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Death & Dying ~ PART 1 of 2 (*Warning: Contains Sensitive Material)

Posted Oct 03 2010 5:26pm
In my 34 years of life I have gone to waaaaay too many funerals.  I've been going to them since I was just a kid.  I know lots of people go to funerals all the time, after all that's what the cycle of life is all about - we all will die one day.  The thing is, it's the AGE of the people and they WAY they died that have traumatized me (I'll get into that in a bit).

I don't know why I have had to deal with so many deaths while others haven't the slightest clue on what it feels like to lose someone you love?  I have friends that still have all their grandparents, aunts/uncles, etc... which (I think) is unusual.  In some ways I envy them for still having all their loved ones in their life, but at the same time I don't because I really don't know how they're going to deal with the pain and grief when one of them dies.  I, at least, have been (as much as anyone can be) "prepared" for it all throughout my life.

As you'll soon discover, I have been surrounded by a number of deaths - a number that even my therapist thinks is unusual.  I remember the session I had with her and recounting all the different people in my life who have come and gone.  I know this is morbid and depressing to talk about, but I need to get this off my chest.  We both wondered if the fact that I've been around death so much doesn't actually "mean" something... what it means, I still haven't figured it out yet.

One thing I need you to know is that I never had a healthy childhood.  I was physically and emotionally abused beginning as a toddler (if not earlier - it's just that I can't remember THAT far back), until the day I (some could say - "ran away") moved out at the age of 17.  I went to live with my friend and her family.  One day I'll share that story with you, but for now I think this whole "death topic" is enough to deal with at the moment.  My point in telling you this is that I didn't (obviously) have a healthy childhood growing up and because of that fact, our family never dealt with emotions (besides anger - mostly).  So I never learned how to grieve.  All I was told was that "we go to heaven" and that "we'll see all our loved ones there again when we die".  But talking about it - when someone died - nope - no one did any of that.  

They are gone, but NOT forgotten....

I was in 2nd grade when a very dear aunt of mine died of cancer.  I remember going to visit her with my Mom and seeing her body just wither away.  I couldn't stand seeing it.  It broke my heart.  I also remember not completely understanding what exactly was going on - after all, I was what?  8 years-old at the time?  I clearly remember the call the night she died.  We all gathered in the living room and were told that she had passed away.  My Mom quietly cried;  my Dad just sat there like it was any other day, and my siblings didn't really say anything.  We didn't really talk about her or anything.  We just sat there.  The funeral was terrible.  Hearses creep me out - still to this day - I can't stand it when I drive past one (but I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels this way).  I remember crying throughout the mass because I did know one thing for sure - that my aunt was NOT going to all of a sudden "wake up" and get out of that coffin - oh no - No - she was going to be buried in that box and put six feet under - so that meant I would never see her again and that scared the shit out of me.  If SHE can die, then ANYONE can die.  And that was my first (of many) experiences of death - I had no idea how many more were to come - and how so close together.

First Experience "Dealing" With (Multiple) Suicides...

Shortly thereafter, in grade school not one -  but two of my classmates had a sibling who committed suicide.  One of them lived in a house that I had to walk by on my way to school every single day.  My classmate's sister had killed herself by sitting in a running car in the garage - breathing in the exhaust fumes... dying from carbon monoxide poisoning.  I can't even imagine what my classmate had been going through - and especially being so young when it happened.  I love my siblings and can't imagine my life without them...  For years I had to walk past that house (they eventually sold it), but just knowing what happened in that garage made me anxious and terrified every time I walked past it to and from school.

Shockingly, it wasn't long after her death that a sibling of another classmate had killed himself.  This time it was a gunshot wound to the head.  Our teachers were stunned.  They didn't know how to handle one, let alone TWO suicides within the same classroom.  One day that classmate and I made plans to hang out at her house.  It had been some time since the death (not sure how long, but it wasn't immediately after).  When you walk in the front door you immediately enter the living room, and that was obviously where her brother had shot himself because there was still blood stains all over the place.  In the carpet, on the chair... I tried not to look horrified, but at the same time I was only a little kid myself.  I couldn't make sense of it all.  I remember her saying something along the lines of "yeah, we haven't gotten around to getting new carpeting yet..."  We didn't talk about it because I didn't know what to say and my parents were certainly no help in that department.

