Saturday, February 25, 2012

He Lied About Death

I've been trying to write a post for about a month. Not this particular post, but anything. I'll get to a point and then decide that I don't actually want to talk about whatever it is I'm writing, or my computer will crash without it saving, and it's just too difficult to go back to what I was writing. So I'm trying again. This post might be a little depressing, but it's what's going on in my life right now.

Here's some background: Mike's grandparents on his Mom's side passed away a number of years ago. His Grandma Sayles died shortly after Mike and I got engaged, and it was my first real experience with death. I was lucky enough growing up to not have been exposed to people dying very often, and when I was I was too afraid to go to funerals or visitations. So it was a strange thing to attend your first visitation when you're standing in the receiving line. People I didn't know kept coming up to us and congratulating us on our engagement and then giving us their condolences for Grandma Marie's passing. Grandpa Tom (who we named Thomas after) died about a year after she did. Then in 2009 I learned what it was like to have someone really close pass away when my Papa (my Mom's father) died. He had been sick for quite some time, but it was still really difficult to see him go downhill and change from the man I knew and loved growing up into less and less of himself.

The reason I'm thinking about this is because Mike's two remaining grandparents (on his Dad's side) are both struggling health-wise. His Grandma's kidneys are shutting down, (she's in her late 80's) and Grandpa had a stroke a few weeks ago, and is really not doing well. So we went into the nursing home today to visit them both.

Something strange seems to happen whenever I'm going to visit someone who is dying. I don't know if it's just me, but when we decided to go visit today, I immediately wanted to look my best. I felt the need to make sure I had showered and actually struggled about what to wear. I felt sorry that I didn't have a chance to take off my chipped nail polish. Did Grandpa notice? Not in the least, the poor man barely opened his eyes while we were there. Though he did seem to realize Thom was there, and he was trying to sit up to see him. And I doubt anyone else who was there noticed my chipped nail polish or the fact that I actually put on mascara. What is it about being faced with death that makes us want to look our best? Is this what makes people dress up for funerals? Does the person who has passed notice? Or is it as a sign of respect to those who are still living?

I almost feel like part of the reason we (or at least I) wanted to look my best was maybe some kind of way for me to "face death", and show Death that I'm still really busy using my life? I'm clearly not done with it... I don't know.

I noticed a weird thing that happens to people when they're faced with their mortality when a loved one is sick. Some people feel the need to fill empty silences with noise. Not even conversation, just talking for the sake of hearing their own voice, or just to make sound. Some people talk about the sick person as though they're already gone, or not in the room. Some people can't even look in the direction of the person who just days or weeks ago was someone they loved. It's interesting to be someone who is more on the periphery of the situation, I can just watch it without having to involve myself. Watching everyone avoid talking about the reason why they're all there. Watching people "go for walks" instead of sitting in the room. The silences, the averted gazes, the elephant in the room.

I gained a new appreciation for the nurses and hospice workers who are willing and able to be the people to care for people in their final moments. I also gained a new appreciation for my mother-in-law and my Mom for the same reason. When we saw Papa for the last time, my Mom sat with him and gave him sips of water and tried to make him comfortable. The same is true of my mother-in-law today with her father-in-law. It takes a special kind of person to be able to look Death straight in the face and know that it's never that far away from any of us.

More than anything, I think that situations like this make me appreciate life more. Norman and Beatrice have been really blessed with a wonderful family and a long (long) happy life together. I want to create a legacy like that with Mike. It makes me appreciate the family I have, (immediate and extended) because I am lucky to have such great people in my life. And it makes me thankful for my health. I know that I won't be here forever, (and that still really scares me) but I want to live my life while I'm here, and live it well. And when the time comes for me to leave this life, I can only hope that I feel ready, and that I greet Death like an old friend, and go with him willingly.