Remember last week when I mentioned that I haven't been coping well and that I've been taking it out on my kitchen? Well, my friends, this is the one where I tell you what's up. Prepare yourself. This is going to be a long one.Over the past several months, we have been trying to wrap our heads around several big losses in our lives. I'm not even sure where to start, but I can tell you that going through this tough time is what triggered my desire need to start this blog. I needed to get it all out. It's going to be a bit linear, almost in a steam of consciousness sort of way, but that's the only way I know how to tell this story right now. So, here it goes:
My Nana, with whom I was incredibly close, went into hospice care in July.
I was the one who found her. She hadn't been answering her phone and my aunt hadn't been able to reach her either, so I went to check on her. Her house was completely dark and she had no idea what day it was, how to navigate around her house, how long she had been awake or whether or not she'd had anything to eat. She also kept confusing me with other people.
Without getting into much detail, she had an infection that went all wrong and it caused the severe dementia and memory loss. By Fourth of July weekend, she was out of the hospital and at home on hospice care. She was at the end of her long life.
She had always wanted to be at home, so we hired 24 hour care and me, my dad and my aunt (who live out of town and came as soon as I called) took care of her. Hospice workers (thank goodness for them, by the way) came to talk with us, my Nana's friends (she and my Papa had many) came to visit and family members checked in regularly.
The week after she was situated at home, I was in my Nana's kitchen when I got a call from a former co-worker. She had sad news: one of our co-workers had passed away suddenly. I lost it. Like the leaning-on-the-sink-head-in-hands-sobing kind of lost it. The man who passed away was one of a kind. He was the type of man who put others before himself everyday. Now he was gone.
The following week, my husband and I heard the news that his grandpa had passed away. I realized that this generation was disappearing right before our eyes. Grandpa Snyder was the last living grandparent on my husband's side of the family and just like that, he was gone. He had lived a long life and his health had been declining, but it still felt sudden for some reason.
This was also about the time I realized just how differently my husband and I deal with grief. He feels it, is sad and then moves on. I, on the other hand, wallow. I feel it, keep feeling it, think I'll be okay, have a memory and lose it all over again. This much sadness in just a few weeks took quite a toll.
Meanwhile, I had been going over to my Nana's house almost everyday to help care for her, chat with her while she was awake, try to get her to eat/drink, spend time with my family and help with the inevitable: the business of disassembling a life. Yes, it may sound awful, but we had started cleaning out closets, cupboards and drawers. My Nana loved to shop. She had closets full of clothing that no longer fit, stacks of shoes that she would never wear again and a house full of items that would need to be dealt with. We didn't know what else to do, so we purged and organized.
It's such a strange feeling to disassemble a person's life, while watching it slowly fade away. As young people, we never really learn about death. Not in a helpful way, anyway....not in school or social situations. People just don't talk about the business side of dying. And grief is something I don't think anyone can wrangle into a book or a class or a column. It's so different for everyone involved...it just sort of happens.
Now...my Nana was 91 and a half. She had lived an amazing life up to this point and my guess is that she had very few (if any) regrets. She had told us all at one point or another that, when the time came, she'd be ready to go.
On August 18, she went peacefully in her sleep.
We held her memorial service a little over a week later and the estate sale the day after that. It was a blur. A big, sad blur with lots of family and friends mixed in. A few days later, everyone went home. I offered to manage the rest of the estate items and be a point person for selling Nana's house, which was an incredibly difficult task. Toward the end, Nana wasn't connected to her 'things,' but we were. Everything had a memory or story attached to it.
By early October, all of the items had been sold and my aunt was back in town to close on the house. We had received an offer at the estate sale, so that was that. It was sad to say goodbye to the house I had visited so many times in my 29 years of life.
On the evening we were wrapping things up at the house, I got a call from my vet. We had taken our basset hound, Rooc, into the vet the week before because the lymph nodes in his neck were swollen.
The call confirmed that he had canine lymphoma and was in the final stages. He was only 6 years old. We couldn't believe it. Bad things are only supposed to happen in threes right? Isn't that what they say?
We had options: we could go with palliative care, which is an attempt to simply make him comfortable until the time comes, or we could choose to have him undergo months and months of chemo in the hopes that it would extend his life. We went with the palliative care. Because he was in the final stages of the illness, it's not likely that chemo would have extended his life much. In addition, the chemo plan was so aggressive that he would have spent more time in the vet's office than he would have spent at home and, as much as we love our vet, that's no kind of life.
Instead we took several trips to my husband's family ranch where he chased rabbits and played with the other dogs.
Here are a few more shots via Instagram. The other dog in the photos is our lab mix, Zen.
On October 24, we said goodbye to Rooc. He was buried at sunset at the ranch. It's been sad times around here. Zen doesn't quite know what to do. We've always been a two dog household and I think he misses his buddy.
Just over a week has passed since we spread my Nana's ashes. I'm still sad for our collective losses over the last few months and that probably won't really go away. I'm still having trouble focusing and I'm probably not great company most of the time. I have, however, figured a few things out.
What I've learned about loss:
- Sometimes you just have to talk it out. Or write it out. Whatever works for you.
- Most people don't want to hear it. I've come to terms with that because, quite frankly, it's a huge bummer to discuss death and dying. Most people say things like "well, she's in a better place" and "at least he's not suffering anymore," as though they'd like to just wrap it up. This also makes them feel like they're comforting you in some way and words like that can be comforting...to a point. Many times, however, words like that just don't capture what your feeling.
- Why? Because it's about you, not the deceased. Bear with me on this. My reasoning is that you're not always sad for the ones you've lost. They actually aren't suffering anymore and they probably are in a better place. You're sad for the emptiness they've left behind. That void that can't quite be filled. And it's okay to be sad for your own loss.
- Sometimes your work and social activities can wait. When you're dealing with loss and the grief that follows, it's okay to say no to events, functions and, yes, even work. Spending time with those who are dying or those who are grieving right along side you is far more important. Besides, all of the work, events and functions will still be there when the fog lifts. I can promise you that.
- Be grateful for your support system. They will love you even when you go through the anger that often accompanies grief. Those who reach out may not be who you would expect and you may be surprised by who doesn't reach out. That's okay. Just embrace it all and ride it out.
Thanks for reading. I'm feeling better already.