Again, while still in grade school, our teacher had us pair up with students in a nearby town and write to them as pen pals.  I enjoyed this a lot and really liked the pen pal I received.  We wrote often, sent each other our pictures, and other little stuff.  We really got to know each other.  It was wonderful being able to get to know someone outside my school (I wasn't the most popular kid)... And having her to talk to, someone who didn't judge me was nice.  We even made plans to meet.  I can't exactly remember how I heard, although I'm pretty sure it was my teacher who told me that my pen pal had died.  She died in a car accident.  I was in shock!  Then I saw the story on the local news and read the article in the newspaper.  I couldn't believe that MY pen pal - someone MY age - had DIED.  The world just was NOT making sense at ALL to me.  As usual - I was left to cope with this tragedy on my own.

Before high school started I remember attending the funeral of one of my uncles.  He passed away from cancer too.  Like before, I went with my Mom to visit him and just watch him wilt away.  He was always so loving and kind.  I hated being around death.  I hated seeing the pain it caused to the people who were left behind.

Then Came High School...

Then I started high school.  I was actually enjoying myself!  I met so many new friends.  It was like I had a do-over from grade school (grade school, where I live, was considered 1st -8th grade - so I had the same classmates for 8 years - Granted most of them went to this same school - but it was a much LARGER class).  So - Freshman year at a new school and I got to know some great people.  It felt so wonderful to be accepted.  There were sleep overs and hanging out at the mall - just the typical girl stuff... but then, as usual, another tragedy had occurred.  One of the sweetest people that I had met and was just getting to know had killed herself.  I was stunned.  She was one of the kindest persons I had known, was a great student, a talented dancer....she had so much going for her - expect that her parents didn't like her boyfriend.  Her body was found in the woods of a nearby park, and laying next to her was her ballet shoes, a note, and the gun that she shot herself with.  I remember the story of her death covering the front page of the local newspaper.  And again, my parents were no where to be found when I needed to understand what had just happened.  I wanted someone to make sense of all of it... but I had no one to turn to.

After Freshman year I switched to another school.  I was scared as shit to start at a new school and starting a year after my classmates had already gotten to know one another.  I was the "new girl".  I only knew a couple of people in the entire school.  Talk about having anxiety and panic attacks!  Thankfully some of the people I DID know were people that I worked with and were close friends with.  I loved that job.  It was a small group of people ranging in ages from 13-18.  So when I went to the new school it helped to know people in the higher levels and have them on your side.  Luckily the people at my new school were very inviting.  They didn't make me feel like an outsider at all.  I loved that a dear friend (a guy that I worked with) was in one of my classes.  That helped a LOT.  He was older too - and it that always helps.  (Like I said - having friends in higher grades and who were liked truly made a difference).  People at worked always joked around that we both liked each other because we were always picking on each other.  He used to drive me home after work too when we worked the same nights together (otherwise I usually walked).  So having him in one of my classes was so much fun.  We would always correct each others tests and he'd always add his artwork to my papers.  He LOVED correcting my tests because I was horrible at math - so of course he made fun of it - although he wasn't that much better at it himself.

So here I was at my new school - loving my new classmates, loving my job and the fun we had discussing (or shall I say - ripping on each other) over the days events (like how I did poorly on a recent test)... Then, as usual, my world came tumbling down around me again.  It was a Saturday and my girlfriend and her mom and sister picked me up to go shopping.  All I remember is someone mentioning something about an accident and how terrible it was.   It turns out the person they were discussing was MY friend.  My buddy - the guy that relentlessly picked on me and who I teased back.  The guy that gave me rides home from work and would always try to scare the shit out of me by making me think he was going to ram his car with one that was parked on the road that we just past.  The guy who ALWAYS made me smile.  The guy who had a heart of gold but hated to be thought of as such.

I sat there in the back of the car just stunned and in shock.  They apparently thought I had already heard about his death.  I remember my friend's sister turning around from the front seat to look at me telling me it was the truth - because I honestly thought for a moment they were kidding.  He was with a friend up north and they were driving around (both drunk) - but he was the passenger.  They were driving too fast on the gravel road and truck spun out of control and hit a tree or pole or something... and my friend (not wearing his seat belt) was thrown from the car and died instantly.  The driver lived.  I was so angry with his friend. Why did HE get to live and my friend die?  I broke down and my friend's mom thought it best to take me home.

I was dropped off and when I walked in the house my parents were there and I stammered out that my friend had died.  Then I started crying and couldn't stop...  They really didn't know what to do or say (as usual).  I remember AGAIN the story in the paper the next day - with his picture posted right above it (I still have the article to this day).  I remember reading his obituary still in disbelief that he was actually gone.  I actually worked with his Mom too.  I didn't know how I was going to face her and see all the pain and grief in her face...  I had never cried so much as I did when he died.  As I was sitting on the living room floor heaped over, looking at the newspaper through blurry eyes, there came a knock at our door.  It was my grandparents.  I answered the door holding the newspaper,  just bawling and my grandma immediately hugged me and held onto me while I cried.  My grandma and grandpa were the one constant in my life - constant in their love, their dependability, their EVERYTHING. 

