Experiencing Grief

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Experiencing Grief

Coleen Connaughton, Contributor

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Over this past weekend, I lost my grandfather to kidney failure.  It was a prolonged illness, and he hadn’t been himself for many months.  He died in his own bed in his own home at the age of ninety.  He was in hospice, and his nurse had informed the family it was time to come say good-bye.  My mother and I had just come home from a dinner out.  Three of my grandfather’s four children and his wife were sitting at the dinner table, having what looked like a nice family dinner. I was just going upstairs to take a shower when the  nurse’s aid asked me to get my Aunt Peggy- my Grandpa’s eldest daughter and his health care proxy- but not to disturb the rest of the family. I did so and went upstairs to take my shower, thinking nothing of it.  By the time I got out of the shower, he was gone.

He had been a shell of a man for so many months that at first I felt nothing.  But when I walked into his bedroom and saw him lying there with his glassy eyes half open and his mouth open as if in mid-snore, it really hit me that he was truly gone.  His present children and wife of sixty-two years stood in a circle around him.  His youngest child and only son was on his way in his car with his two sons; he would be there in fifteen minutes.

Everyone was silent and some had silent tears rolling down their faces.  I was shocked and impressed by how calm everyone was in the face of death.  When they spoke, it was to remark that he finally looked at peace for the first time in months.  I stood in the doorway, wanting to come in, but not wanting to interrupt their grieving. The nurse’s aid stood awkwardly at the head of his bed, speaking about when she felt his pulse slow. It didn’t matter now; she was talking to fill the silence with empty words.  My aunt saw me in the doorway and beckoned me in.  I was passed through everyone’s arms, in hugs of comfort and love.  I still felt no emotion- as I look back now I realize that I was in shock.  My aunt took my hand and told me to give him a kiss good-bye.  I looked at his  still face with his mouth gaping open and shook my head.  I couldn’t bring myself to kiss his already cooling skin.  We all stood there in silence and then my mother left the room and beckoned me to join her.  We left the family so that they could be whole one last time.

My mother and I went to the kitchen and cleared the dinner remnants from the table in silence.  No one would be eating any more tonight.  I still had not shed a tear.  However when I saw my grandpa’s sippy cup in the sink- waiting to be washed- I finally felt the emotion I had been missing.  I washed it carefully and put in his cupboard.

The son arrived fifteen minutes later, and one of his sisters met him in the driveway to tell him the news.  They stayed out there for about five minutes, and when he came in the door he was in tears and ran through the kitchen to the bedroom. I stood there awkwardly with a plate in one hand and dishtowel in the other as my cousins came in through the door. We caught each other’s eyes, and I could see that they felt the pain I did but couldn’t express it the same way.

After we had finished washing up, everyone gathered in the family room and were sitting in companionable silence. I got up finally- unable to bear it any longer- and announced that I was going for a walk.  No one objected to it, and so I put on my boots and went for a long walk on the beach. When I got back, the hearse was just pulling up and the body was gently placed in the bag. It then crossed over the threshold of his beloved home never to return again

As I sit here writing this, my aunts are busy doing what one does when a person dies.  One sister is looking at photos, laughing and crying as she goes through ninety years of memories.  Another sister is on the computer and phone informing everyone that he is gone.  The last sister is arranging for a luncheon after the memorial. Their son is talking with the funeral director.  Everyone is doing what must be done to overcome this.  The fact that it has been coming for months contributes to this.  

My grandfather’s death was not as hard as I thought it would be to bear.  If I have learned anything from this experience, it is that being strong and remembering all the good times is what is important.  The last few months had been pretty awful for my grandfather, but the memories are already fading, and I am proud to be part of such a strong and loving family.   

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