Category Archives: Death & dying

On death and dying

Would it be in bad taste to talk about death in bullet points? Should I cut to the heart of the matter? I’ve been a little choked up in my thoughts and emotions. Hang in there with my gallows humor. Colonel Mustard in the Dining Room with a Candlestick.

Now I’ll get serious. Deadly serious. These are some of the thoughts I thunk during the wake, funeral and burial of my mother-in-law.

  • Receiving lines can be excruciating for germophobes.
  • People acclimate amazingly quickly. My children Freaked Out when they approached the casket for a private moment before the wake began. Within five minutes they were back to normal. Grieving, still, but able to incorporate Grandma Marshmallow’s altered presence into the occasion.
  • Death grants a person something of a beatification. What were annoyances when a person was alive are viewed as quaint personality quirks after death. I feel guilty even admitting that I harbored any feelings of annoyance.
  • Kids keep me present. Children are so much better equipped than adults are to be in the moment. They are not yet as adept at being wistful about the past or worrying about the future. The are able to be. here. now. and they remind me to do so, as well.
  • Observing the dying process has been, in hindsight, like watching a trainwreck in slow motion. You know the ending and you just have to wait for it.
  • My memories of Lisa are split in two: before the cancer, when she’s vibrant and beautiful and active and seemingly eternal; and after the cancer, when the insidious malignancy has robbed her of her hair, many of her abilities, her life force. I have a hard time reconciling the two.
  • People want to DO something.
  • People who are mourning their own losses are comforted by comforting.
  • Even if you say, “In lieu of flowers…” people will send flowers. Lots of flowers.
  • Friends and family hold us up when grief becomes unbearable. We can always come back to it. Just a conversation or a touch tends to break up the grief.
  • Mercifully, grief tends to come in bite-sized morsels. I am amazed at how moments of normalcy took over whenever the grief became to much:

Despair – load the dishwasher – sadness – toilet paper roll needs replacing – grief – oooh, here’s a text message – sob – help Reed find his non-existent socks.

  • The burial is the most difficult part for me. I hate hate hate that returning to the earth.
  • There’s a yearning to get to a New Normal. We left town two days after the burial, and I dreaded leaving my father-in-law and sister-in-law to their newly quiet lives. But when the time came I sensed that my in-laws and my husband were curious about finding their New Normal. As it turned out, the leaving wasn’t so hard for we leavers or the leavees.
  • I view, “She’s in Heaven” and “She’s an angel now” as platitudes to calm and placate. My theory is more along these lines. But I must admit that in the dark days of the wake and funeral, my own beliefs seem platitudinous, too. It wasn’t until our flight home lifted into the air that I was able to start believing again in something eternal and connected and bigger than life in this dimension. Sort of. So who knows what the purpose and meaning of life is?
  • Where IS the soul when the body no longer houses it?
  • When a person is alive, she is available in your mind as a motion picture. When that person has died, she is accessible to you only as snapshots — the movie no longer plays, not even in re-runs.
Aunt Jen, Tessa, Reed

I went 40+ years without having to experience the death of a parent/parent-in-law, and Lisa’s was the first death in our parent’s generation. I am fearful that now the bubble is popped, the other three will follow soon. And by “soon” I mean within the next 40 years.

One final note. I am expected to live to age 96. How about you?

Sliced

We didn’t know it, that first day of Tessa’s swim team practice in the spring of 2010, but our lives were about to be sliced in two.

Before: we were consumed with the end of the school year. There were report cards, field days, deciding on next year’s school, assemblies. We’d had a wind storm the night before that blew our shed off its foundation. Roger was dealing with some serious problems at work that were weighing him down. I was preparing for a big conference and was feeling similarly weighed down.

Little did we know how heavy things would get.

Minutes after Roger told me “I don’t know if I can take anymore. It’s just too much,” his cell phone rang. It was the slash that would govern our lives for the coming year and beyond.

His dad reported that his mom had had a CAT scan for some pain in her side. It revealed masses on her lung and liver.

Over the next days and weeks the full diagnosis emerged: Stage 4 lung cancer, metastasized to her liver, lymph and bones.

How could this be? Grandma Marshmallow had just visited us for Christmas. She spent Easter with us, and we’d gotten up at 4 in the morning and enjoyed a glorious sunrise at Red Rocks amphitheater together. Surely this diagnosis must be a mistake. Not Lisa, a non-smoker who ate healthfully and was physically active, a loving and well-loved person. Surely she would beat the odds with treatments.

We visited her last summer during her early rounds of chemo. We visited in the winter when the doctors said there was nothing more that could be done. Roger and I met his parents in Florida in February while we were on a business trip. We spent Spring Break with her just weeks ago. Those were her waning days when Grandma Marshmallow was all but bedridden, her energy depleted, her spirit straddling two worlds. We teared up at our goodbyes, knowing we’d likely not see or hear her again.

Grandma Lisa died on April 12 at 8:38 in the morning. Roger had gotten to her side hours before. She was surrounded by her loving husband, son and daughter.

This will take some processing, so bear with me.