A few weeks ago, my wife’s mother passed away. Paula was a young 82 and as hard as that loss was, it was magnified for my two teenagers. She was their last living grandparent. Both my parents and my wife’s parents, were present in the lives of my children from birth. Their memories are full of their grandparent’s stories, and the experiences they shared. In this, I know that my children are fortunate. Not everyone is lucky enough to have known all four of their grandparents. As time passes and the pain of the immediate loss dulls, I hope they come to focus on the blessings of having had their grandparents in their lives.
Mom, Dad, and my father-in-law, Frank, had long illnesses that each of them reacted to differently. My mother’s cancer at the relatively early age of 80 was, in many ways, a time of strength and affirmation for her of the community and family support she had built. In February 2003, she danced and sang at her 80th birthday celebration. That August she went into hospice and died shortly thereafter. My dad was ill with dementia for a long, long time causing severe financial and emotional strain on my stepmother. We watched as he slipped further and further away and when he died the overwhelming feeling was sadness, tempered by relief. My wife’s father, Frank, spent almost 2 years going from one medical crisis to another that strained the family, and he left this world in pain and exhausted.
Paula, on the other hand, was dressing to go out one Friday morning when she suddenly collapsed. Although we knew she had refused operations to help her with known heart problems, it was a shock when we got the call. Of the four grandparents, Paula’s passing was the most shocking and at the same time the most straightforward and uncomplicated. Upon reflection, my wife believes that over the previous few weeks her mom had a sense of what was happening and was saying good-bye. She died quickly and on her own terms. No lingering illnesses to deal with. No long-term suffering. She was here, and then she was gone.
Living a life takes many shapes and forms, and so does dying. We grieve for those who are gone and for others who must bear the loss. The grief is, however, an affirmation of how much they meant to us and in our grief, we are at the same time fortunate.
May their memories be for a blessing.
photo credit: Grandpa & Grandma Currah’s 65th Wedding Anniversary via photopin (license)