DW: Who was the person that died?
JT: I lost two people this year that felt like one loss – my biological father, Joe, and my uncle, who I called Bubba.
DW: How old were you at the time?
JT: 45 and 46, respectively. Their deaths were 10 months apart.
DW: How old was Joe? Bubba?
JT: Joe was 68 and Bubba was 80.
DW: Was it a sudden death or did you know it was going to happen?
JT: Joe’s death was very unexpected. His official cause of death was accidental drowning. The irony is that he spent the last 25 years of his life working as a dive instructor and dive boat captain. He was always more at home in the water than on land.
Bubba’s death was not unexpected. He had cancer seven years ago and we thought we would lose him then. He recovered and had done well for years. He had a follow-up in late April and there were no signs of cancer. He went to the emergency room with extreme weakness the first weekend of June and they found cancer all through his body – bones, liver, lungs, and brain. He never went home and passed away less than a month later.
DW: Did you ever talk about death with Joe or Bubba?
JT: I never, ever talked about death with Joe. It just wasn’t the kind of relationship we had.
Bubba and I spoke frequently about death and final arrangements. He was not afraid of the end and trusted me to fight (if necessary) for his wishes. My relationship with him was much more like a father and child than with Joe. (I thankfully report that there was no drama and his wishes were met.)
DW: Had you experienced any other deaths in your personal life before this?
JT: Yes, we have a huge family and death is a part of life. Oddly enough I cry harder when I have to bury a pet than when it is a human in my life. I’m sure a psychologist would have a field day with that!
DW: Were people supportive of your grief or did they shy away from you when you were grieving?
JT: Overall, people were supportive. It was very weird with Joe’s death because a huge number of people in my world had no idea he existed. My Dad is actually my stepfather - he has been with us since I was three years old. People who suddenly found out that he wasn’t my biological father didn’t quite know how to react. There were also a lot of people who knew Joe that didn’t know me and called me all kinds of horrible things. That was not helpful with the grief process at all.
It was a different story when Bubba died. I had lots of support from friends and family. He went to school with the parents of some of my school friends, we had attended the same church, and I had my cousins. I did not feel like I was alone at all.
DW: Is there anything you wish you’d done differently with Joe or Bubba?
JT: Yes, I wish I had been more present with Joe. We were not estranged, there was no bad blood, but we were not especially close. I would send Christmas cards, but the last couple of times I had thought about calling or enclosing a letter I had been “too busy.” If I had thought there was any chance that there would be no more opportunities, I would have made the time. It just never occurred to me that he could be there and then, suddenly, not.
Overall, I don’t think I would have changed anything with Bubba. I’m sure there are things across my entire lifetime that could use tweaking, but nothing huge that gives me regret. For the past two years, we have had a regular dinner night where I would make whatever food he requested and then take it to his house. We would have dinner, I would show him pictures of my kids, and we would just talk. After he passed, I had several people tell me that he often talked about our dinners and how he enjoyed them. That made me very happy to hear.
DW: Were they buried or cremated?
JT: Joe was buried in a nature preserve, with a green burial. He had not left any instructions and it was important to me that he be laid to rest in the most natural way possible. He was very eco-conscious and I believe he would have approved of my choice. However, we had to find a place in Florida because it is illegal to transport an unembalmed body across state lines. (I’ve told my family that if I die across state lines, they should prop me up in the backseat and pretend I’m napping until they get back to Texas.)
Bubba had a traditional burial next to his parents. I was very happy that we were able to complete everything as he had asked.
DW: Did you learn anything about the grieving process you’d like to share?
JT: I think the thing I learned was that the grieving process will be different for every single person. For me, the process has been very difficult in regards to Joe. I was his only child. He never remarried. He had no siblings. His parents had passed years ago. I felt like I was carrying the weight of grief for all those missing people. Additionally, I have had to handle all the legal aspects of his death and it has really taken a toll on me. (Have a will. Make your wishes known. Please.)
I’ve had to remind myself that there is no timetable. If I start to cry because the last time I made a certain dish it was for dinner with Bubba, that’s okay. I can be sad. I can be angry. I will come out of it…eventually.
DW: Were any songs played at the memorial service that were important to them?
JT: Joe’s friends had a memorial service for him out at sea. They played a lot of 60s and 70s rock – basically his iPod play list. I thought that was nice. (I did not attend that service.)
“How Great Thou Art” was played at Bubba’s service. It was important to him because it was his mother’s favorite hymn and it was played at her service. I loved that at the age of 80, two plus decades after her death, he still had that deep connection and wanted to honor her in his choice of song.
JT: Thank you, Pamela, for giving me a platform to work through this crazy year of emotions.
DW: Thank you for sharing your experience!
Do you have an experience with death that you'd like to share? People may not comment in these posts, but just like life, we don't always know what to say. But, there is a lot of traffic. It is my hope that these posts will make people feel less isolated in their experience of death/grief. So what are you waiting for? thedeathwriter at g mail dot come