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My Experiences with Death

My Experiences with Death

(This is an abridged version of my essay for the Guided Autobiography course I’m taking.)

I was nine when I experienced my first death, too young to understand and grieve for a grandfather far away in Bermuda, a man I’d seen maybe a half dozen times. I don’t remember being told he had died, but I found my mother in the basement laundry room, weeping, and asked what was wrong. We didn’t go to his funeral; I don’t think Mom went either, being pregnant at the time with my youngest sibling. Nine was the age of my granddaughter Taylor, when she stood by her uncle Matthew’s open coffin, staring and crying so hard I thought she was having a meltdown.

My next experiences with deaths were years later, when my grandmothers died at the ages of 89 and 90 (my paternal grandmother achieving her goal of reaching her ninetieth birthday). I was close to them both and grieved, of course, but it was if their deaths were expected, at their ages. Plus they were grandparents, and all grandparents die before the rest of us, right? How funny perspectives change. Now that I’m a grandmother, I hate how I had justified their deaths. I don’t want my grandchildren to say, “Oh, she was a granny; she was old. She needed to die.”

Had my father taken better care of himself, he may have lived longer than 72. When he started passing out at the kitchen table due to lack of oxygen, Mom forced him to go to the hospital. He didn’t want to go, saying, “They’ll put me down.” She always regretted her decision, wishing she had let him die peacefully in his sleep.

While Dad was in the hospital, the nurses told us to limit our numbers in the small waiting room, as other families were unable to use it while we were there. Other than short rotations to shower and bring in food, we were there for five days. Mom slept in a cot by his bed, while eight of us (me, my four siblings and their spouses) snuck into a large empty room, snatched linens from the closet, and slept on the cold, hard floor. Nurses found us there the first night, in the dark, and told us to leave. As before, we ignored them, and the second night they brought us pillows.

When we were told there was no hope for Dad, they moved him out of intensive care and nine of us hovered around his hospital bed, waiting. When we thought he had breathed his last, a hush swept over the room. Stunned and shocked, we all looked at each other. And then he groaned, a deep guttural sigh, and we all jumped. Naïve me thought he had come back to life; perhaps the others had, too. This was my and my siblings’ first real experience with death.

Seventeen years later, my mother’s death, on Good Friday, in 2016, was worse. Perhaps it’s because I’d been closer to my mother. I must have been in denial my mother would ever die because it took me and my brother three days after she was admitted to the hospital before we flew to Ontario from Nova Scotia. My once-vibrant mother had morphed into a shrunken, frail woman, shrouded in linens like Dad had been, with numerous tubes and wires snaking from beneath the sheets. Mom had always taken care of herself. She even had her own teeth—pristine perfect teeth—pure white without the use of whitening agents. When the paramedics arrived at her home to transport her to the hospital for observation after a fall, the first thing they wanted was to remove her teeth. Someone said, “No, her teeth are her own,” which changed the paramedics’ attitude, realizing they weren’t dealing with the usual elderly senior.

Mom, like my father, didn’t have to die, even at 89. She was caught in a catch-22 type situation. Drugs for pneumonia would work against her heart condition, and drugs for her heart would work against the pneumonia. Ironically, she was scheduled for heart surgery to remedy her minor heart condition until pneumonia struck. Oddly, no one, including her, knew she had pneumonia until after that minor fall at her home.

We children had the horror of deciding our mother’s fate. After agonizing for hours, we decided to let her go. We left the room while they transported her down the hall to palliative care. One of my brothers and I returned to her condo, a five-minute walk away, while my sister and another brother sat in the waiting room. My youngest brother was on his way.

As it turned out, my siblings and I thankfully didn’t have to play God. Unbeknownst to anyone, Mom had been dumped, and ignored, in the palliative care room and died alone. The nurses forgot to notify my two siblings in the waiting room that they could go to her room, and when my brother and sister decided two hours of waiting was long enough, they snuck into her room. My two sons, driving almost nonstop from Nova Scotia to Ontario, had stopped to pick up my nephew in Ottawa, and arrived minutes too late. My nephew was the only one who went in to see her body. I almost wished I had never left home because she never really knew I, or anyone, was there, and now all I remember is a shriveled figure that was not my mother.

The loss of a child is an unsurmountable grief, from everything I’ve read, a death that stays with a parent forever. And I know that to be true, something I never ever thought would happen to me. It’s a constant ache. Life is different now. Some mornings I don’t want to get out of bed; some nights I can’t go to bed. I don’t want to be around people as much anymore, either. I don’t remember crying much immediately after my son died, but I must have, because my husband caught me one day. “You can’t keep crying like this,” he said. “You have to get over it.” And then he paused, “Well, it’s only been two weeks, I guess it’s okay.” I was aghast. My husband was telling me I couldn’t be upset? I know he regretted his words immediately after saying them. Matt wasn’t his son, so he doesn’t suffer my pain; he doesn’t know what it feels like.

