Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Learning to deal with death wasn't exactly on my agenda this week...

I'm 34 years old and have fortunately only known, up to now, three people who have died. Uncle John died when I was maybe 10 and Grandma Wegener passed on when I was 15 or so. Just because they were related, though, doesn't mean I knew them well. I certainly didn't. John lived in Texas; Grandma in New York. We were then in San Diego and saw each of them only once or twice that I can remember.

When they died, I was sad. But I was more sad for my mom because it was her brother and more sad for my dad because it was his mother. I don't want to sound callous, but their deaths were not earth shattering events for me.

When Grandma Kettleman died, I was 27 and two weeks away from giving birth to Emma. I visited her weekly in the assisted living home she was in. She could barely hear, though, so visits could be frustrating. She was well into her nineties and her body was failing. She wasn't happy and was ready to go. She even asked my mom at one point near the end, "Why is it taking so long?"

(This photo was taken on Mother's Day 2000. Lydia, Scott, Hayley and a six-month pregnant me.)

I was with her just hours before she died. I remember telling her that I loved her and to hang in there, that I'd be back first thing in the morning. Looking back, my comment to "hang in there" sounds so naive. She didn't want to hang in there. She wanted to go. But what did I know? I was so young and had no idea, had never really even thought about wanting to die. Being ready. Looking forward to it, even.

She stopped breathing around 4am and when Mom called me, I was so very sad, but didn't cry. Grandma was happy again. I knew that and I was comforted by that.

I met my parents at the assisted living facility later that day and I did start to cry when I looked at the bed where she died. Her tiny imprint was still on it. A grandma-sized tissue was crumpled right where her hand had laid. It was suddenly real, but I knew everything was okay.

Michael's death this past weekend has filled me with thoughts of a wife widowed too young, daughters grown but still dependent on their dad, friends shocked that they'll never hear his laugh again. I've cried along with Scott, feeling his pain as my own. But yesterday, I felt the pain as Michael's wife's and I don't think I'll ever be the same.

I've coordinated a meal rotation for Joann and her daughters. I delivered the first meal last night. Joann was so grateful and she hugged me for such a long time, sobbing on my shoulder. I cried with her, feeling her anguish and her disbelief. She kept saying, "I just want to touch him again."

As her daughters cried, I held them, too, even though I'd never met them. They shared memories with me and we laughed and then cried and then laughed some more. I felt so honored to be there, to help them, to hold them.

I cried much of the rest of the night. Not for my own sorrow or for Scott's. But for theirs. I've never been so close to death before. I've never seen what it can do to the family. I've never tried to comfort a widow. But I learned. I learned that there's little you can do, no words that can comfort. I learned that there is laughter after tragedy and smiles and blessings to be thankful for. I learned that, God forbid anything similar happen to me, that I want Joann to comfort me.

Death is such a common occurrence, but the incredible pain cannot possibly be. It is, but it shouldn't be. There's no love without loss -- we all know that. And we know death is a constant. But I guess the bottom line is to remember to cherish every single moment you have. Tell your spouse every single day how much you love him. Hold your kids tight even when you want to strangle them. Be kind those around you. Pray.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you Kate. That was beautiful.

Joanne Antonelli