? This is where my ideas stemmed from about how I want my death (and life) to be celebrated. Death and grieving is already such a sad and painful experience without the services. I want my funeral to be a celebration of my life here on Earth. I want my loved ones to know that, regardless of how long my journey has been (will be), it has been magnificent. I don’t want everyone dressed in black – I want them to wear what makes them feel beautiful regardless of color or pattern. I want them to share the stories that remind them of the kind of person I was (am). I want them to laugh and I want them to be together. There will be no somber music or preaching. I want this to be a time that they can reminisce on the happy moments that we shared instead of mourning my death. I want them to know that I appreciate and love them all dearly and that I am okay.

Life is such a beautiful thing and deserves to be celebrated.

I love you and miss you, grandma. I am glad you found peace.

Love Always,

Elizabeth

Personal Journey to Mourning

I have written about grief before, but it now seems much more relevant than it had previously. So here we go down the rabbit hole.

2018 was a rough year for my family. It started with the death of my great-grandmother, “Grandma Rosey”, (my mother’s grandma). There was a lot of drama surrounding her declining health after she had a stroke several years ago which lead to my grandmother, “Grandma Ginny” (mom’s mom) not attending her own mother’s funeral. We all tried to convince her to go because we know she will regret it, but it was to no avail. I had just arrived to work when I received a message that Grandma Rosey had passed. I was set to go to the funeral, but at the last minute, I stayed home because a nurse I worked with made me feel full of guilt for planning to be out of work. This wasn’t one of my proudest moments.

Next my father’s dad, “Grandpa Fink”, was in the I.C.U. In my family’s fashion, I received a call at work telling me that he was on life support and that they were letting him die the following morning. I was a mess of guilt and sorrow. My dad’s family hasn’t been a part of my life for a long time because of an argument my father and I had ten years ago. When I went to visit him in the hospital, he was unable to communicate and seemed confused. He wasn’t actually on life support (confusion runs in the family I suppose), but he was in bad condition. He’s now in a nursing home instead of being at home taking care of my grandmother (his wife) who is unable to care for herself properly.

Then my Grandpa Pauly (mom’s dad) was admitted to the hospital for organ failure. An infection was taking over his body and he was dying. Luckily, after dozens of tests, procedures, and treatments (and a week in the hospital), he was discharged in stable condition. My Grandpa Pauly is someone I have always connected with and that was a really scary time for me.

After that, my Great-Grandma Burns (Dad’s grandmother) got sick while in the nursing home with Dementia. She is refusing medication treatments and is not well.

Her husband, my Great-Grandpa Burns, can no longer walk independently and uses a wheelchair often. My dad thinks that his time with us is limited too.

Lastly, my Step-Grandma Pat (my mom’s mother-in-law), passed away on the last day of the year. In her last days, she was but a hollow shell of the woman she once was.

This year has taught me so much about myself, but it has also taught me a lot about the people around me. How we perceive things and how we grieve are both very personal experiences. Some people grow stronger in times of stress. They throw aside their fears and do their best to hold up those around them. They take charge of the situation and work diligently to make those around them comforted. Others watch in silence. They disconnect themselves from the situation and view things from the outside – they shut down. Some people use humor as a coping mechanism. They will find comfort in making the people around them smile in the darkest moments. Others become angry at the world around them. They refuse to accept the situation that has been set in front of them.

There is no one “right way” to deal with death and dying. Over the past year I have felt strength, silence, humor, and anger in vulnerable situations. And that is okay.

Allow yourself and those around you to mourn in their own way. We each have our own path to take in the journey of healing.

Love Always,

Elizabeth