Tag Archives: Death

Another Reminder

There is so much I want to talk about and mention, so many things going on in my mind, but all I can think about is last week.

I had met Beth once in the Mall.  Although they work in different departments and on opposite shifts, my husband had mentioned her a few times and remarked on what a kind, gentle spirit she was and how he had been good friends with her at work.  Three weeks ago, he came home from work with bad news.  He mentioned how he had been working with her closely on some internal audit details and how he had been standing behind her when she made a call to her husband.  He works there too.  They wanted to work together to be close to each other.  They’d spent all their free time together out in their small piece of land, tending the few heads of cattle they owned; it’s what they loved doing.

She spoke in hushed tones:
“Can you come get me?  I don’t feel well.”

When he got to her desk, she whispered:
“There’s something wrong, I’m losing my sight, I’m going blind.”

As he was relating this to me, my initial thought was, ‘oh no, diabetes?

They then left and went to the local hospital, where a doctor told her she was having an allergic reaction to coffee — another reason I have blatant disregard for the local health care system and its staff here.

Unsatisfied with the diagnosis, her husband got her in to see a specialist 45 miles away, three days later, where they rushed her into Chemotherapy that day after they discovered she had acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) — the most aggressive of its kind.

Last Thursday morning, I got a worried call saying she had suffered a brain hemorrhage and was now in ICU.

She died that afternoon.

I can’t help but wonder how many reminders I need before I grasp the fragility of life(?).  This woman was alive two weeks ago, not knowing those were her last days.  She was just 39, with a college-aged daughter.  And her husband.  The love of her life has to just carry on.  Keep going to work.  But for what now?

Everyone has a right to their own thoughts and belief systems, but for me, it’s hard to fathom that colleagues are saying, “she’s gone, he’ll never see her again.”  What kind of hope for the future does that give?  It doesn’t.  What are we living for, if not for something far better than our imaginations can take us?  If that is true, all the love we share with others is null and void and for nothing.  It can’t be.  It isn’t.

Although I didn’t know her, it has been a eye opener for me.  A time to continue to appreciate and validate those in our lives.  A time to make the most of what we have and take nothing for granted.  A time to live in the moment and not rush to the next thing.  Life is too precious not to.
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Fractured

How?  How do you transition from the death of a loved one, celebrate the beginning of new lives together two days after that, and then ultimately lay to rest a great man four days later?  Such a myriad of emotion all rooted in one cause: Love.  I went through, and am still going through innumerable emotions.  I couldn’t sleep the night preceding Bryan’s grandfather’s death.  I stayed up until 01:40 not really wanting to go to bed, sensing something from deep within.  I eventually relented and slid into bed, completely uncomfortable and unable to fully relax.  Thirty minutes later, he was gone.  Harried footsteps alerted my brother-in-law downstairs (where we all were too), and he quietly gathered his siblings.

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Two days later, I am standing outside the place where he is to be married, knowing grandpa could full-well be in attendance.  In fact, it would have been the only way he could have attended, and I think he knew that.  Despite the quiet solemnity of the days before, and the further planning and organising needed, the family bore up amazingly well.  There wasn’t any sadness looming over the wedding at all, it was completely a happy occasion.

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The funeral was beautiful, his casket something he might have fashioned by his own hands himself.  Bryan had organised a local piper to be there to play a short melody of Danny Boy and Amazing Grace as he approached the graveside.  He paused for the military recognition and then walked off into the distance playing a beautiful song, Coming Home.

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Coming home myself, I fully planned to walk back in to life, to record my thoughts as they occurred, and catch up with dear friends.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I needed time for myself.  The day after Bryan’s grandpa died and incidentally, the day before the wedding, I went to my former OB/GYN and spoke to an associate there.  I explained how I felt, what changes I had noted in myself emotionally and physically, and how although I didn’t feel unwell, I certainly knew something wasn’t quite right.  She scheduled blood work to be performed, one test being duplicated from my previous blood work, and ordered more than my other visit to the CNM here in Montana.  I had my TSH, T3 and T4 levels checked (all thyroid), my glucose, iron and insulin levels and a few others.

