Monday, June 20, 2011

Processing

this one is personal, for those that know me -
My husband's grandfather passed away June 13th.  He had been sick with alzheimer's for over 10 years and it was difficult to watch this man whittle away to a the shell that he was at the end.  A beautiful shell to be sure, he was always handsome and he was always charming, but a shell of the man that he was.  He spent the last two years of his life in bed.
I am by some people's standards a cold person.  I don't think I'm cold, in fact I think I'm quite the opposite, but it was hard for me to keep my mouth shut and stay out of the way.  Over the last two years I often wondered if the family was making decisions that were best for Grandpa, or if they were decisions that were based on fear.  Fear of death, fear of loss, fear of sadness.  What do you do when the person next to you is sad?  Most Americans I know rush to "make it better."  Few will just sit there and be sad with you.
It was hard for me to be understanding when a man who had been in bed for two years, with a catheter because he'd lost the function of urinating on his own, had to be woken up to be fed, why didn't they just let him sleep?  And why, when they couldn't wake him up to feed him did they freak out and call an ambulance instead of just letting him sleep?  People used to die in their sleep of old age.  We don't let them do that anymore.  How is that okay?  How is that not abusing medicine?
It was very hard to keep quiet.  It was harder still to be supportive of those people who were making these decisions.  And support they did demand.
And so he did die, eventually, and it was hard.  He labored to breath for days.  And everyday my husband went over to be with his grandfather and I took the children when I could.  Why take the kids?  Because death is a part of life.  Nobody lives forever.  And because I think we over insulate ourselves and our children.  And well the oldest 3 remember him well and even number 4 remembers him before he was bedridden.
Number 4 - M-Lyons who is 6 years old - was never afraid of the disease and would climb up into his lap and kiss him every time she entered the house.  And then when he was in bed they would all go in and say hello and talk to him and M-Lyons would get us to help her reach over the bed so she could give him a kiss.  And so when we went in to say our goodbyes that last week, M-Lyons ran around outside picking flowers and laid them in her great grandfather's hands as he lay sleeping.
On Monday after we received the phone call that he had died, I went over to sit with the family for a little bit.  Of course I had small people with me and Bitsy is as self centered as any 4 yr old so that was a bit tricky, though I think for my mother-in-law it was a welcome diversion.  I sat with Grandma for a little bit.  I am not afraid of sadness.  I'm also her granddaughter by marriage so I don't have the same associations that I would have if I'd grown up with her.  So I could pull her head into a hug and hold her while she cried.  And that is what I did.  I am not one to shush a crying person or say to them "they are in a better place."  Yes, I do believe the dead go onto other adventures, but it still is difficult for those left behind.  We still miss them.  And grief and sadness are part of missing them, to not grieve is not healthy.
(and when I say that I could do that because I'm not her actual granddaughter, I mean, I don't know if I could hold my grandfather or my grandmother like that - they are the grown ups and I am the child - but I could do it for Ad because she and I don't have that relationship that goes back to childhood.)
And then Thursday - traveling to NJ.
Grandpa's parents had bought burial plots for their children and spouses so they would all be together.  So we traveled to NJ to bury Grandpa.
The family used Moore's Funeral Home in Wayne NJ.  And I'm gong to link to them here, because I was completely impressed by them.  They treated the family with dignity and respect like every funeral home I've ever come into contact with but they also did so with a warmth that was so lovely.  Warmth is the only word I can think of to describe it.  They truly wanted to facilitate celebrating the person that was David Campbell French and to help the family honor his memory and celebrate him.
And they were so family friendly.  We took four children to the wake and the funeral.  At the wake, the children came in, to an open casket.  We gently took them through the motions of kneeling by the casket and either saying a prayer, or saying good bye or just sort of looking- and then it was brought to our attention that there was a little drawer in the casket, open, and waiting to receive notes or trinkets.  Someone provided the children with papers and they wrote notes and poems and cards to say goodbye.  And placed them in the drawer, and it was such a lovely way to say goodbye and so helpful for both the children and any adult who needed a tactile way to work through their grief.  My husband and sister in law had worked together to offer  tribute in pictures and they put a copy of the disk in the drawer to go with David.
After a bit the kids had done their duty there at the wake but my husband and I were not done sitting with family and Moore's offered a small children's waiting area.  With a table and chairs and books and a few toys.  And so I let they head over there with the admonition to be respectful that there people here who were sad so they shouldn't get too loud - but again, what a relief for all of us.  My husband was able to be with family and do what he needed to do to say goodbye to the man who he loved so dearly and the children were able to say their goodbyes and then go be quiet someplace.
At the funeral service I needed to be two people.  My husband got up to speak, and started to cry.  I almost got up to go finish reading what he had written but he managed to pull through.  Seeing their father crying got all the children crying, so I was holding children and crying myself and trying to be strong for my husband all at once.  And they had a bagpiper to accompany the body into and out of church and then to the grave which was lovely as David was always so very proud that he was Scottish. He was born in Scotland and came to the United States as a small boy.  But he was also a Campbell so even then at the end when they called for a bagpiper they asked my mother in law from which clan was the deceased and she said Campbell and they said, "oh those Campbell's!  But I'm sure your father was a fine man."
And there goes the timer - it is time to get the kids off to swim practice.  Tim is back at work, the world keeps turning...

3 comments:

JJ said...

My mom met the same fate. I am terribly sorry.

FoxyMoron said...

You are so wise, what a lovely post, the second one this morning to bring me to tears.

delia hornbook said...

aww i couldn't make it to the end of your post without shedding a tear. I am deeply sorry for your family's loss but as you so rightly say it is a natural cycle of life and i am glad you involved the children because they will not be afraid of it and its important for them. They were gentle and understanding and with the little flowers etc they paid there own respects for his life. The piper was such a lovely touch being married to a Scottish man myself ( although separated) i understand how important and touching this would have been for him. Sending you a hug, dee x