Monday, December 19, 2011

On Death and Dying

I lost my dad at the age of 8. I remember loving him, when he was around, but other than that I couldn't tell you specifics of our relationship. My parents divorced when I was 2 or 3, I don't recall which, and my mom remarried shortly after to a man who forced us to call him dad. This, of course confused the crap out of me, to the point where I asked my dad what I was supposed to call him if dad was already taken. I can only imagine how that made him feel. I was a curious kid and wanted an honest answer. They were both dad to me after that day. I also remember barely seeing my own dad. It came down to holidays or birthdays after awhile. Then, one day, my mom sat us down on her bed and explained to us that he had a brain tumor. I laughed because I had no clue what that even meant. She told us it was serious and may have even said he would die. Again, I don't recall actual events. When you're a kid things like that hold no bearing over you, especially since this man is hardly a fragment in your life. What significance does this have to a 6 or 7 year old? He lost his hair during treatment and I think around that time, when we did see him, our grandma and grandpa did most of the things he couldn't do with us. I don't remember how weak or out of it he may have been, all I know is that he looked different to me. The memory most imprinted in my mind was the day we visited him in the hospital. It wasn't a very long visit and at the time I didn't know that this would most likely be our last encounter as father and daughter. When we left his room and walked down the narrow hallway there was a lot of crying. Not coming from me or my sister, but our other family members. Was that the last time I saw him before he died? I honestly couldn't tell you. I was so young. It meant almost nothing to me. The funeral came. My first funeral. I cried. My sister cried. Genuinely. We had just lost our father, of course we were sad. That's when I knew I'd never see him again. That was my first taste of death and as life goes, there is always an end and this experience wouldn't be my last.

Growing up, my mom babysat a lot of kids. There was a boy my age by the name of Jayme and his sister, DeLaney who was a year or 2 younger than my sister. I remember going swimming at their house, once, and seeing this button shaped bump under Delaney's skin, on her chest. I don't know if I asked her what it was, but later I found out it was a port-a-cath for chemo therapy. She was about 3 years old when they discovered the Leukemia. At the time, she seemed like a normal, little girl who loved to play games with other normal kids. She seemed perfectly healthy to me, but what did I know? I don't even remember how long my mom babysat her and her brother. It seemed she fought cancer for a very long time before she lost her battle at what I think was the age of 7 or 8. I'm pretty certain that I was about 10 when we attended her funeral. She looked nothing like the little girl I remembered playing with every day. There are bits and pieces that come to mind about that day, but the one thing that sticks out the most, aside from the way she appeared in that casket, was what she wrote about me and my sister that was pinned up on one of the bulletin boards as we were leaving. She called us her best friends and that touched me so much that she forever will be one of my best friends growing up. A friend that I lost too soon in life.

My 3rd encounter with death was my great grandma, or better known as maw-maw. She was such a huge part of all of our lives when we were young. My sister and I and our cousins often stayed the night with her, playing games like "who can crawl to the laundry room first without her noticing us" after we were supposed to be in bed. She would tickle our backs while we watched tv. Then she'd tuck us in nice and tight and retire to her chair in the living room to read the newspaper. We would wait the appropriate amount of time before we giggled our way through the living room and kitchen to get past her to the laundry room, at which point we had no clue what we were to do once we got there. She was totally pretending not to notice us, on our little journey, which made the game even more fun. Then there was the feather duster witch that we were all afraid of that hung on her kitchen wall. We always had fun telling stories about that. In the morning she'd make us hot cocoa and toast and after lunch we'd get pudding on a cloud. We'd go outside and play in her shed or walk out back down by the river. Our maw-maw was the best. She was exactly what a grandma should be to her grandchildren. I was in high-school when she finally passed away. She had Alzheimer's and didn't remember any of us except for one of my cousins and my grandma. We were all so sad to have lost such a great person in our lives. That was the first time I really knew what death meant and the first time I let myself grieve and cry over her absence. I suppose her death meant the most to me because I had more time to spend with her while she was alive.

I guess, to me, death is a scary part of life. You put all of this effort into loving and caring for people and eventually they're not there anymore. My maw-maw wasn't the last to leave my life. I've lost grandparents, friends, an aunt, some pets, an unborn child and I have to be honest, it's hard as hell to lose anyone. We're supposed to live in the moment and enjoy each breath we take with every day we are allowed to be here. We live on with the memories of those who have passed and try to make memories of our own for the people who may lose us one day. It's sad and depressing, but it doesn't have to continue to be so. I learned to put on my cop face during hard times and to brush my feelings under a rug as not to upset those around me. I was tough and hid behind anger rather than letting my emotions be known and then moving on, but all of that has changed and that's why I chose to write about a topic that's hard to talk about in daily conversation. Death is all around us, from the tv we watch to the news we read about in the paper. It's inevitable. One day, I too will be a story for my daughter to share and until that day, after I live my full 100 years of life, I choose to be a good person, a loving wife, a nurturing mother, a helpful daughter, a supportive sister, a kick ass aunt, and an understanding friend. My life will be lived fully and completely because death has the ability to teach us how to live. Yes, even scary ol' death has it's own silver lining.


  1. So well put.. I am so sorry for your losses but totally agree and have the exact same perspective xoxo