Eleven years ago today – July 11, 2010 – which was also a Sunday, the sometimes bizarre, always unpredictable behavior that Mama had been regularly exhibiting since the fall of 2008 reached its critical mass. The week before had been very stressful. Mama’s paranoia and anger were at full-tilt and she spent the week crescendoing out of control.
I visited her every day at her apartment in the retirement community she had just up and decided to go to in late 2005. It served her well, but I can remember my surprise when she just suddenly announced to me that she was moving out from living with me to this community in town. Continue reading →
When a loved one dies, we start death’s dance. This is not a fun dance, nor is it a happy dance. Instead, it is a tension-filled dance that happens on a symbolic high wire, where one misstep could cause us to fall.
For caregivers who may have spent months or years taking care of their loved one before they died, death’s dance is especially grueling and exhausting because they are already so tired, so emotionally spent, and so mentally fragmented. Continue reading →
The two most traumatic events I’ve experienced in a life that has seen its fair share of traumatic events are the deaths of my parents. When Daddy died on October 15, 1998, I went into protection and taking-care-of mode for Mama, suppressing the real nuts and bolts of my own grieving process over Daddy’s death so that I could give Mama my full support, help, comfort, and care.
I didn’t realize, at the time, that’s what I had done, because it seemed natural to me and I didn’t know how to do things any differently.Continue reading →
By the time first responders got to the accident, the SUV was fully submerged. They pulled the SUV out, got Chris out, and, after a lengthy amount of time, were able to resuscitate her. She was taken to the hospital and put on life support.
On Friday morning, January 11, 2019, a neurological examination showed Chris had no brain activity. The family huddled for several hours to decide what step to take next.
At 4:52 p.m. CST, Chris was pronounced dead. However, Chris was an organ donor, so the hospital kept her on life support until organ transplants could be arranged.
By Sunday, January 13, 2019, the hospital had found a liver recipient in New York and two lung recipients in the Midwest. At 7 p.m. CST, a “Walk of Honor” line, composed of family members, friends, and hospital staff, formed all both sides of the hallway from where Chris was to the operating room, where her liver and lungs would be harvested to extend life to three people Chris never knew.
That’s the Chris I know. Her life was not easy, and her journey had more than its share of ups and downs. Many people, given the same circumstances, would have become bitter, hard, and resentful.
But Chris did not. Filled with not just strength, but character that included grace, compassion, gentleness, kindness, and generosity, Chris took the hits, got up and dusted herself off, and kept living life to the fullest.
Chris was a fun person to be around. She smiled and laughed a lot and she truly enjoyed her life. She loved her mom, all of us siblings (there were six of us), her four beautiful children, her grandchildren, and all of our very large extended family with a heart that was big, open, and unconditional.
Her children – Michael, Mark, Jared, and Kaela – are now left to carry on Chris’s legacy. They will not be alone. Even though we will never be able to fill the void in their lives that Chris’s absence has created, we all – Chris’s siblings and extended family – will fill in the gaps and always be there to help them, to hold them, to love them. We may even dance at Kaela’s wedding. 🙂
Today is Chris’s memorial service. There will be tears, for sure. But there will also be smiles and laughter, because that was such of part of who Chris was and what her life was about. As we say goodbye to our sister, our momma, our niece, we know that it’s a temporary goodbye.
Our hope and the joy that is set before us is that we will see Chris again. We’ll see the twinkle in her eyes, the smile on her face, and we’ll hear her laughter as it warms our hearts. The only question left is who will be fast enough to run to hug her first.
So until then, dear Chris, rest well. We love you and we miss you, but we’ll see you soon. That’s a promise.
Today (August 14, 2016) marks four years since Mama died. It was a Tuesday then. At 5:50 pm, Mama took her last breath.
She went into what would be her death sleep around 1 pm on Sunday, August 12, 2014, with her last words of “I guess they’re going to throw me out now,” suffering, I think, the final heart attack that led to her death.
I assured her that I was not throwing her out, that she was home, and I loved her. It took me several months and writing Fields of Gold: A Love Story before I realized that Mama was back at nursing school at East Tennessee State University, unable to follow all the instructions she was given because of a congenital hearing loss, about to be dismissed from the program because she could not hear the doctors when her back was turned to them (she compensated for her hearing impairment by masterfully reading lips, even with hearing aids, most of her life). Continue reading →
Recently in one of my caregivers’ support groups, I was asked by of the members if I could give her recommendations on books she could read on how to cope with/get over the intense grief she is still experiencing several months after the death of her grandmother (who had dementia).
My response was that I didn’t know that a book would help her because grief and the grieving process is unique to each of us, especially in the case of dementias because we lose our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s twice: first while they’re still living and then again when they die.
Grief is sometimes very complicated. We all grieve differently, based on our relationships, our personalities, our temperaments, and our experiences in life.
The reality is that no two people ever grieve exactly the same way.
And this is one of those areas of life where people can cause a lot of irreparable damage – and layer even more pain on top of the pain of grieving – by imposing their ideas about grieving (how long, how much, how deeply, etc.) onto those grieving in the form of criticism for and impatience with the process as it unfolds.
None of us can get inside the grief of another human being. We’re not them. We haven’t walked in their shoes. We don’t know everything about them and we don’t know everything they know.
To assume that we do and to turn those assumptions into lectures about how we have been where they have been and we know what they’re going through and we know they’re not “doing it” right is the height of ignorance and arrogance.
Having had several friends in the last couple of months lose a parent and walking through the valley of the shadow of impending death with someone else who is losing a parent right now has brought the grieving process, which I’m still in to one degree or another with both of my parents, and its winding road that it is continuing to carve out in my life, back to the forefront of my mind.
The reality is that grief never really leaves us (it changes over time and it changes us over time, but it also comes right back in full force at you in the oddest moments even after a lot of time has passed).
In the end, grief is the price of love. It’s a high price, but I know that none of us would ever choose not to pay it.
I can’t imagine not having ever had my parents in my life, so even though their deaths have left gaping, sometimes acutely oozing, sometimes intensely aching holes in my heart that will never be repaired in this life, having them both for as long as I was blessed to have them makes this worth it.
Even in those moments when the pain is so strong that I can’t remember it for that instance.
So, for all of us who are somewhere on that continuum of the grieving process, know that grief after death means we loved in life. It doesn’t have a playbook nor does it have a time limit. It will get easier to do over time, but it will be a constant companion for the rest of our lives.
And, when it’s all said and done, that is a very, very good thing. Never forget that.