Warning: This post will talk extensively about death and it can get extremely uncomfortable. There’s a brief mention of sexual assault as well.
Hello, readers! I hope everyone is doing well! Since the title of this post may be a bit ominous, I just want to make it clear for everyone that I’m not planning on dying. At all. Well. At least not before I’m… about 85. I guess that’s a good number. Still 50 years to get there, and all that.
But yes, I have been thinking about death. Just not my own.
Not too long ago, my dad texted me to tell me my grandmother is back at the hospital, because she’s not eating. He says she’s fine, aware of her surroundings, talking to people… just not eating. So they took her to the hospital to monitor her. Not too long before that, she had been released from the hospital after a scare with her blood pressure.
My grandmother is very old. I mean, my father’s 66, so I believe she’s at the very least 86. He’s not even her oldest child. While everyone expects their relatives to live forever, we know it’s not realistic. She’s elderly. She suffers from high blood pressure and heart problems. Her Alzheimer’s is advanced enough that she remembers some people and not others, or remembers people some times and not at other times. We all know she’s not doing well.
So, I was thinking. When he texted me that he had gotten messages from our home town about grandma, I did think she was gone. I’ll admit I didn’t really start crying or anything – my relationship with her is so strained she explicitly told me I’m not her grandchild, so I stepped back. She’s still my father’s mother, though. And for this reason alone, I care.
All this threw me back to 20 years ago, when I lost my other grandmother. I was just 15, but I can remember everything as though it had happened yesterday. How could I forget? I lost someone I loved dearly, and not too long before that I was sexually assaulted. It was the summer from hell. Everything happened so fast I never told anyone until it was way too late for everything to be done, because I just couldn’t think about anything else.
This one was a hit. But it was also made less impersonal than it could have been.
I have lost relatives in a big city and in a small town. My first experience was my uncle, in the big city I was born and raised. It was all very… distant from the actual experience. People told me he had passed away, I cried, and my parents went to the funeral. I didn’t. I was too young back then. I actually can’t remember exactly when I first set foot in a cemetery in my own city, and it was all too… cold. It had angels, and tall crosses, and all that, and… I don’t know, it felt… wrong to me.
Then, I lost my grandmother, and, although it was a horrible pain I will never forget, everything was so involved. We all started moving and coming together. We had all lost someone we loved dearly. We were in this together. One was calling people to let them know. Another one was setting up the living room for the wake – the coffin was actually already there, it had been for a few days. Oddly enough, it didn’t strike me as weird? It might have been the grief, or just how… naturally, in a weird way, everything happened. Things were getting done. We were all busy. We got flowers. We told people. We cooked. We made coffee. We set up the house to welcome anyone who came. And people came. They started coming, and they kept coming. The house was filled with people. A structure near the house was filled too. Way more than 100 people came. People I didn’t know. People I knew but hadn’t seen in years.
And there was warmth. People were embracing us, physically and emotionally. They were there. They were talking about how much they loved us, how much they loved my grandmother. They were telling us about what a generous woman she was, and what fond memories they had of her. They were telling us ‘I’m here if you need me’, and they meant it.
In the morning – she passed away at around 2 am -, we were all there. Ready to go to the local cemetery. We all walked there – small town, after all. And it was… simple. And the cemetery itself made me feel at peace. It was just plaques with the names, date of birth and death. It wasn’t oppressive. It was up on a hill, and you could see and hear the sea from there.
I said my last goodbye to my beloved grandmother, left some flowers there, and some at my grandfather’s grave too. And then we went home, with all of those people still supporting us.
I don’t know if it’s like that everywhere, but in a small, heavily Catholic town, we have what people are now calling death positivity. No, we don’t like death, of course. Who does? But it’s something that happens. And you’re open about it. You gather your family. And your friends. You don’t have to ask people to come. They will come anyway. They will fill your home. And the wake will happen at home, with family there. It’s… different.
My other grandmother won’t have this. She won’t die at home, I believe. She’ll probably die at a hospital. A stranger will dress her. She will be driven to the cemetery. A cemetery that is just… wrong. And I’m not sure many people will be there. Two of her children have passed away. Two of them live in other states, and might not make it to the funeral. That leaves three of them. Maybe a few grandchildren will show up. But maybe not, everyone is so busy.
I don’t have a relationship with her. She made this choice almost 30 years ago. But it still makes me sad to know that she won’t go surrounded by love and warmth, with her family around her.
Such is the reality of this situation. I guess me being sad won’t fix anything. I can’t drop everything and rush to her side. I’m not even wanted there. I can’t take her home and make sure she sees a familiar and loving face every day until she goes. I can’t do anything.
And I wish I could.
I just hope she goes as peacefully as possible. That’s all I can hope for from here, across the country.
Well. I don’t really know why I wrote about this. I just had to get those thoughts out there.
Thank you for reading, if you did, and see you all on the next post. A less morbid one, hopefully.