On Death and Dying

The hubs’ paternal grandmother died Friday night.

I’ve been through this before, myself, many many times. And yet, I don’t know what to say to him except, “I’m sorry.”
I know that when my mother died, what meant the most to me, were those who actually acknowledged it. Those who didn’t know what to say, so they said nothing, well that hurt the most.
I lost my paternal grandfather in 1986 when I was 8 years old. My entire life he either lived in Ohio or Florida and I didn’t know him very well. Two months prior my family had driven from Utah to Florida to visit him and my grandmother. Driving 2,000 miles in a crowded station wagon is not fun, but I’m so glad we made the trip.
I remember praying that night when he died that I would be able to have just one more conversation with my grandpa. That night I dreamed that he and I sat in these director chairs and talked for hours. I can’t remember what we talked about in my dream, but it brought me a lot of comfort.
And then for 14 years after that I had 3 grandparents fully involved in my life. Yes, my paternal grandmother lived in Florida, but I wrote her letters often and we talked on the phone. When I was 20 years old, I was planning on calling my grandma on her birthday and proposing an idea of me coming and visiting her for Spring break. I wanted to just have some one-on-one time with my grandma, getting to know her better, as we lounged on chaises on the deck of her condo by the swimming pool as we listened to the waves of the Atlantic ocean roll in and out. However, a few days before her birthday she unexpectedly died. She wasn’t sick. She was still living on her own and refusing to let anyone help take care of her (independent women run in the family).
When she died in 1998, I was just starting to date the hubs. We went to lunch and had pizza and it was so weird because all I did at lunch was talk about how awesome my grandma was and how she lived in this condo right on the beach and how when I’m stressed out, I visualize myself lying in the Florida sun at her condo. That night, my mother called me to let me know she had passed away. She died at about the same time I was telling the hubs about her.
Two days later, my brother, parents, and I hopped into our minivan and drove for 3 days to her funeral in Ohio. I remember someone saying that grandma had a prayer list with every child, grandchild, and great-grandchild’s name on it and she prayed for all of us each day. That really touched my heart, that even though I always lived on an opposite coast as her, she thought of me daily and petitioned the Lord for my well-being.
Two years later in 2000 my maternal grandfather died. This about ripped my heart out of my chest. I was a grandpa’s girl just like most girls are daddy’s girls. No one ever made me feel more special, more beautiful, more loved, than my grandfather. Literally, every time I saw him the first thing he said to me was, “how come you get cuter every time I see you?” He even said this to me on my wedding day. And I wasn’t alone. My grandpa had the unique ability to make everyone who was lucky enough to come in contact with him feel special, cared about, and like they had a friend.
Seriously, people respected me more after finding out who my grandfather was. One time one of my college roommates had a male friend over to study and he was hitting on me the entire time. We got talking and I found out he worked at Sam’s Club/Pace/Price Savers at one time. When I told him my grandfather was a door greeter there for many years and told him who he was, his reaction was, “Your Vic D.’s granddaughter?! I can’t hit on Vic D.’s granddaughter!!!”
I remember at my grandfather’s viewing, my cousin read a letter that her sister had written to my grandmother expressing her condolences. My cousin was on an LDS mission in South America and couldn’t make it back for the funeral. This was a second cousin, and my grandfather was just her great-uncle, but she loved him like a grandpa. While I listened to this letter being read, it hit me that grandpa really was dead. I ran outside and started to bawl the minute I hit the parking lot. Luckily the hubs followed me and let me cry in his arms. The hole that my grandpa left in my heart is huge and sometimes I can’t wait to get to heaven so I can hear a corny joke, his chuckle, or him play the piano again. I know that when he comes to get my spirit when I die, the first thing he’ll say to me is, “how come you get cuter every time I see you?”
Two years after that in 2002 my maternal grandmother died. Yes, I lost my 3 remaining grandparents in the space of just 4 years. That was very hard. My grandmother and I didn’t always get along, but I know she loved me deeply. She didn’t express it the way I needed to hear it, but she spent a fair amount of my life taking care of me. So what if she called me fat? I know she loved me.
The hubs and I lived with her after my grandfather died. She needed a hip replacement and couldn’t take care of herself while she recovered. She was so distraught over my grandfather’s death, she literally wanted to die on the operating table. She was mad when she lived through the surgery. She was very depressed after she came home from the hospital. I think the hubs and I did a lot to ease her loneliness. I brought her flowers on Valentine’s day. She was the first person we told that our first pregnancy was going to result in a great-granddaughter for her. She was so delighted.
It was very hard for me when I saw my grandmother start the process of dying. I remember having an almost panic attack and calling my sister, who lived in Tennessee at the time, freaking out. When my grandma died, I had no grandparents left. I would be a grandparent orphan. And although our relationship wasn’t perfect, and sometimes it was rocky, and sometimes she deeply, deeply hurt my feelings, I didn’t want to lose her in my life. But I know she missed my grandpa so much that she just couldn’t take it anymore. I remember on her death bed her recounting all the angels that were filling the room: my grandpa, her beloved younger sister, her brothers, her parents. I believe they were there. I felt their presences.
And then five years later, I lost my Mom. I’ve written about that quite extensively and how it has altered the course of my life forever. Sometimes my loss of her is so painful, it takes my breath away. Even now, I want to call her up and tell her about Casey’s grandma. But she knew before I did.
Now all I have left of my elders is my Dad. That’s weird to me. All of the hub’s paternal elders are gone, and now he just has his Dad. His paternal grandfather died of pancreatic cancer when he was in high school. The hubs respected and loved him so much. Our second son’s middle name is his paternal grandfather’s first name. But, the hubs has gone a lot of years without losing someone that he loves (besides my Mom, of course).
And even though we all believe that grandma is in a better place now, it is still truly hard. She is out of all the pain she was in. Her health was deteriorating for a long time. Just a couple of months ago, she thought our youngest child was the hubs’ brother. Thursday night we went up to the care center, knowing that her time on this earth was short, so we could say goodbye. Again, I felt the presence of those who have past on before filling up the room waiting to assist Charlotte on her journey home.
The hubs is lucky. His maternal grandparents are very young and they have a lot of years left in them. He even has a great-grandmother who is over 100 who lives on her own and is very healthy, all things considered. He is lucky because I never even knew any of my great-grandparents and he got to meet almost all of his.
So I believe even though death is a hard thing, I believe it is just a separation of a little while. After the nurse had confirmed that my mother died, the hubs and I rushed over to my parent’s house to say goodbye. I remember going to her room and falling to my knees crying and holding her hand. It was in that instant I had a feeling burned into my heart that I can neither deny or ever forget. The feeling was that this moment wasn’t goodbye and that I would see my mother again. Knowing that is the only thing that gets me through some days.
As we lay to rest the hubs’ grandmother this week, I will remember that feeling I had when my mother died. This is not goodbye to grandma. This is very much a “see you later.” She lived a wonderful life. She has a posterity that she left a legacy of love with. She put her handprint on all of our hearts, and they will stay there until we meet again.
God be with you, Grandma, until we meet again. We love you.

One thought on “On Death and Dying

  1. I feel pretty blessed myself. Only my grandfather on my mothers side of the family has passed away. I love spending time with my grandparents and know that their time can end suddenly. So I try to cherish any time I get with them.

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