Sunday, March 20, 2011

Death and Dying

I was in elementary school when my mom went back to school for her masters in social work. She had all kinds of classes with strange boring names. She was gone a few nights a week but when she was home her evenings were spent with her nose in a book. Stacks of books, a highlighter and her reading gasses sat next to her rocking chair. Most of the titles I don't remember- they really were obscure but I remember one clearly. The title, Death and Dying. Yeah, sounds like great reading. It was a thick book and mom trudged through it seemingly forever. I was like 9 so everything seemed forever. Bu Death and Dying made me alternately laugh and feel just a bit sad and curious.

I was 6 when my Grandpa died. I don't remember much about it really. I spent the day with my sister at Nancy and James' house (Grandma's neighbors). Grandpa had a heart attack. Mom and Grandma spent the day at the hospital and then with the funeral home I think. The funeral was lots of people I didn't really know. I was bored- remember I was 6. It didn't really occur to me at the time. Grandpa was gone a bit to work and mostly my days were spent with Grandma. Over the next few weeks it set in a bit more. Grandpa wasn't there for walking through the garden. For sitting in his rocker. For catching fireflies on summer evenings. His absence was out of place to me. It was unfamiliar.

My Grandma died the end of January. She had been ill and in quite declining health for some time. To some extent it's a blessing that she is no longer trapped in her illness. But she was different than Grandpa. He died quite suddenly on a summer day. Grandma went through a process of dying. Overtime she died. And it made me remember that Death and Dying book.

At the time that Grandma died, I was really overcome with relief. Really, she had been ill and doctors weren't helping. Just new meds and new side effects but still not Grandma. But over the weeks I've been missing her. My computer screen saver shuffles through all the pictures on the hard drive. Every now and again Grandma scrolls up. Grandma with @ on her lap, laughing. Grandma watching @ play with a puppy. Mom and Grandma eating pie together. Grandma holding !. And then in my mind's eye… Grandma with Jennifer and I at the beach in Shelbyville- splashing in the water. Grandma and I eating picnic in the backyard. Grandma making lunch for me after kindergarten. Waiting for me to finish my times tables at the kitchen table. Finding jars for fireflies. Walking to see the horses. Making coffee from the red can of Folgers. Laughing at Jennifer and I trying gooseberries. So many pictures in my mind's eye. Not the dying but the living. Grandma was good at living and that's what I remember.

I suppose her dying was easier for me. I'm away for so long. I only see her in snippets of visits once every 3 or 4 years. It's also been harder that way. I didn't get the slow progression, just BAM- old Grandma. BAM- Grandma sick. Bam – Where is her sparkle? And perhaps that's what makes her dying easier. I make peace with it being the last visit every time I leave. My Aunt Marie (Grandma's closest sister) took to saying "Goodbye" every time we left the country. She always told me she thought it was very possible that it would be the last time she saw me. Eventually, of course, she was right. She died this last November after being quite ill herself. But those Goodbyes are easier. I have happy laughing memories. Good times and lots of time memories. I guard that time I've had with them. I think it reminds me with each visit how important time is. There is never enough but time is in the living. It's to revel in. Dying is just under the surface but it's the living that plays in the movies of my mind.

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