My Own Brush With Death...

I too had my own brush with death shortly after.  I was at one of my Confirmation classes and I kept begging my girlfriend (who drove us there) to PLEASE take us to Burger King after because I really REALLY wanted a chicken sandwich.  That was the plan initially, but her Dad was kind of being cranky that night and she had changed her mind thinking that she better come home right after so as not to get in trouble with her Dad.  Eventually my nagging won out and she took me and two other friends with.  But before we left the class that night our teacher said to us "May an angel watch over you until our next meeting".  So there we were on our way to get my chicken sandwich.  We were sitting at a stop sign waiting to take a left when my friend (for some reason) did not see the oncoming car and pulled out right in front of it!  I remember we all screamed because we saw it and then the next thing we knew the car was spinning around (for what seemed like forever) until it finally came to a stretching halt (of all places) in a salvage yard.  I remember my friends thinking I was dead because I didn't move (I suppose I was in shock).  We were lucky in that we all survived the crash - and so did the other person who we collided with.  When the cops came he had us sit in the back of his car to give our statement.  It turns out that where the car hit ours, if it had been a second sooner or later, my friend who was in the back seat with me and I would have died.  (I have to admit that I was NOT wearing a seat belt - I've learned my lesson and wear it EVERY time I get into a car).  Once we heard the cop tell us that we were seconds away from being dead we started crying.  But it's what the cop said after that that had us all shocked... he said "An angel must have been watching over you girls tonight"....!!!!!  The following week our Confirmation teacher had us tell our story - it was VERY evident that angels were indeed watching over us that night.

The College Years...

I thought I had known enough people in my lifetime who had committed suicide and wasn't expecting to hear of yet another senseless death.  A girl I had grown up with and whose Dad worked with my Dad had experienced yet another preventable tragedy.  Her brother was found in a bathroom stall, dead from huffing - and it wasn't an accident... Visiting her and her family at their house was hard.  I had "dealt" with this before, but I still didn't know what to say to comfort her.  Her Mom was completely distraught and my heart just ached for her.  I felt completely useless as I left their house - and I didn't feel any better when I saw them at the funeral...

My Grandma....

Many can say "she lived a long life" - and it's true - but I still needed her.  She hadn't been feeling great for a while now and finally went to see a doctor where she was given a clean bill of health.  However, she wasn't getting any better my Grandpa urged her to see someone else - it was then that she found out she had liver cancer and only had months to live.   Now the most important person in the world to me was dying and I couldn't deal with it.  She was so strong throughout her illness.  She never complained - that was just who she was.  Since my college campus was close enough to their house I would stop by often and each lunch with my Grandpa.

At this time I was still not living at home.  If you recall, I had mentioned before that I had moved out of my parent's house and was living with a friend and her family.  The night she died I was at a volunteer meeting with some friends I met at college.  When I got back to my friend's house where I was living there was a message from my parents - it was my Grandma - she had gotten worse and I needed to see her right away.  I had just seen her earlier that day as I had stopped by to eat lunch with my Grandpa and then before going back to class I went into her bedroom and leaned down and gave her a kiss on the cheek telling her I loved her.  She told me she loved me back... If I had only known that these were her final hours I would have never left her side.  I'm still mad at myself for not being reachable because I was at a dumb meeting (trying to do something good no less!)

By the time I got to my grandparents house she had passed away and the first person to greet me when I got there was my Dad's cousin - she was so wonderful - she had a great sense of humor - but she knew when to be serious.  Before I could even get in the house she came up to me and hugged me telling me she was gone.  I was so upset because everyone else was there with her - they were all around her bed when she died (besides my aunt who lived out of town and was on her way up at the time).  The only difference was at that point my grandma didn't know who anyone was.  I take comfort in the fact that I got to see her earlier that day and kiss her goodbye - even if I didn't know it was to be the last time I would talk to her.  Losing my grandma took too much of a toll on me that I couldn't concentrate on school anymore - with my grades in the toilet I gave up and dropped out.   I couldn't go on without my beloved grandma... (however, I did end up going back and earning my degree years later).  I actually have a wonderful story to share about my Grandma - but I'll save that for a future post.

In fact... I didn't intend for this post to be soooooo long.  I want to be able to finish up and to give my thoughts on everything but I guess I'll have to save it for my next post.  I'm just so emotionally exhausted at this point.  I wish I could say that it stops here - that there's some relief or break in the pain - (not just for me, but for those that I love) but unfortunately it only continues (as life does).... However - I have to believe that there's a reason behind all of this and I intend to share those thoughts in my next post. 


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