My First Deaths

What was your first memorable death?

As a baby boomer raised in the American suburbs, mine was a dog named Ginger. One day, my age still counted in single digits, and mostly unaware the family puppy that I named was ill, my father took Ginger to the vet. Dad returned alone.

During high school, Mom’s mother died. I loved Grandma. She and Grandpa owned a ranch, giving me—a kid raised with sidewalks and city parks—access to a magical, wonderful realm. My most vivid childhood memories included cattle roaming vast fields, skipping rocks in the year-round creek meandering through their land, and exploring an immense walnut orchard that seemed equally mysterious and dangerous.

Following a surgery—as I inaccurately recall—health worsened for my sweet, energetic Grandma. My mother (and her siblings) would drive the two hours to the ranch, taking care of their mother. They witnessed Grandma’s decline. I did not. In the peculiar, fractured way of memories, Grandma went from happily digging in her purse for coins to buy the mud pies my older sister and I made (yup, literally dirt and water mixed in a borrowed pie tin) . . . to being dead. I don’t recall her dying. I have a hazy recollection of trooping across a cemetery, flanked by my parents, to and from Grandma’s grave.

Back then I was a shy high school nerd. How could I know that my mother’s world was rocked to the core? Read More →

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Grief Support Groups are Not for Everyone, But…

She called mere minutes after the first grief support group had ended. Which meant she was likely still out in the parking lot, using her cell phone (I hate cell phones, I love cell phones), telling me she was quitting before beginning her drive home.

Yeah, quitting.

I was still putting materials away when the office phone rang. I hadn’t even written the required brief summary for the medical charts about what happened in the opening session.

I answered the phone.

She identified herself. “Do you remember who I am?” Read More →

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A Child’s View of Dying

“Now I can have my television back,” the six-year old said.

Death has its rewards.

When I was a hospice chaplain, that’s what the youngest grandson of a patient declared soon after the death. From the mouth of babes, eh? “Unless you become like a child, you won’t enter the kingdom of God,” Jesus said. And it’s not just Christianity, for Buddha reportedly expressed, “The heart of a child is like that of Buddha.”

But a television?

All of us present chuckled when the youngster spoke of his entertainment plans. We laughed sadly—and joyfully—because of what had occurred a few minutes before . . . and what had been happening for quite a while. The grandfather had lived with the family for longer than his grandson’s lifespan: eight years. That meant adjustments for everyone. Sometimes the household had to be very quiet—hard for any kid. Trips to Disneyland were postponed. Friends couldn’t come over at certain times. Holidays were low-key.

In the final months of the grandfather’s life, with most of his time spent in a bed, he got to have the television in his room.

None of the sacrifices were easy for the six-year old or his nearly nine-year old brother. Read More →

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