Monday, August 23, 2004

My Grandmother's Death

I was nine years old when my grandmother died. I remember my parents calling my sister Kay and I into my bedroom. The four of us crowded into a huddle in the middle of the carpet. I could tell by my parents' tones of voices and their expressions on their faces that this was very serious.

Mom: We have some very very sad news to tell you.

Dad: It's about your grandmother.

Mia: Is she okay?

Mom (crying quietly): She's okay right now, but she's going to go to heaven soon.

Kay: What do you mean?

Dad (his voice cracking): She's going to die soon.

My sister and I wailed. We adored our grandmother. We knew she'd been sick for awhile now, but hadn't expected this news. We weren't familiar with death. Dying was foreign, unknown and frightening. My parents held us tightly as we let the tears pour out.

When my grandmother died a few days later, we were at my Aunt Jo's house. All of the cousins huddled together on the floor and my Aunt Jo pulled us all into one large embrace with one of her amazing bear hugs. Aunt Jo, Kay and my three cousins were all in audible tears. Everyone was crying except for me. The shock and numbness I felt baffled me.

Riding in the car on our way to the funeral, my mother's sobs never stopped. I watched from the backseat as my father's silent cries made their way down his cheeks. Even more terrifying than my grandmother's death was the change it had caused on my family and my parents in specific. I had never seen my father cry before. I felt helpless. I felt invisible. My mother's grief was all-consuming. I wanted and needed them to guide me through the maze of emotions I was feeling. But they were too lost in their own grief to even acknowledge mine.

Today, recalling all of these memories, I suddenly wondered, Is part of my interest in helping families with death and dying still carried over from feeling so helpless in supporting my mother and my own family through the loss of my grandmother over twenty years ago? The silence around my grandmother - the rare reference to her name and the emotional outbursts on those rare occasions - suggest my family is still grieving. I have a lot more work to do.

1 comment:

Jennynyc said...

My grandmother's death has been the only truly significant death that I have experienced. That happened when I was in college. That was so devastating that it is hard to imagine what older people go thru losing one person after another, family and friends. My grandmother went to her fiftieth reunion at Antioch college and came back laughing: "No one was there!"