I had felt disappointed and frustrated as I explained my concerns with the nurse midwife (I had to see her, remember my doctor died the night before?  Yeah.) and I was met with, “you need to take time each morning and write daily affirmations on your mirror.”  That’s not what I needed to hear.  In fact, I felt like she wasn’t listening at all.  Although I felt discouraged, I knew I didn’t have to settle for a half-diagnosis; to be told I was fine and sent on my merry way, so I took my health into my own hands and sought out the second opinion.  I have since been referred to an Endocrinologist and am trying to glean as much information about the three available doctors here in the area that I can.

I didn’t realise how heavily everything was weighing on my mind and took the three days I would have been blogging last week to just take time for myself.  I’ve used the word broken before, but that’s how I’ve felt.  I’m not quite my whole self, but I am definitely headed in the right direction.

And as for death and the transition of life, it is part and parcel of life and I accepted that a very long time ago.  What has been most difficult for me is coming to terms with loved ones dying.  It is never easy whether someone is taken from us suddenly or an illness is drawn out — it’s difficult to see people you love go through it and know there is little you can do, if anything.  All you can do is love.

If I have learned anything this week, is it that love really does — and should — encompass life, and that the support and tenderness of those close to us should be magnified.

No More Words

02:10 a.m.

He’s gone.

Words and Thoughts

In a quiet corner of the house, in a dimly lit south-facing room, lays a shadow of a man I once knew.  He can’t speak, smile, or motion and he doesn’t really have a lot of range of eye movement from within his partially opened eyes.  But…but!  I know he hears me.

As I quietly made my way into his room yesterday, it was easy to overlook the IV and the morphine drip, the shelves of medical supplies and the monster hospital bed.  All I saw was a frail man propped up in bed with his face naturally angled at the ceiling.  I spoke with him and carried on a one sided conversation quite well, but inside I was breaking.  My heart was breaking and my spirit ached for this man who always had something to say, a kind word, a strong hug and his gentle, loving eyes that pierced your soul every time.

It’s hard to stay out the room, I am drawn to it.  It is so peaceful in there.  Quiet, serene, calming.  I can’t really describe it and do it justice … like a huge warm blanket that encompasses you completely.  The kind of feeling that makes you happy inside, almost glowing.  I sat in there yesterday.  I don’t know how long it was, I just sat there with him staring into the walls listening to him sleep, his hand enclosed in mine.  I had told him he was holding my hand whether he liked it or not.  I sat in silence, listening to the oxygen tank buzz, the 1940’s music softly playing from the TV and thinking about all of his stories and words I had heard over the past eight years.  I’d be fine and then tears would come to my eyes.  But not the tears you would expect, I wasn’t sad, I was at peace.  But then the sad tears would come.  Why does a man so amazingly brave, generous, strong and so full of chivalry and charisma have to be reduced to this state?  It’s not fair.  Life isn’t fair and dying isn’t fair either.

We expect his days are very few now.  I am deeply saddened, but know he won’t be in any more pain.  I worry about my mother-in-law.  She is amazing.  She works so hard and takes such amazing care of her father, my admiration for her runs so deeply.

What a bitter-sweet time.  My little brother-in-law, whom I adore, is to be married on the morning of Thursday to a wonderful young girl that I am getting to know, and just doors down from where I sit is a legend of a man, living out his last few hours.  My words will never do my thoughts justice.

A Tribute to The Greatest Generation and An Amazing Man

PhotoStory Friday

Hosted by Cecily and MamaGeek

Bryan’s grandfather is by far one of the most gracious, generous, caring people I have had fortune to meet.  His gentle spirit shines through his fragile body.  He has lived an exemplary life having seen and lived through many things I truly hope none of us ever have to.

