Wednesday, March 25, 2015

On Death and Dying

This is a very different topic for me today, but this is what has been on my mind that I need to write about it. Probably because a dear friend is dying. Today was an open house for people to go visit her, but I could not make myself go. I do not have a problem with death, but dying is something that has always been hard for me.

When I was a little girl, I spent a lot of time being taken to the hospital. Once to have my tonsils out (age 4), another time for a TB test - I was actually taken to a tuberculosis center for the test, which was negative, thankfully. However, I had a lot of older relatives that I was taken to see, because they were dying or thought to be dying soon. My mother has passed, too, so I cannot ask why I was always taken along.

I was taken to see my Uncle Victor when I was around age 6. A few days later, I was taken to the funeral home for his calling hours. I asked my grandmother if I could touch him, and she said yes. Big mistake! Soon thereafter, I had a nightmare that when I went to touch him, he sat up and bit my thumb. The fact that I still remember that tells you how traumatic it was on my young self.

My maternal grandmother, Evelyn, was sick a lot as I was growing up, so I spent a many an hour visiting her in her room or the Solarium. I grew to hate the smell of a hospital. It guaranteed I would not go into medicine when I went to college. 

My father died when I was age 10. He died in a car accident. It was 1969, and not many trucks had seat belts yet. Dad had fallen asleep at the wheel and died on impact. Mercifully, he did not see it coming. He was 43-years-old. I was taken to see him during calling hours, but my mother felt it would be too traumatic for me to attend the funeral. 

But the hardest was when my paternal grandmother, Mary, was dying. Grandma Mary took care of me when I was little, and I would visit her often later on.  I was 12-years-old and was told that she had requested me to come visit. She wanted to see me before she passed. When I got there, she thought I was one of my cousins and started crying; she had been told I was there to see her, but it upset her that it was not me. I went into the hallway and cried, because I did not understand what was happening, why she did not know me. She died the next day. 

Again, it was felt I was not old enough to go to the funeral. What I do not understand now is, if I was old enough to visit dying relatives and go to the funeral home, why was I not old enough to go to the funerals? Anyway, it turns out that I handle funerals just fine.

My first funeral was a few months after Grandma Mary died. The Marching Band had played the pre-game show and wondered where our tuba player was. Before the half-time show, we were brought into the band room and told he had died. There was no half-time show that day. We all went to Steve's funeral a few days later.

When I was 19, a high school classmate was struck by a drunk driver a few days after her 20th birthday. My Grandma Evelyn did not die until I was 23. I was living in another state, so I was not there as she was dying. I did go to her funeral.

Sporadically since then, other important people in my life have died and I have attended a few funerals. I was not there while they were dying, however, and my last memories of them were happy ones.

My mother died 12 years ago; she had been sick for a long time. She had not spent much time in the hospital, but she was there the last time I saw her. Her doctor told me she had about a month left. Like many people do, she got better and was sent home a few days later.

I had had to return home a couple days earlier to finish up my son's college registration process. I was going to return to her a few days after she went home. She did not live that long, however; she passed less than 48 hours after returning home - about 24 days sooner than the doctor had predicted.

But now Marge is dying. She has cancer - pancreatic cancer. She had survived breast cancer more than 10 years ago, but this one was too far along when she was diagnosed. The last time I saw her, she had lost about 15 pounds and needed help walking, but her sharp, sarcastic wit was intact. 

She is a short woman and was not overweight to begin with, but I have been told she has since lost even more weight. I have spoken to her on the phone, but I do not want to see her wasting away. I have had the opportunity to tell her how much I value our friendship, but I will say good-bye to her at her funeral. 

I know that dying is part of life, but I hope I die like my favorite uncle and my Grandpa Henry did: both of them had fallen asleep and did not wake up. No one knew death was imminent for either one. It was very peaceful. I want to die like that, but I have about 30 more years until then.


Addendum:  Marge passed away last night. Her best friend told me this morning. Sandy said it was good I had not gone to see her - she looked awful and would have wanted me to remember her as before the end.