You can’t get to my age without compiling a long list of encounters with death. The first “funeral” I ever participated in was for a bird that fell from the tree in our front yard. I spent a whole day trying unsuccessfully to feed it, despite my mother’s warnings, and the next day she helped me put it in a little shoe box and bury it under the rose bush. I cried myself to sleep that night.
During my childhood there was a seemingly endless parade of fish, birds, hamsters, cats, dogs, and even a pig or two that caused me to shed painful tears and wonder about the unfairness of the whole life and death process. I still have a tuft of hair from my first cat…sealed in an envelope in the diary I kept as a twelve-year-old. Her name was Sandy and she was hit by a car. I grieved for her for years.
The first human death that had a significant impact on my life was the death of the young brother of one of my classmates. We were in the sixth grade when the tragic accident occurred. I don’t remember exactly how old Rudy’s brother was…just a toddler. Somehow he ended up in the driveway, backed over and killed by their father. I mourned for my classmate and for his father. I couldn’t imagine his guilt or understand how they could go on with their lives. But of course they did.
I have a few vague memories of attending funerals with my parents. I suppose friends and some distant relatives died. I attended the services, but it wasn’t until my great-grandmother died in 1961 that I felt any personal loss. I had only seen her a couple of times, but she was family, and she was my family. And before I could get to know her better she was gone…forever. Other family members have followed over the years, some after lingering illnesses, some suddenly and unexpectedly. Some were very old and others graced our lives for only a few short days.
And now I am once again going through the process of saying goodbye.
I know you’ve heard of the “stages of grief”, but there is a great deal of controversy about the validity of that theory. I don’t personally believe there is a particular series of emotions that follows the death of a loved one. First of all each relationship and each death experience is unique. I’ve been angry about the deaths of a few friends and relatives, but certainly not all of them. I wanted to deny that my mother was dead, but I have no such illusions about my father’s passing. I cried for hours and days and months after Mom’s death. My tears for Dad have been less frequent and I even find myself smiling when I pass the DQ. He would not want hours and days of crying over his death. I am also older and wiser than I was when Mom died; Dad and I had even discussed his inevitable death a few times.
Grief is an emotion that is always with us, just as love and hate, joy and anger. It is only the expression of it that changes. I still miss my great-grandmother when I see her photo or remember her laugh or smell roses. I might have to pull over to the side of the road and cry if Mom’s favorite song plays on the radio tomorrow. And I’ll probably grieve for Dad each time I see a poppy…but life goes on, and so will I.