The first time I met him, he smothered me with love; his hugs envelop all who come within five feet of his grasp.  His hold is surprising in comparison to his fragility.  The pinnacle of his consideration and kindness towards me was exemplified when he hand-crafted a table lamp out of a gorgeous piece of wood for me, the Christmas before Bryan and I were married.  His carpentry skills are amazing.  When Bryan was younger, he made workable cement mixers, trucks, diggers and various other toys, all crafted by hand using his amazing array of machinery, simple shapes and imagination.  He has made beautiful cedar chests for every woman in the family, and surprised me five months later, when I arrived at the reception hall for more snapshots before the guests arrived.  As I walked over to the photograph area, my attention was drawn to a quiet corner close to photos of Bryan and me.  Sitting against the wall was a beautiful cedar chest, just for me — something I had not expected in the slightest.  As tears filled my eyes, I felt my heart swell with love for this man.  His craftsmanship echos the love he has in his heart.  And, he seems to have a knack of reading people within minutes of meeting them.  He’d continue to tell me I was “a good one” and that Bryan was to take good care of me.

Bryan and I used to work for the same company and commuted a long 45 minutes to work each way every day.  The blessing in this was that the workplace was a mere 10 minutes or so from his grandpa’s home.  We would drop by as occasion would permit, and sit and listen to his WW2 stories of his time in the military.  I would often smile, knowing that I had heard a particular story in previous visits, but he would occasionally add new appendages I had never heard before.  In retrospect, I am grateful that I heard so many stories so many times, it has aided in my memorization of them and their small details.

Before he enlisted into the military, he had a commercial driving license.  Be certain of this:  He enlisted, he was never drafted.  When he arrived on base, he was issued a military driver’s license where he would move trucks around.  He said one day he got called into his commanding officer’s office.  His immediate thought was that he was in trouble, that he’d done something horribly wrong.  On the contrary, he was impressed by Grandpa and asked him to be his personal driver for a season.  He would transport this officer wherever he asked, never breaking their silence to ask questions.  Ultimately, the commanding officer took favour with him and requested he become his full-time driver.

Later, his entire unit received orders to ship out in preparation for what would become D-Day.  However, Grandpa did not receive his orders.  When he asked, he was told that a better driver could not be found.  His commander was impressed with how well he had performed his duty and wanted him to remain on base as his personal driver.  In the end, Grandpa spent nearly two years on base before he was shipped out.  His orders finally came and he left for the U.K. on the last voyage of HMS Queen Mary as a troop ship to Europe.

He told me during one of our visits that after getting off the ship, his regiment had boarded a train in Scotland and taken a long journey south.  He couldn’t remember where he had boarded the train, but he recalled a large station outlining a coastline in Scotland near where HMS Queen Mary had docked.  He smiled as he mentioned “throwing candy to small children” and how much happiness he got from it.  Then his expression would fall and turn to disdain as he recalled his dislike for the war, and surprisingly, crumpets.

Bryan and I researched books, questioned my mother and finally we all came to the conclusion that HMS Queen Mary had docked and soldiers boarded a train in the adjacent town from me called Gourock.  The first time I took Bryan to Scotland, we stopped where his grandfather would have been and walked so many years ago and stood in silence, respecting the solemnity and significance of the moment.

I’ve already highlighted his creativity and ingenuity, but it is obvious this characteristic was always there. After arriving at his final destination somewhere inside France, Grandpa was assigned as an armoured car driver in the 9th Armed Division of the 1st Army.  He often spoke of how he disliked driving by looking through a small slit in the front of the armour plating.  He had a friend of his in the engineering corps weld a hinge and handle to that front plate.  Then he removed a windscreen from a damaged Jeep, wipers and all, and mounted it to the front of his car.  When enemy bullets would start flying he would reach out and lower the armour plate.  He often boasted that he had the only armored car in the entire war with a windscreen!  He drove that same armoured car in one of the most critical times of the War.  It was at a bridge in a place called Remagen, Germany.

Grandpa had become very ill and was in hospital while his unit went to the Battle of the Bulge.  When he left the hospital he found that he was the only one left from his original group.  The military found out he had that driver’s license and decided to make him a driver for an officer (I don’t recall which level but he could have been Captain).  He joined back up with the 9th Armoured Division and was dispatched to Remagen.

