Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Death of a Loved One

The other morning I was speaking with a dear friend about death.
Now,  although not the brightest of topics, it is an event that we will all experience while on this earth.
We will see loved ones come and we will see loved ones go.
And we will mourn, and we will grieve, and we will weep.
We will ask God why, and we will be angry and hurt.
And it will take great strength to understand that they are gone because it is all part of Gods plan.
It will take great faith to know that they are in a better place, that they no longer have pain or struggles, that they no longer have fear or shame.  

I have experienced death in my life more than I care to mention. 
The elderly pass on, their bodies give out and their minds get tired.
But so do the young, and at times there is absolutely no comfort in knowing that such a young life was taken.  
Having both experienced the young and the old passing on, I hate to admit that I find no difference between them.
Surely the older person lived a full life, experienced all the joy that the younger person did not get to live through.  
And yet death, both young and old, still hurts. 
It still steals your heart, it still shows you great sorrow.

It has been almost 9 years since my mother died.
She died very suddenly, at the young age of 47.
We had no warning, not a hint or suggestion of her death.
The night before the morning of her passing, I had watched a movie with her, I had eaten butterfinger chocolates with her.  I had carried on my Monday at Cal Poly like any other Monday.  I attended classes, had studied in the UU, I had eaten a turkey sandwich.  
I first realized something might be wrong when I tried to call her on my way to school.  We would always talk on the phone during my commute to the campus and a few times during the day.  She didnt answer her phone so I figured she was still sleeping.  Then her office called me and told me she hadn't made it into work and that they had trouble reaching her.  I started to get an uneasy feeling, but brushed it off knowing she was probably having a "sick day" and playing hookie.  Hours and hours passed, multiple phone calls were made, and my throat started to get tighter.  Finally, at 7:15pm, just 5 minutes into my last class, I received a phone call, a phone call I never expected to receive. A phone call that left me without air, without words. 
How could it be? She was just alive, just running through the living room on her way to get her morning coffee. We were just laughing and having a great time watching the movie Garden State. 
I didn't get to say goodbye.  I didnt get to tell her how much I loved her.  I didn't get to tell her that I forgave her for anything she had ever done wrong.  I didn't get to tell her how proud I was of her for working every day at beating her alcoholism.  And I didn't get to I say goodbye!
The next week or so was surreal.  Going to the hospital to see her lifeless body as they wouldn't give me any information over the phone.  Taking a red eye flight to inform my sweet sister of the news.  Planning her funeral, packing up her belongings, meeting mourning people, opening sympathy cards, attending her viewing and her funeral. 
It was a terrible ordeal.  It was a shock to everyone knowing my sweet mother.  
It was so painful, so saddening.  I still cry when I think of living the rest of my long life without my mother. 
A sudden, unexpected death leaves no room for error.  No time for mending.  No time for goodbyes, no time for confessions, no time at all.

It has been just barely over 2 years since my grandfather, my Papa died.
He died after a long struggle with COPD and lungs that were far too used and abused. 
He was on hospice his last week, lying at home with my grandma and other loved ones always at his side.  He was in and out of consciousness, but his moments of clarity were moments we all treasure.
I was able to say goodbye.  He was able to look into my eyes and tell me that he loved me.  I was able to hold his hand and tell him that I loved him.  He even looked across the room at my husband and smiled, and said "Hey Matt! How are you!" His whole face lit up.  He shortly thereafter went back into his slumber, but all the family that was around was able to say goodbye, and give him hugs and kisses.
And yet, when the breath of his life finally left him, it was still terrible.
It hurt us all just as much as losing my mother.  It was so hard to see him so frail and so sick and not be able to help him at all.  It was so hard to see him weak and tired, when all I ever knew of him was a feisty old golfer, who was always such a joy.  It was so hard to see my grieving Nina so lost without her life partner. 
A death that comes after fighting a disease or an illness, a predicted death, leaves loved ones feeling helpless.  It leaves the same sorrow and hurt that an unpredicted death brings.

I do not feel that death gets any easier.  
I do not feel like I will ever get over losing my mother, my papa, my friend, even my dog, anyone.
You cannot get over someone who is so special to you.
You do learn coping mechanisms, and at times, the tears you cry are tears of joy.
Tears of sweet memories, tears knowing that your loved one is rid of their sick body and sick mind. 

I like to imagine my papa and my momma spending their days together, talking about us all still down here learning and fighting the fight. And every time I do think of them, they are always smiling, always laughing, which is not always how I pictured them before they died. 
I miss my family and my friends who have passed ever so much.
But I do find comfort in knowing that they are in a far better place, and that they are happy. 

Comfort also comes in every day moments, and little things help me remember the lovely things about the people I miss.
Smiles for my mom come in: Billy Joel songs, the Rocky Mountain chocolate factory, Mexican food, coffee or "feee" as she lovingly named it, Saturns, the color green, tanning beds, diet coke, girly tattoos, mini skirts and high heels, pajamas, hot weather, the mid state fair, hoop earrings, mineral water, freckles ....
Smiles for my papa come in: Westerns, Johnny Cash, cross word puzzles, golfing, golf carts, turquoise jewelry, nascar, halloween, navy vets, tattoos, button down shirts, silk pajama sets, the smoke stacks in morro bay, trolls, coins, PG&E, the word "dude", Fritos, Sandies shortbread cookies, butter pecan ice cream, mint gum, snuff,  wood working, tennis on tv, electronic dictionaries ...

It takes time to find these comforts, to see something and be happy instead of sad. 
Like I said, it doesn't get easier, I will never think it is easy without my mom or without my Papa, but we learn to cope and we learn to love and we learn to remember that they are happy. 

Some quotes that help me remember my loved ones are in a better place and that I should rejoice in their newfound life, not mourn: 

"Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning" Psalm 30:5

"The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.  He guides me along the right paths for his name's sake.  Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me... Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of The Lord forever." Psalm 23

"So we are always of good courage.  We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from The Lord, for we walk by faith not by sight.  Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with The Lord." 2 Corinthians 5:6-8

"Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind." C.S. Lewis


  1. I also miss them both. I love how you described how it felt. Wow Lindsay I didn't know what an awesome writer you are. Thanks for sharing and I look forward to reading more of your blogs.

  2. Thank you Sarah! So very glad you enjoyed it. I was hoping to bring happy thoughts to all our family, to all who have lost loved ones, around these holiday seasons. I know the holidays are always hard for me, so thinking happy memories always helps. Love you!

  3. This is so touching Lindsay, you have a beautiful insight into death and express yourself so well. I well remember your beautiful mother, she had the most wonderful personality, so delightful and bright with a quick humor and always looked so beautiful. When she walked out of a room it was like the sun went with her. How proud she must be of the wonderful woman you have turned out to be. You are very much like her...she surely is your angel in Heaven and looking over you and your sweet sister Brittney. I love you, Aunt PK

  4. Lindsay, you write so well. Your post was beautiful. I send you my love