Death and Dying

When I was in college, I was surrounded by nursing students. Nursing students comprised 25% of my university’s student body, and my roommate (one of my best friends from high school) was one of them.

This had its perqs — when I, the young design student, accidentally cut myself with an uncapped X-ACTO knife while exiting my then-boyfriend-now-husband’s car, I ran panicked into the dorm, flung the door open and screamed at my roommate “HELP ME I CUT MYSELF I AM BLEEDING THE KNIFE WASN’T STERILE!” I somehow managed not to bleed all over my design project, and my roommate promptly hung up her phone call, grabbed her nursing gear, cleaned me up and super-glued my thumb wound back together. (I am happy to report that all things healed and that my thumb is back to 100%.)

We, as all roommates do, would discuss our upcoming semesters and degree plans, and when it came time to register for our next set of classes, would talk more granularly about what the upcoming semester entailed. After sitting down and leafing through the catalog one evening near the end of a semester, we began discussing one of my roommate’s upcoming classes — Death and Dying.

The course description is as follows: “This course offers a unique and important perspective about cultural differences in death and dying. Personal attitudes and beliefs related to loss, dying, death, and bereavement will be explored. Cultural beliefs, rituals, and bereavement support strategies that may influence attitudes towards death and dying for a variety of ethnic groups are examined.”

We laughed a bit at how dismal this class sounded, but realized its importance, especially for the healthcare providers in-training whose roles are critical in helping family and friends cope and come to terms with the very real death and dying in their personal lives.

I am, for the first time, dealing with death and dying in my life. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had all four grandparents around for this long, but I found out a few days before Christmas that my Grandma has metastatic triple positive breast cancer and only has a few weeks (at this point maybe days) left to live.

The news was devastating at first.

As I’ve become further removed from the moment I received that phone call from my mom, I’ve been able to process and begin to grieve, and in most moments, I feel like I can move on from this.

In some ways, this news was comforting. My Grandma has lived with Multiple Sclerosis for as long as I can remember, but her life with MS began long before my memories do. She’s a stubborn woman (I mean this in the most affectionate way possible) and has lived independently for most of her life, but the MS slowly creeped its way into control of her movement and body. After a few months of her bones inexplicably breaking, it was comforting to finally know why.

Despite this glimmer of comfort, grief seems to creep in and take hold of me, and my ability to see any good ebbs away as quickly as the high tide recedes.

I am in and out of feeling fine and feeling incredibly sad. For the most part, I feel fine. The biggest struggle for me at this moment is seeing how much pain my Grandma’s impending death is causing my mom and uncles, and I feel utterly helpless and somewhat conflicted about my own reactions to this situation.

Is it wrong for me to be okay right now? This helplessness is incredibly foreign. I don’t really know what to do or say in order to be there for and best support my family. Is it okay for my family to seem more emotional but for me to feel somewhat at peace? Does it make me insensitive or uncaring, or is it that am I being strong for them?

Once my Grandma passes, I know the waves of sadness and unending tears will return, but for now, I am okay. I’m stable, and grateful.

We’re lucky we still get this time with her and each other. We’re lucky we’ve had 75 years and 5 days with her. Life will be emptier when she leaves, but we’ll make new memories in the life we have without her, and think of her fondly in those new, sweet moments that, without her, would never have been possible.

Me, my husband and my Grandma at our wedding on March 1, 2009

written January 4, 2016

published April 26, 2016, the last day of the 75 years, 3 months and 29 days my Grandma lived.

Rest peacefully, Grandma. You are so loved.

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