Death & Dying

There is a vast difference between dying, and death.

I guess we are all dying – some of us take longer to do it than others.  For the past few weeks we have been watching my father-in-law move to the end stages of his long life, he was ninety two and a half.  What an amazing life he lived, although he had just been going through the motions for the last few years since mum died.  He missed her terribly every day, so although it was sad, it was also a blessing to think he is now at peace and with the love of his life at last.

Years ago I read Simone de Beauvoir’s book A Very Easy Death, in which she talked about her mother dying.  She was affronted when the nurses talked about her death as being very easy.  She didn’t see it that way, most likely because she was looking at it through the eyes of a loved one.  From a nursing perspective, there are ‘easy’ deaths, and there are difficult ones.      They weren’t being unkind when they said it was easy, just stating a fact as they saw it.

Looking back on the last few weeks of Dads life, it probably wasn’t that easy, but looking at it from a nursing point of view – when I put my old nurses cap on – it wasn’t too difficult either.   And he seemed to be at peace.   When you compare the death of an aged loved one to the sudden unexpected death of a child, they are worlds apart.

Sudden death in young people will always be a tragedy, whereas a person who has lived a long and full life is going to be an expected one.  A young death is tragic and a waste of untapped potential.  A death such as dad’s is looked on as the end of a long journey, filled with interesting experiences  – and as we write his eulogy – many stories to tell.           When we come to his funeral we will be looking back on a life well-lived.  We will share precious moments as we remember, funny ones too.  There will be sadness and probably a few more tears shed because of our loss.

However when I think back to the immediate days after Kelly’s death, we also shared precious and funny moments, but the grief was intense for a life gone too soon.  A life that still had so much living to do, and we mourned that with a much deeper level of sadness than we mourn dad.

As a mother I mourned the loss of my baby – even though she was twenty – and for the dreams and hopes I had for my child.  As a daughter-in-law I mourn at a much lighter level for a man who pined for his mate, his partner of sixty plus years and the love of his life.  We will celebrate that life, even as we celebrate for him as he leaves us to join his love.

It is simple, and something we knew would happen, compared to Kelly’s sudden end, which we are still coming to terms with after sixteen years.  We – her immediate family – will most likely still be grieving for her in another sixteen years time, whereas with dad, we will be content because he lived past his life expectancy.

We will still miss him, but he will be remembered with fondness and love, rather than disappointment and grief.



Grief Has No Time Limit..

Grief and mourning go hand in hand, and they are not exclusive to those that have died. It can be experienced in many ways, and mourning can be associated with many different things.

The loss of a job that has been a way of life for years can be like a death. Things change, and with change often comes a period of mourning, although not everyone acknowledges their feelings as such.  Illness and loss of bodily function, appearance can also lead to grief.

Children moving out of the family home for the first time can be a cause for celebration for those left at home, or – it can be a loss – and mourned as such. Speak to mothers who’ve experienced this. Initially relief that finally your child has grown up enough to leave home, followed by sadness or even true grief. Your baby doesn’t need you any more. The reality is very often that they’ll be back – not necessarily to stay, but for chats, advice and the like, or to bring the washing! But it’s hard to see that at first.

Then there is the grief that comes with death. The grief we cannot put a time limit on.

Most commonly, the loss of a loved one is a parent or older relative. That is the usual order of life. We reach an age, and then we die. Hopefully we go gracefully, or better still quickly rather than a lingering on.

But then too often, comes the tragedy of losing a child. The age doesn’t really matter, as it doesn’t seem right that your child should go before you. That’s not the way of life!

From personal experience, the initial grief was raw, harsh and totally absorbing, blended in with shock and disbelief. This grief can be for sharing; having someone to talk to who remembers that child can be truly comforting. We were blessed as a family to have friends who came to share in our grief, to be there to support us in that extreme need. They gave us the strength to keep going, or at least it seemed that way at the time. With them you can release the healing laughter, reminiscing over some of the mad and memorable moments of that lost life.

For others who do not have that luxury, then the strength comes from who knows where.

Tears – how much can a body cry? You begin to wonder just where the tears come from and when will they stop! Floods of them, cleansing perhaps, but all part of the mourning process.

Despair too, is a part, and wondering how on earth will you get through this. But you cope. It is amazing where the strength comes from, but it appears when you need it. People comment on how strong you are, but inside you feel quite differently.

As time goes on, the grief becomes more bearable, it seems to wax and wane but you never really know when it will come. You try to contain your grief for the sake of others, but it seems that the more you are in control, the harder the next bout will be.   It has a nasty habit of sneaking up on you when you least expect it. You’ll be driving along and a song will come on the radio – one that was a favourite or you associate with them and the tears come again.

Oh there will be anger too at some stage – how dare they go and leave you to suffer? Anger at the loss of potential, the possible grandchildren, the chance to be related to a famous movie star perhaps. But that passes, and with the passing comes acceptance. Then a certain calmness and even peacefulness. The feeling that it was all meant to be, all part of the order of life leaving simply – sadness.

This journey will run parallel to the rest of life, beside the day-to-day stuff. Every now and then you will stop and wonder what your life would be like if they had lived. Daydreaming about possibilities forever gone, but then life and reality creeps back in again and you get back to the practical things in life.

What will we have for tea tonight?