Mourning and Loss

This year, so far, has been a difficult one for many of us. Politics and our activism aside (or as far aside as we can place something so close to our hearts, so innate to who we are), it's not quite the end of the first quarter, and already there have been losses in my family, and in the families of my friend-family.

These losses, these deaths, have come with, and without, warning. Some of my friends are in their own watches, waiting for someone they love and adore to pass from life-- knowing it could be tomorrow, or it could be months from now, but wait they do. Some of us already said good bye, and are dealing with the aftermath that this tsunami of grief has created in our lives.

I don't have any words of wisdom for anyone going through this; hell, I don't have any words of wisdom for myself going through this. It's just a stage of life I'm going through, something that people I love are going through, and so it's something on my mind right now.

In January, my partner and I flew back to our home state. We had not been back in over 8 years, and we knew his grandma was ill. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease and was declining. So, we braved the cold of a January in Michigan, and went on a "flying visit".

It started well enough, popped a couple Dramamine and flew northward, holding tight to my seat every time we hit turbulence. I hate flying, I hate it so much, and I tend to get so air sick (if I could only vomit, I'd probably feel so much better!), but I got through it, and we arrived at Detroit Metro about 11:30 pm, local time.

By the time we claimed our rental car, and headed west to see my family, we were shivering-- it was only 18*F. But I was excited to see my Aunt and Cousin, my sister and her husband and kiddos, and of course, my Dad.

Visiting them was wonderful! The day was beautiful, mostly sunny, and warm (ok, warm for Michigan, but it was probably 40), and as hard as it was to go, I felt "loved up" by my family. I know my partner felt that way, too.

We spent a couple days in Detroit, visiting my partner's family, seeing a hockey game, and enjoying the North American International Auto Show-- a super big deal for him, as it was something he attended every year when he lived there. We got to spend some time with his Grandma, which was nice, even though we knew she was not well... and she didn't really know who he was-- something that was heartbreaking for everyone.

I won't say the trip was perfect, or that there weren't hiccups; nor will I say it wasn't cold as balls! But it was nice! I got to enjoy some good food, and laugh with his family, be enfolded with love by his aunts and uncles; I got to meet his oldest best friend, and we both met her adorable daughter (who I adore!!) and her partner (and if he doesn't take good care of her, we'll be very unhappy!! :) ) The good bits vastly outweighed the awkward bit, and so I don't really want to dissect that.

The hard part, was getting back on the plane, knowing we would get a call-- probably within the year-- that Grandma was in hospital, and would pass.

Little did we know that this call would come within 5 weeks. We learned she was in hospital on Monday; she passed on Thursday, at noon, local time. We flew out the next Tuesday. He worked on the eulogy during the flight, and had the couple days previously-- we tried to calm our minds, and be ready, but nothing really readies you to say good bye, does it?

The visitation on Wednesday was difficult for him, to say the least. My partner was just about raised by his Grandma, and she used to telephone us all the time, before she got sick-- so while we weren't close physically, we were close emotionally, and I know she loved me-- which was a gift that I can't properly describe.

We knew she was losing herself to this disease, we could tell through those telephone calls. I felt so helpless, trying to comfort the man I love more than life itself, as his world cracked and his foundation shook-- both of his Grandparents were really, truly gone.

My logical mind was telling me, 'She's not there, her spark has gone on, back to the universe that gave us life-- back to our earth, and some day she'll be star dust again.' The same thing I've said about myself when I die, something I truly believe. I told myself to be strong for him, and for everyone else; everyone who had to watch her slip away. I told myself that as much as it hurt, because I love the hell out of this woman, it was so much more painful for my partner, for his family. I told myself that I could, and would, mourn when I could find the time. That right now I needed to be a rock.

Not easy. Not easy to say, not easy to feel, and of course, impossible for the long term. I broke down on the second night, during the public viewing/visitation. Had my first panic attack in about 10 years. Couldn't cope with the emotions swirling around me, inside my own head, in the air around me. I couldn't handle the claustrophobic air, the people everywhere telling me, and everyone around me, how Grandma was in a better place; how much they loved her, loved us, were so sorry. I just couldn't do it.

I think everyone has a point, where they just need to break a little. To let the dam of emotions leak, to let a little out, so that the whole thing doesn't come down. That was my little break.

The funeral was a noon, on Friday, March 3, 2017. The day was clear, sunny and so cold. The wind bit through our coats and hats, freezing our bones, while the sun tried to warm our faces.

My partner gave a eulogy, bringing laughter and some tears, as he shared memories and stories; telling us about his Grandma, and how much she has meant to so many. Especially to him. He practiced so hard, reading it aloud over and over for a couple days-- and I would read it to him, over and over, so we could catch typos and missing words. His voice was thick with emotion, but he was superb, and I was so proud of him.

He had the honour of being one of her pallbearers, and we followed from the funeral home's chapel, to the cemetery. After a short service, we followed for the vaulting-- which was not what I was expecting! Every graveside service I'd attended in the past, the casket is lowered into the bottom of the vault, then the cap is placed on it, and then the earth. We were in a back room, like a workshop, as they placed the casket into the cement vault, and capped it right there-- above ground. There is no sound of finality like the sound of the cement vault closing. I remember swallowing convulsively, trying not to bawl like a baby right there. 'She's not there', I thought over and over to myself. 'She's not there, she can't feel the cold wind, she won't wake up afraid in the dark.'