Those who know the history know that Remagen was the last standing bridge over the Rhine river and that Hitler did not want that bridge to stand.  When the 9th came across the bridge and saw it was still intact, they rushed into the scene full guns blazing.  German planes flew overhead trying to smash the bridge, ten v-2 rockets were launched at it, and many brave men died.  After the bridge had been taken, the Generals ordered tanks to start moving across the bridge before it could be taken out.  Unfortunately, one of the tanks fell through and blocked the entire thing.  Foot soldiers kept moving through but no large equipment could get passed.  The engineers finally had it removed and the bridge patched, but they had to test it to be sure it would hold.  Grandpa was asked to go, and bravely drove his armoured car across that bridge and back, all the while being attacked by the Germans.  Upon his successful return, the charge was on — the Allies had entered Germany.

Grandpa stayed on at Remagen for a short time, and took his turn sitting in the tower watching for German swimmers who would try to get down river and attach explosives to the bridge.  Eventually the bridge collapsed, but by that time, the engineers had placed pontoon bridges on both sides, and the movement of the Allies could continue into the Rhineland.

Grandpa never really spoke much more about what he saw.  We know he was one of the first into Neuremburg Stadium.  He climbed the flagpole and took the Nazi flag down.  He often joked that at the top of that pole someone had carved “Kilroy was here”.  He was also one of the first into the death camps.  Bryan tried to get him to talk about it a few times but it was just too difficult for him.  All he really said was it was awful, often with a tear in his eye.  He did manage to “liberate” a few items while in Germany though.  He brought home a couple of accordions and a few other little things.  He always had a soft spot in his heart for the German people, those innocents who were caught up in the awfulness of war.

The man I admire and adore is crippled by a physical disease and relies on his youngest daughter, my mother-in-law, to care for him in the comfort of her own home.  His Parkinson’s Disease has advanced very rapidly to a point where he no longer has any control over his physical body.  Every muscle in his frame painfully contracts.  He is unable to speak, but shows his once audible and animated expression through eyebrow raises, soft smiles and eye movements.  His condition, much like my Gran’s was, is up and down.  A few days ago, his oxygen levels had dropped to 70% and his lungs were filling with fluid.

These past few days, I have been pondering the complexity and simplicity of life, the fragility of our physical body and the mark we all leave in the world.  When it comes down to it, all we have in life are our convictions, the memories of how we have lived our life and the love of our family and loved ones.  Despite my religious convictions — or anyone else’s for that matter — death is never an easy subject to broach.   When we’re faced with it from the perspective of (physically) losing a loved one, reality sets in and priorities are checked and ultimately re-aligned.  It’s never easy to digest, even though I know that life doesn’t end at death, that our spirit lives on and we will all be reunited with the ones we love; even friends.  It’s hard to say goodbye.  I know that life is eternal and we are all a part of this plan that God has for us.  I have no doubts that there are angels watching over us in this world, and that they are the ones who care for us implicitly: Our family who have passed on.  I know that the people we meet in this life are of no coincidence nor happenstance.  A quote I heard a very long time ago and have never forgotten says:

Coincidences are small miracles where God wishes to remain anonymous.

We are due to arrive in Utah on 1st of November for my brother-in-law’s wedding on the 6th.  We are taking each day as it comes, that is all we can do.

Ian with Great-Grandpa 16 Aug 2006

It may be interesting to note that Grandpa’s great-uncle was Robert Leroy Parker, Jnr.  None other than Butch Cassidy himself.  Because of his striking resemblance, Grandpa was called ‘Little Butch’ as a child.

Bereavement: The Journey

Six months have transpired since the death of my maternal grandmother:  Brigid, my Gran.  A woman who was as stubborn as the day is long, usually very difficult to read and set in her ways.  And with that, a very generous, loving and gentle soul who held dear to her Irish-ness throughout her life, despite having left her home in County Cavan at the young age of just 15.

She moved to England and worked in hotels and pubs and was well-known wherever she went.  She was a true lady, her hair was always done, her clothes immaculate and her lips graced with fuchsia or deep red lipstick with a smile and a nod for everyone.

