Sunday, July 8, 2012

Monday Mournings: The Death of a Grandmother

My name is Elizabeth Twist. I write dark speculative fiction, mostly fantasy and horror, with some science fiction for good measure. I'm forty-one, and I live in Hamilton, Ontario, a former industrial centre that's doing its best to find itself.

DW: Who was the person that died?
ET: My maternal grandmother.

DW: How old were you at the time?
ET: I had just turned thirty-two. The call came the day after my birthday.

DW: How old was your grandmother?
ET: Ninety-six.

DW: Was it a sudden death or did you know it was going to happen?
ET:  Her death was sudden, although my grandmother seems to have known it would happen. On August 26th, she had been moved from her home to a care facility. She told someone, "You know, I'm only going to be in here for a month." She was right.

DW:  Did you and your grandmother talk about their death?
ET:  We didn't talk explicitly about her death, although I realized later that she'd been trying to talk about it a great deal. In the three years prior to her death, she reported seeing my grandfather, who had already passed sixteen years prior. At first he would appear in a doorway and hold his hand up to her as if forbidding her to approach. Later, he spoke with her, although she was shy about telling anyone the content of those conversations.
DW:  Had you experienced any other deaths in your personal life before your grandmother died?
ET:  In addition to my maternal grandfather, both of my paternal grandparents had passed. I also count the passing of the family dog as a significant death.

DW:  Were people supportive of your grief or did they shy away when you were grieving?
ET: My grandmother was the core of my extended family. Our gatherings happened at her house, and in many cases were celebrating her - Mother's Day and her birthday were a big deal, but we also got together at her place for Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, and other holidays. Her loss was devastating to everyone, and was especially hard on my mom, who had dedicated a lot of time and energy to making sure my grandmother was okay. I was more in a position of offering support than receiving it. I chose to keep my grief to myself for the most part. 

DW:  Is there anything you wish you'd done differently with this person?
ET: I wish I'd spent more time with her. I was in graduate school when she died, and it seemed like there was never enough time.

DW: Was she buried or cremated?
ET:  She was buried next to her husband.

DW:  Did you learn anything about the grieving process that you'd like to share?
ET:  Not to cast a shadow on what happened at the time at all - everyone was doing their best - but I think it's important, if you have to inform someone of the death of a significant person, to not leave that information in a voice mail message. Email would be even worse. I have never felt quite as lonely as I did when I had to listen to a recorded voice telling me that my grandmother had died. When you're getting that kind of news, you probably will want someone there with you, even if it's on the other end of a phone line. Those first few moments are the worst.
Each in their own way, my maternal grandparents both taught me that death is not the end. My grandfather visited me after he passed - my first paranormal experience. My grandmother, in her gentle insistence that he frequently returned to visit her in the time leading up to her death, strengthened my sense that those who leave their physical bodies are not gone. At the same time, when she died I really felt the vacuum she left behind. I won't call it faith, because it's not based in a religious tradition and it's experiential, so it's more like a knowing. My grandmother's death really brought into focus my sense that we come together with the families we have because those are the people we need to know in this lifetime, and there is nothing to fear in death, although it is a difficult transition for everyone involved. 

DW:  Were any songs played at the memorial that were important to your grandmother?
ET: I can't think of any, but Granny was a big soap opera follower. I remember watching this old opening to Days of Our Lives at her place. You could play that if you wanted to.


18 comments:

  1. "My grandmother, in her gentle insistence that he frequently returned to visit her in the time leading up to her death, strengthened my sense that those who leave their physical bodies are not gone. At the same time, when she died I really felt the vacuum she left behind."

    What a beautiful thing to say. I have a strong sense of a simultaneous deep reassurance and a deep longing & bittersweetness in reading those words.

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    1. Thanks, Jericha. That's exactly how I feel.

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  2. This was beautiful. And I like the way "The Days of Our Lives" summed it all up. Thanks for sharing, Elizabeth.

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  3. Not only do I like the story of connection to family, but the spirituality, as well. Often, people skirt around these topics for fear of offending someone. Thanks for your courage, Elizabeth, in telling the story of your grandmother and your experiences with her life and death.

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    1. Hi Susan. You're welcome. It doesn't feel like courage to me because it's simply the way things were. As always, people are free to consider, accept, dismiss, ignore, or do whatever they wish.

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  4. I agree with Susan that people do skirt around issues of death. Getting a message on a machine must've been awful.

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    1. Yeah, that's what really stuck with me about this interview. How could someone leave that news on a voice mail?

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    2. I hope that anyone reading this post would keep in mind the idea that it's best to get the person you're informing on the line in order to tell them of a death, if you ever find yourself in that situation.

      In my case, I think at the time there was a lot of explosive emotion going on, and there were a lot of people to call. What happened wasn't done maliciously at all.

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  5. Though I didn't know them--and I don't know you, either :-)--I'm so pleased to think of your grandparents reunited in death. You have some interesting things to say about family connections. Thanks for sharing this story.

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    1. My grandparents were both amazing people in totally different ways from each other. As she was cleaning out my grandmother's house, my mom found a parcel of love letters my grandfather wrote to her while they were courting. My grandparents were in love in ways that most people never get to be.

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  6. I can't imagine hearing the news of a death in the family via email or a voice mail message. I'd be a little frantic I think.

    That's so interesting that she saw her husband several times before she passed. Must have been very reassuring.

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    1. There was family controversy over how to handle it. I enjoyed hearing about it, so she told me a little more detail than she told to other people. From what I understand it's a common experience but many people don't talk about it. I admit I'm curious to see who will show up at my deathbed.

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    2. *by "it" I mean Granny's reports of my grandfather's appearance.

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  7. I can't think of a single thing to say. Well, other than that I've been there.

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  8. Thank you so much for sharing this, Elizabeth.

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Comments are welcome and appreciated!