On Death

Death is something I’ve been aware of and dealt with from a pretty early age.

While I don’t remember my mom being pregnant or the aftermath aside from getting really cool pins from the therapist Mom saw and Dad leaving to re-up with the Army and their eventual divorce, I know I was always aware that I’d (nearly) had a sister but she didn’t make it. So my sister is the first death I experienced, if peripherally.

The first death I can recall experience is the loss of my maternal grandmother. I was six. I remember the phone call in the middle of the night, and I remember dreaming after about the funeral and seeing Grandma P breathing. She’d been dealing with cancer for a while, first breast then bone, heavy smoker. So, her death was expected. And, thanks in part to Mom losing my sister, I knew what death meant. The person was gone, and there was another grave to visit (although, poor Grandma P got stuck over in the boring-ass Catholic cemetery because I think that’s what she wanted, but Brookside is so much better with the brook and the trees and all the old stones and…). The only other thing I remember is how very still Grandma was. You just know that the person’s not there anymore. Sad, but kind of fascinating (that’s an older me observation).

Over the next few years, there was maybe about one death a year. This great-great-uncle or that older cousin x-times removed.

And when I was nine, my dad died. Having only recently just starting to get to know him again (he’d been stationed over in South Korea since not long after he rejoined the service), I remember being upset but not devastated? I think I was upset because Mom was upset more than anything else. Plus, when a man in military uniform shows up at your door after spending all day trying to track you both down through various relatives because this is before cell phones and we were out golfing (well she was golfing with an uncle and cousin, I was along for the ride/walk), it’s a little scary.. And there’s a whole hot mess about getting to the funeral in Iowa and the snow storm in fucking May of all things and dealing with being essentially ignored by the Army because Mom was the ex and Dad had remarried and…honestly, I’m kind of glad it’s all mostly a vaguish blur (yay, for being only nine! I guess?).

The next year I lost Grandpa B (paternal grandfather), and I think that’s the first death that actually really hit me. I was pretty close to him and finally old enough to appreciate the loss.

A few more deaths occurred in intervening years, but the next major one was Grandpa P when I was thirteen and a few days before my mom, my one uncle, and I were due to go to Disney (first time for me). So, while I was sad about losing him, I might have been a bit more upset about missing out on Disney? (Although we did make up for the trip the following January, which is really not a good time to go to Florida, but it was mostly fun, aside from one tantrum I essentially had about not wanting to go to the live Barbie show–I’m not proud of that.) The one good memory associated with Grandpa P’s death is that the funeral director played cards with us (cribbage, maybe?) when he dropped off the flowers and plants after the funeral. I don’t know why, but I still think that’s pretty damn cool.

That fall, Great-Grandma passed away and hers was the last funeral I’ve gone to. I’ve been to a couple family viewings since, I think, but I kind of decided with her that I was done. I’d been to enough viewings and funerals to last a lifetime. The dead don’t care. It’s all for the living, and there are other ways I can pay my respects and show my support. Basically, if I don’t show up for you or your loved ones’ viewing/funeral, it’s not personal. It’s just a choice I’ve made. I think part of it is I’m never quite sure how to handle other people’s grief and prefer to mourn on my own. *shrug*

Actually, there is one more thing I remember about the time following Grandma P’s death. I remember that for a few nights, and every so often (even up today), I’d be afraid to fall asleep. What if I just stopped breathing, just stopped being? So from about the age of six you could say that while I’ve been okay with death I’m sort of afraid of the dying part. For me. What may or may not come after doesn’t worry me. I’d like to think there’s something more, but I’m okay if there isn’t. It’s just that transition, the stopping of everything, that terrifies me. Of course, in life, I’m not so crazy about the transition period of anything, either. Huh, this might bear more thought.

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