I didn’t always understand or agree with some of her motives for things, or how she approached things head on; and being difficult to read, it was hard to see her true feelings for things.  But one thing I never doubted was her love for her friends and those close to her.  She travelled unceasingly back to her beloved Ireland to visit her remaining siblings (she was the middle child of nine), or down to London, up to Inverness or over to the Isle of Skye.  She kept very active and full of energy and life.  Looking at her, you just thought she’d just keep going and going.  She was constantly going somewhere, even if it was out for her early morning walk which she took religiously, rain or shine.  The snow wouldn’t stop her either, in fact, winter was her favourite season most of all.  Having served in the army decades ago, she still had her regimented walk with her head held high.

In her life she’d moved around quite a bit. When I was 10, she moved to Australia to live with her new husband, Burgess.  He was a remarkable, amazing, gentle soul and I only wished I could have known him better in life.  He was the type of man you could see his soul through his eyes.  They’d met and married in London and went to live near Sydney a little while later.  A few years later when I was 15, they moved back to Scotland living up north, and I got to get to know him a little more, not just through the notes and letters we would exchange.

He had been shot in the head with a pellet gun by a bully when he was eight, it had consequently damaged an optic nerve and he lost his sight in his left eye; but he never let that slow him down, he was a big rig truck driver for years and was an amazing carpenter.

He gave me my love for honey and hearty homemade soup.  He was a very spiritual man and it showed in his actions and words.  He was laid back, but in the kind of way that he let things just roll off his back.  I regard myself one of the luckiest people in the world that I got to know him.  His hugs were brimming with love, his smile endearing and his laugh infectious.  I still love that man.  In August 2000, I had been in California nine months the day my Mum phoned me.  There was an intonation in her voice in the few words she spoke in salutation.

“Who died?”  I asked, hoping I’d imagined her tone.
“How did you know?”  she sobbed.  And then the words I had dreaded, “it’s Burge.”

My heart sank and I grieved that man for a very long time.  He had been plagued with illness throughout his later years and it had finally taken him — with stomach and prostate cancer.

If there was any chance, I would pray and hope for a husband just like him: Someone who would love and cherish me implicitly; someone tender, who I could connect with on every level and someone who oozed with the love of life.  It took some time, but I found my Burge.

They moved back to Australia in 1990 and for the ensuing ten years, I got to know them as I had before, through letters and cards.  My gran was a prolific letter-writer.  She kept in touch with an armful of people, constantly writing to someone.  She loved it and it showed.  Her address book was filled with people (I even found my last letter to her in the front – what a tender moment) and she had all of their birthdays marked down in her calendar and never forgot one.  She’d even send your card a month early, just to be sure you’d get it.  When the end of October rolled around, you could always be sure of a red envelope from her.  It was your Christmas card.  My Gran loved Christmas and the music, sending cards, parcels and calendars to everyone.

I am grateful she took the time to write to me as a teenager – a constant that helped buoy and shape me.  I thanked her for it as she lay on her hospital bed.  Her humble response was, “it was just a small thing”.  “Yes, but it’s the small things that matter”, I responded gently.  She nodded and smiled.

It was both cathartic and painful to stay at my Gran’s place in March, it was a perfect monument to her, frozen in time in October 2007, organised and quiet still. There were tributes of her everywhere, perfect tokens to who she was and what she loved: she had decorative plates of birds, pictures of penguins, flowers, and Irish and Scottish mementos — even her framed and hung Australian citizenship certificate.  Each room was filled with her favourite spring colours: lilac, pale yellow, pale green and delft blue.

Whilst I was staying at my Gran’s place, I clung on to a hope — it may have been false hope, but it got me through a very difficult task. I wanted to do something for her, for the home. I wanted to clear out what I knew she didn’t need: old bills and papers. They were everywhere:  In baskets in the kitchen, in drawers, in mugs on the mug tree at the sink, all around her living room, in her bedrooms. But not in the bathroom. I must have got rid of about a dozen carrier/plastic bags full of them.   As long as I kept repeating, ‘I’m doing this for Gran’, I was able to get through it.