Matt’s death, a year after my mother’s, has overshadowed hers, and I hate I don’t think of her as much anymore, being so consumed with him. But occasionally, I’ll pick up the phone to call her, forgetting, mostly wanting to share my grief with her.

One horrendously rainy afternoon, when Gary and I were driving to a burial, I reached to the floor for my purse and my phone. I needed to tell my mother how sad I was going to a burial and how wet we’d all be. And then I hesitated. And the tears flowed. The burial was hers.

I read Ted Kennedy’s memoir, True Compass, a few years ago. He wrote a passage that resonated with me: “I wish that life were simpler. I wish that loved ones didn’t have to die too young. I wish that tragedy never haunted a single soul. But to wish all that is to ask for an end to our humanity.” I loved his eloquent wording, and after digesting his words, I understood why death exists and received confirmation of that the next time I looked at my grandchildren. If death didn’t exist, neither could birth. Life brings birth and death, giving us a certain perspective, making us appreciate life.

The other day, I discovered a grief quote on Facebook. One of the lines rings true: “Grief is just love with no place to go.”


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“I Suspect You’ve Used a Ruler”

I feel an unexpected loss. I equated Dimitar Krustev with Ajijic and winter, for when Hubby and I were there, I took art lessons from him. Granted, Hubby and I didn’t come here last winter, nor did I paint the previous winter (although I had stopped in to visit him),  but I still thought of him. And, despite me not continuing with art when I was back home in Nova Scotia, I toyed with the idea of resuming lessons this season.

A week ago, out of the blue, a friend said, “You did know Dimitar died?”

“What?” No, I hadn’t. I was stunned.

I shouldn’t have been totally surprised; he was 93, after all. I had been meaning to ask that particular individual, one of his prior students, if he had run into him, but I kept forgetting. Perhaps I knew, deep inside.

I’m still upset, still shocked. Still feel a loss.

I wish I could have said goodbye. I wish I had taken more lessons from him; I wish I still could. He was an excellent teacher, and I learned a lot from him.

“I suspect you’ve used a ruler.” I’ll never forget those words and how embarrassed I had been. I couldn’t draw, still can’t, but I can paint okay. My rationale, once I realized I couldn’t draw (for doesn’t that take skill one is born with?), was that I was in Dimitar’s studio for painting lessons, not drawing lessons. Rather than waste precious time drawing during classes, I’d do my drawings at home. From a 4×6 photograph, I’d transfer that image to a large sheet of pastel paper with the use of a ruler. One inch on the photo could equal four inches on the paper. No, I didn’t graph it out, that would be cheating. A ruler was simply my crutch to get the outline to paper—to ensure my measurements were accurate—but I couldn’t let on to Dimitar, of course. He had said early on in lessons that no rulers were to be used.

I carried a ruler—or two—in my bag of art supplies when I went to his studio, ‘cause who knew when one might snap or be misplaced. He had seen them on occasion, for one couldn’t sneak anything by him, but never mentioned them. Sometimes I even used one in class, when I needed to, but always when his back was turned.

So, my drawings were always complete when I showed up for class. (You’d think he’d have clued in to that early on!) And, despite “cheating,” they weren’t always to scale, as he’d point out on occasion. One day, after he had chastised me about my drawing being out-of-whack, even though I had thought it to be perfect (I saw the flaws once he pointed them out), he blurted, “I suspect you’ve used a ruler,” and walked away in a huff.

Dimitar was old-school. You didn’t draw or paint with aids, but, despite him profusely praising my “talents,” he didn’t understand I had none. I couldn’t draw, yet I wanted desperately to paint my grandchildren’s portraits, and I could only draw their gorgeous faces by using a ruler. That was in 2008. Today I have several portraits of each of them, not to mention other various images. Thanks to a ruler. And Dimitar.

RIP Dimitar Krusev, 1920-2013



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Nine More Sleeps!

My daughter face-booked me the other day:  “I know a little girl who is very excited for u to come home. She keeps asking me how many more sleeps!!”

Well, as of today, March 22, we have eight more sleeps till we’re home (safely, I hope) in our other bed.

I’m excited, but sad at the same time. It’s a terrible predicament to be in, actually. We’ve been here in our home in Mexico (I hate to mention the area, cause I don’t want a bombardment of more northerners to flow here) since February 1. We’re usually here four or five months a year, but this winter it’ll only be two months.

I love it here. Absolutely, unequivocally adore it here. There’s not one thing I don’t like, except maybe the teeny ants that seem to invade my territory and the occasional huge “picture” spider. Some people call them “wallpaper” spiders; I use both names for them. They are humongous creatures and my worst enemies. But I digress…

The “little girl” my daughter referred to is my granddaughter, Taylor. I miss her, as well as her younger brother, Caden, and my son’s children, Kyla and Abby. Four grandchildren – what proud grandmother could ask for more?

