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 →
Life as we knew it has been upended by COVID-19. As I’ve thought and pondered a lot on the changes we see and the potential changes ahead, I see that there could be some very good results that come from this, as well as some very bad ones.
I scan the news headlines a couple of times a day, and then I leave it alone. A steady diet of all the confusion, the outright wrong information (often from the government), and all the unknowns (and there are a lot) about COVID-19 can result in feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed. I don’t want that for myself. 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.
This post includes an excerpt from chapter 15, which gives comprehensive information on how to walk the last step in the journey through dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, which is the one that we’ll take alone without our loved ones: grief.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. There is no time limit on grief. Grief is a process and the reality is that there will always be a hole in your heart when you lose a loved one.
Grief is also complex and complicated. We not only grieve for the loss of our loved ones, but we also grieve for all that intertwined their lives with ours because we recognize that part of our lives is over in this life.
And part of the grief process is sorting through those intertwined lives, the good, the bad, the ugly, as we reflect deeply on our time together.
Some people are able to stuff the hole of loss with busyness and lots of people and lots of things and it seems like they just picked up and moved on without blinking. They didn’t, but it looks that way.
Other people move through the process of scabbing the wound of the hole of loss more slowly, in spurts and stages that at times seem interminable and like they will never end. But it does and eventually, they find a way to move on as well.
You will find that the grieving process will tell you a lot about the people who are around you in your life.
And because death and grief necessitate one of life’s major reset phases, which includes a period of purging (not all on our part) – usually for the better, although it’s incredibly painful at the time – part of that reset phase extends to the people who are around us in our lives.
We find out who the people around us are and what we mean to them during this period.
And, although it may be sad and surprising, depending on our temperaments and personalities, many of those people will exit your life if you don’t meet their expectations and time limits on what acceptable grief looks like.
We have to accept that they were never there for the long haul to begin with.
A very small group of a few other people will hang in there with you every step of the way and beyond.
That’s your inner circle. Love them. Cherish them. And do the same and more for them as life happens to them. They’re not going anywhere. You’re not either.
Excerpt “Chapter 15: ‘I Have a Lock of Hair and One-Half of My Heart’”
“Death and its aftermath is the last step of this journey through dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease and it is a step that we take without our loved ones.
It is often said that in these neurological and fatal diseases that we experience death twice. The first death is the loss of the loved ones we knew before these diseases. The second death is when our loved ones take their last breath.
If hospice is on board, the first phone call we make is to them. A nurse will come out and confirm death. Hospice will also contact the funeral home and will prepare the body for transport. This includes cleaning and dressing (I actually helped our hospice nurse with this).
When the people from the funeral home get there, they will make an appointment to come in and make burial arrangements (usually the next day) and they will take the body to the funeral home and start the embalming process.
Once the funeral home people leave, the hospice nurse will collect and destroy any remaining medications and there will be paperwork to sign both to confirm the medication disposal and to end hospice services.
It’s a flurry of activity that lasts several hours, and I personally found that to be just what I needed because the reality that Mom was gone was still sinking in.“
I’ll include the short summary from Amazon I wrote for the book:
“This book looks comprehensively at all the steps that occur in dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.
In my own experience with this and in counseling, supporting, and working with others who are going through these steps, I realized there is a basic lack of comprehension about the big picture of how these neurological diseases progress.
I know that because the same questions get asked and answered over and over again.
My purpose is to ask those questions and answer them in a way that, first, makes sense, and, second, works for everybody involved.
I know. I’ve been on the caregiving side of the equation personally. There were no books like this when I did it, so I had to learn on my own and figure out what worked and what didn’t. I made mistakes. You’ll make mistakes.
But, in the end, my mom and whoever you love and are caring for, got the best we have to give and we can learn some pretty incredible and good life lessons along the way.
If you don’t read another book on this subject, you should read this one. I don’t have all the answers, but the answers I have learned are the ones that probably matter most.
Not just now, but for the rest of our lives.”
This book also includes the last step that we take alone without our loved ones: grief. I’ve been there and I’ve done that and although I will never not feel the grief on some level, I’ve learned some lessons that I know will help each of you.