Days before she died, I kept coming across little slips of paper or lengthy scripts. Some were typed, others hand written. They were all in different places, and each were a great find and a comforting solace. I never thought for one moment that she would pass whilst we were there, but unknowingly, these little pieces of paper helped me through a very trying time. Little pieces of treasure.  They were essentially, a voice from the dust.  My Gran had experienced the death of her close sister and Burge, and had held on to words of encouragement and support. I was grateful that she did.

My Gran’s death 6 months ago is quite easily one of the toughest times I have experienced in my life. It ripped the ground from under me and I felt dazed and confused for what seemed like days, when in fact only a few hours had passed.

Two days later, as I was poring through more papers, I came across something that changed my focus and redirected my thoughts. It was the quintessential hug; the comforting embrace that my heart needed.  I share it, hoping it will help someone else who is grieving a loved one.

Burge had written this to my Gran’s sister, Peggy.  Peggy had recently lost her husband and he reached out from Australia to Ireland with love and compassion through his written word.

24 July 1996

Peggy on this earth we view death from the perspective of one who strays behind, much as we view a long journey when we are seeing a loved one off on a train, a plane, or a ship and wave our goodbyes, only able to imagine what the trip will be like, or what our loved one will find when he gets where he is going.

If you could glimpse, for even a moment, the glory and excitement that a departed loved one faces when his eyes “close on time” and “open on eternity”, if only we could glimpse this, perhaps there would be more understanding in our sorrow and more joy in our grief.  Sorrow, then, must be akin to love; in fact, what is sorrow but the tender side of love.  As I said before – to take the sorrow out of death, we would have to take love out of life.

In a beautiful blue lagoon on a clear day, a fine sailing ship spreads its brilliant white canvas in a fresh morning breeze and sails out to the open sea.  We watch her glide away magnificently through the deep blue and gradually see her grow smaller and smaller as she nears the horizon.  Finally, where the sea and sky meet, she slips silently from sight; and someone near me says, “there, she is gone!”

Gone where?  Gone from sight — that is all.  She is still as large in mast and hull and sail; still just as able to bear her load.  And we can be sure that, just as we say, “there she is gone!”  Another says, “there she comes!”

Nothing is so beautiful as a person in a resurrected and glorified condition, there is nothing more lovely than to be in this condition and have our partner (loved one) and our families with us.  Life is eternal and love is immortal; and death is only a horizon, and a horizon is nothing, save the limit of our sight.

In the weeks and months that have passed, I have used music to ease and heal my heart.  I had found a small square note my Gran had written in her home:

You Raise Me Up
Josh Groban

I knew she loved it not only for his beautiful vocals, but for the violins that reminded her so dearly of her Irish music.

There were days I would just wander around listening to it and To Where You Are, soaking in the comfort it gave me and letting go of suppressed pain and grief.

From her bedside, I remember her asking me if I liked music.  “Yes Gran, I love music.”
“Oh good.  Do you like the Spice Girls?”
I chuckled, glanced at my mother and responded, “No, I prefer music with great vocals, people who sing with their heart…”
She nodded and simply said, “good, you can have any of my CDs that you want–”
“Oh Gran, don’t talk like that!”
“It’s OK, I don’t need them, do I?”

She knew, but never talked much about it.  The day after her birthday I had said:
“This isn’t a very nice place to have spent your birthday, is it?”
“No.  And I won’t be doing that again!”

She died three days later.

I think I have cried more in this last week than I have cumulatively up until this point.  Grief and sorrow can overwhelm us if we allow it to.  But with that, grief and sorrow are natural.  Like the letter said:

If we take the sorrow out of death, we have to take the love out of life.”

I take comfort in knowing that she is still around, watching out for me, seeing my children, seeing where I live.  She is still with me, there to uphold and support me; still loving me.  I have no doubts that the times I feel the sadness creep up on me are the times she is close by.  I never feel sad for long, and as quickly as it comes, it passes.  I know that I am left to journey through life with her just as a memory, but these memories are ingrained in my soul, showing me a pattern for life.  I will always miss her and her letters.

I love you, Gran.

Me, my two brothers and my Mum