I love them to death, my grandchildren. They are my pride and joy – my everything. I just can’t imagine my life without them. And I don’t know how I existed before they entered my life. They’ve made me complete, as cliché-ish as that sounds!

Okay, I know I’m over the top when it comes to my grandchildren, but I can’t help it. That’s another story…you may find it somewhere on my website.

So, back to the original purpose of this post: one week and a day or so before we leave our warm winter’s paradise and head back to cold Canada. We are hoping, however, that spring will have sprung before our plane lands!

Ajijic, Mexico, is a gorgeous place – our second home. Hubbie and I love it so much here, but that’s another story, as well. Suffice to say, if I didn’t have grandchildren back home in Nova Scotia, I’d probably be begging him to live here forever. I guess one has to be careful what one wishes for – I wished for years for grandchildren, but if I didn’t have them, I could possibly remain here in this paradise forever.

But, things happen for a reason. And I have my grandchildren. And I’d never ever give them up, not for anything in the entire world. And so, we will return back to cold Canada to wait for summer (just as we’ll return back here for the next winter). And I can’t wait to get back to Nova Scotia, cause I can’t wait to hug and kiss my grandchildren. More than that – I can’t wait to receive their hugs and kisses. I know it’s better to give than to receive, but when those little darlings wrap their arms around me and hold me tight and slobber their wet lips on mine, well…who could ask for more?

Not me. There’s nothing more I could wish for.

So, like Taylor, I’m counting my sleeps. Eight more sleeps until I’m back in my Canadian bed. And, since we arrive home at midnight, it’ll be nine more sleeps until I see my precious little beings.

Nine more sleeps, Taylor. Are you still counting them like I am?

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Sometimes I Save Plastic Containers

Sometimes I wish I weren’t me.

I see other people – better looking, smarter, richer, more popular, more loved – everything I think I’m not (depending upon the mood of the day, of course), and sometimes I’m envious.  Oh, I know I shouldn’t be, and ninety-nine percent of the time I’m not.  The “grass is greener” and one never knows “what goes on behind closed doors” and all that other cliché stuff comes to mind when jealousy and envy intrude. Sometimes, though, I am a bit jealous of others and what I perceive is their happiness. But who knows what their happiness is. Are they REALLY happy? Is it all make-believe? It is all a show?

Yes, most times I’m happy to be me. I’m not normally a jealous person; things “are what they are.” One cannot change destiny and fate; I truly believe each one of us is born into a pre-destined existence, but…

Things happen that I have no control over. Non-consequential things bother me for no reason; someone’s actions or mood affect me and MY mood. Sometimes I’m down and I don’t know why. Sometimes my husband’s moods affect me and, likewise I’m sure, my moods affect him.  Sometimes I drink too much, and that over-indulgence definitely affects how I act and feel. Lack of sleep puts me in a “mood,” too.

I don’t want to be unhappy and I shouldn’t be – and most times I’m not. I look out the window and know how lucky I am with my wonderful life, but still…things happen…sometimes…

I don’t know how to get out of a “mood” sometimes…

I’m not one to put on airs. I hate that. I am what I am. If you don’t like me, well, that’s your loss. Because you know what?  I AM a nice person. I could be your BFF, if only you’d let me. But, sometimes, you don’t give me a chance and then we pass by, like “strangers in the night.”

Sometimes I miss my grandchildren too much. Sometimes I try to NOT think of them, because if I think about them, then I miss them, and then I’m depressed. My husband and I are away for the winter and I haven’t seen them since early January, and I have three more weeks to go before we’re home. But, you know, I miss them when I’m home, too, sometimes, and those are the times I pick up the phone and dial their parents and ask, “Can I pick them up tomorrow and keep them overnight?” And, of course, they say yes.

My Little Darlings are only thirty minutes away when I’m home, but I still miss them. Not just sometimes, but all times.

So, even though I’m envious, sometimes – I still want to be me. I don’t want to be you or anyone else. Cause you know what? If  I had had different parents, if I had had a different upbringing, if I had lived in some other land, if I had been married to some other husband, I wouldn’t be ME. And if I weren’t me, I wouldn’t have had my terrific children, and if I hadn’t had my children, I would not have those precious little darlings who mean so much to me. Yes, I’m only their grandmother, not their mother or father, but still, sometimes…I want to be more. I want them with me forever, sometimes.

I think I love them too much.

And – sometimes – I save too many plastic containers. Then my husband is upset with me. “What?” I say. “They’re only plastic containers. Things to save leftovers in. You never know when you might need a container to save something in.”

And then I turn away and blow my grandchildren a kiss, even if – sometimes – it has to travel across the world. Cause I love them so much. And I miss them. More than sometimes- always.

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