Why I had these thoughts, the same I thought as a small child, at 39, I don't know. I'm not afraid of death any more. But I still thought them. Part of me was a very little girl, worried that Grandma would be cold, in the ground. That she would be lonely. That she would be bored, or upset, that we'd put her there. Granted, the larger part of me understood this wasn't true, that after Grandma's last breath, her energy transferred, that she may have changed us all, irrevocably, but that she was no longer here, and so no longer could be cold. That Grandma lives on in our memories, and in the DNA of her descendants-- in her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

We shared a luncheon at an adorable Hungarian restaurant. We shared laughs and stories, catching up with family and friends from years' past, and I got to learn so much more about this family I married in to, six years ago.

I know that grief isn't a linear process. That my partner and I, that our family, will have good days with laughter, and sad days where we don't think we'll ever smile again. This is the way of mourning, and I've been here before, for my own grandparents, my aunts and uncles, my cousin, my friends and my friends' family members. I know that part of grieving, for me, is acceptance that for me, that was it, the end, no more.

This is the hardest part for me, I think. And honestly, I wonder how many religious people also feel this way-- as a kid I wondered why everyone was so sad when an old woman in our church died-- didn't she go to heaven? Weren't we all going to see her when we died, too? She was going to greet us, to welcome us home, like Jesus did... like all of our loved ones who had died before us... right?

But that wasn't the feeling I got. I got the feelings of finality. Of this being It, the End. No More. The sadness we felt, I was told, was our selfishness... that we wanted her here with us, rather than with god. But, the way it felt, that sadness was finality-- it was The End, with the biggest period at the end, a true Full Stop.

As an unbeliever, I do not think we go to any place after death. I don't believe there is an After, of any kind. Once our cognitive functions cease, and our hearts stop, we are gone. Just gone. No longer here, just like we weren't here yet, before we were born. That, to me, is what makes life so precious-- the expiration date. Knowing that this is what I get, what I have, and that the price of life is dying. That is so, so precious to me.

I had to explain it to my youngest kid. He's 13 now, and he understands; he realises that we're all so fucking incredibly lucky to be here, to be alive, right now! He also realises that every thing, every one, who lives will die. This is just the way it is.

But those of us who die, we're lucky if you think about it. We're lucky as hell... because we actually lived! We had, or have, lives that are amazing, bright, loving, meaningful, sad, and even awful sometimes. We have lives that are full of learning and growing, and sometimes full of nothing but the kind of boredom that elementary school is full of. We have lives with chocolate and pizza, good beer and waffles. We have lives with pets, cats, dogs, birds, fish, that we adore. We have lives with partners who make our worlds spin on their axis, and some of us have children we love so much. We have lives with friends who are family, family who aren't, and everything in between.

We were the lucky ones, because we got to live.
And we're also the lucky ones, because we will get to die.

Do I wish that I could take comfort in the idea or belief of an afterlife?
Sometimes, fuck yes!
Sometimes, most of the time,  no. I'm able to take comfort in my own knowledge, and beliefs, and I don't feel the need to imagine something better in the "forever after". Most of the time, even when I grieve the loss of some one I loved, I am ok with knowing that things end. Their passing, whether human or animal, doesn't automatically mean I don't love them any more-- I still love everyone who has died, I love every animal I have had to say Good Bye to, and I always will.

Some day, my loved ones will have to say Good Bye to me. I'm  not afraid of dying. Not even the pain that's often associated with it. I'm afraid of the pain my family will feel-- because I know what it's like. But there won't be anything I can do to help. I won't be any more; I simply will have stopped, and will only live on in the DNA of my children, in the memories of my friends and family, in the words I wrote, and the work I did.

But dying itself, to me, will simply be the result of living, and it's a price I have to pay-- because I am alive. It's a coin I'm ready to part with-- just for the amazing life I've had so far! I mean, I live in the 21st Century! I have a small computer that I carry in my back pocket, drop repeatedly and can still text and email people all over the world-- instantly! I can surf porn on my fucking telephone! I live in the single most amazing time, ever, in the History of Ever! And when the time comes, for me to say Good Bye to it all, I hope my kids remember what I've told them. That they know how much I have always loved them, and that they celebrate my life.

I will always love my Grandma-in-love. She welcomed me into the family with open arms, without reservation, with all the love she had, and I can't ever explain how much that meant to me then, and means to me know. I'll miss her, as much as I miss my Dad's parents, who passed when I was young. I'll remember her, as fondly as I remember them, and I'll be proud to have known them all. To be the produce of that kind of love, to be welcomed, to be cared for, that's amazing, and I have been so very lucky.

Let us mourn, when we can-- in small bite-sized doses.
Let us love, always
Let us celebrate, laugh, sing, shout, be angry and happy all at the same time.
Let live, with every moment of our lives-- and let us be thankful and know how lucky we are.


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