Monday April 14, 2008
Two deaths, and the things I've learned.
Back in October, my maternal grandfather (my "Pop"), passed away expectedly. I say expectedly as for the past decade or so he had been battling heart disease, among other things, and the current two years, he had battled stage 2 lung cancer that spread into his brain and other regions. He was on hospice care for two years. He was only supposed to live about six months after his diagnosis. But my Pop being an old Navy man fought it out to the end.
It didn't matter that he grew more and more senile with visions of things that weren't there or talking to the nurses and calling them by the name of someone in his past. His health was rapidly declining.
Prior to him passing away, my grandmother went into him and said goodbye.
When he passed away, thoughts of everything he had ever taught me and memories we ever had flooded through me, and almost immediately I was distraught. When you tell someone "my Pop died," and they ask, "were you close?" you feel like snapping back at them, but I guess that's just how some people were.
My Pop took me on my first horseback ride when I was six. I rode a horse named "Idol," a white Arabian or Arabian cross, and while I was being lead on a lead rope in front of another rider on a horse, I thought I was top dog. My Pop taught me about pipe tobacco, Florida, oranges, the beach, and art. One thing he did leave with me was his talent for art, and for that, I am grateful.
We cremated him and buried his ashes in January of this year.
My maternal grandmother (my "Nan") had also been ill. 20 years of living and fighting through her Parkinson's disease, she slowly started becoming a shell rather than the Nan I knew.
In 2005, she was diagnosed with many other ailments from esophageal cancer and other diseases. She went from a normal person to an old woman overnight. She had lost most of her teeth due to age and her inability to be able to sit in a dentist chair while they worked on her. It didn't help that she hated the dentist. Her diet went from normal food to cottage cheese, puddings, and other soft foods she could swallow. There were times where she couldn't say anything at all until her medicine kicked in.
When we moved down to Georgia from New York in the early 90s, my brother (a year and a half older than I) and I in two separate grades had to write papers about struggling with something. Unbeknownst to us, the other children wrote about how their parents wouldn't let them stay out late, or how they couldn't go over to so and so's house. My brother and I wrote about our Nan, and how it was a good day when she could get dressed herself, or when she could pour Pop a cup of coffee or could iron or get up from her chair without her walker.
I learned that my Nan was an only child and that her father had walked out on her mother when her mother was two months pregnant. My Nan never met her father until she was married. Her father had seen her wedding announcement in the paper. He died shortly thereafter.
My Nan dressed up as a hobo one Halloween with her neighborhood friend, and they went door to door (as adults), invited themselves into their neighbor's homes, dusted things off, sat down on the couch, and they each shared a flask, taking swigs....of tea.
I learned how my Nan used to love shopping and how she would take my mother and her sister shopping with her friends, but they would never buy anything. While her friends went into the restaurants to eat, my mom, her sister, and my Nan would sit outside on the curb in front of the restaurant eating egg salad sandwiches. My mom asked why they couldn't go into the restaurant to eat to which my Nan honestly replied, "well we don't have enough money to do that, but do you like your egg salad sandwich? I made it special today just for you!"
One day when my mom was a child, she came home from school talking poorly about a girl in her class who wore ragged clothes, had old torn shoes, and was rather dirty. My Nan asked my mom, "did you ever think that those clothes were the best she had? That those shoes were all they could afford? and did you ever think they may not have a bath tub or running water?" It was then that my mom learned the meaning of respect and not to judge those based on appearances alone: a lesson that was passed onto us at an early age.
When my brother had a godmother whose daughter had Down's Syndrome, we just saw her as another kid. When we had friends in NY who were Puerto Rican, Chinese, or Jamaican, to us....they were just kids we played with. We didn't see them as another color.
My Nan never said a negative word about anybody. She may have disagreed with them, but she took them for what they were. She kept several friends that way.
The last few days of my Nan's life, my mom was by her side, though she didn't want to be. During that time, every one of her friends called or wrote or e-mailed to say their final goodbyes. Though my Nan, at that time, couldn't respond as the Parkinson's had taken their last hurrah and had captured her ability to speak or to open her eyes, she would wiggle her fingers or tap her foot or try to smile to show she understood.
Before she passed away, my mom bent down and whispered to her that it was okay to go, and that Pop was waiting for her. A tear rolled down her cheek, and my mother said, "I know that tear's for me, mom. I love you," and with that, my Nan left this world.
She was cremated, and her ashes were buried this past weekend beside her husband, with whom she was able to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary before they both passed away.
I have to keep reminding myself that, in the state they were, it was better for them to leave this world. They are healthy now, and they are happy. They don't have to get upset by worrying what others think about them when they are unable to do the simplest of daily tasks and daily necessities for life.
I just have to remember what my Nan taught me in this life:
1) Never judge a person based on what they are on the outside. Respect them for who they are on the inside, and look past their exterior.
2) Be grateful for what you have and not jealous of what you have not. Appreciate the little things in life rather than always wanting more.
3) Don't speak ill of others. You never know what they are going through, or what has made them the way they are.
4) Don't just offer a tissue to a friend in need, but dry their tears and comfort them.
5) Don't just offer advice to others, but help them when they need assistance.
6) Cherish the memories that you have with someone. They are truly a gift. Remember them every day, and you will never forget that person.
7) Love. Love your family, love your friends, love your life. Don't get too wrapped up in the big things in life that you forget about the little things.
8) Remember when money is tight, money isn't everything in life.