November 8, 2011 Prompt: Has anything traumatic ever happened to you? Describe the scenes surrounding a particular event.
There are a couple of things that I would consider somewhat traumatic in my life that I have experienced, but the one that I am choosing to share and blog about now was when I was around 6 and witnessed not so much my maternal grandmother’s death, as the process of her death.
I can’t remember if I was 5 or 6 at the time, but I had only experienced maybe one death at that point, I think. My uncle had died maybe a month or so prior to this. His is the first viewing I can remember attending. One of the things I remember most about his viewing is how odd I thought his nostrils looked for some reason; I had never seen a dead body before. The other most moving image in my memory is of someone, I think my aunt, lifting my little cousin up over the coffin in order for him to give his dad a kiss. He had to only be around 3 or 4 at the time. His little sister was only 1 or 2. I myself was only around 5 or 6.
Death is a reoccurring theme in everyone’s life, inevitably so, but I have always had an odd fear/fascination with it and an intense sentimental and nostalgic view of the past, and I can’t help but wonder if this early introduction to it is why. It has loomed over me most of my life, I guess you could say. I guess maybe I have thought about it so much that my goal is to be ready to die without fear. A pretty lofty goal for a simple girl, I think, but I have faith my path will unwind the way it needs to. I’ll give ‘er hell at the very least, anyway. George Harrison, for example, died like a man, honorably. He died of cancer, but he was ready to meet his maker. I think George Harrison was a wise and lucky Beatle. Other Beatles and people I suppose aren’t so lucky.
My mother had taken us to my grandparent’s house for a visit, in retrospect I think it was simply that my grandmother was dying and we were gathering for it. At the time, though, the younger children were gathered in the kitchen and dining room area and were being watched by the not so younger children. I don’t know what compelled me to leave the dining room and see what was going on, but I did.
My grandmother had been fighting cancer for some time. I suppose I understood some things about this but I am not sure exactly what. I knew she had lost all of her hair and wore a wig, and there was a silent feeling looming; I understood it was a disruptive and chaotic time. I didn’t understand what the ultimate “event” would be, though, perhaps.
She eventually lapsed into a coma of sorts I am told, though at the time I just knew she was in the hospital for awhile. I don’t believe I was ever taken to see her there, though. I told my mom to buy her a “stuffed animal” so she purchased a puppy puppet at the hospital gift shop that my gram called “Geisy” as she was in Geisinger Hospital for her stay. After she returned from the hospital, I remember playing with Geisy with her and she kept it with her in the hospital bed that she was sleeping in that was kept in the living room. Basically she had come home to die because there was nothing more the hospital could do. Wouldn’t you prefer to die at home?
On the night of this event she was in her hospital bed, and this is what I saw as I peered through the yellow curtains that hung in the doorway of the living room. I saw her sitting in her bed, sitting up, I suppose, and gasping or gagging, her eyes glassy, almost black looking. That’s what I remember most about this---staring her in the eyes, but her not really being there. I imagine now thinking about it that she would have had to have seen me, but when I was looking into her eyes at the time, I got the distinct impression that maybe she didn’t. I think perhaps there was even an excited split second when I first opened the curtain to the sight of my grandmother’s face, but then I was captivated by her eyes, that straight away conveyed something was terrible wrong with this situation. My mother and three of my aunts were standing around her. They were either sucking her lungs out with something or pumping her lungs up with air. I didn’t know at the time. Today I know that the cancer had moved to its last stage and taken over body; her lungs had ultimately started to fill with fluid and she was gasping for her last breaths. She was fighting death…and looking me square in the eye.
From what I am told, my grandmother fought death until the end. The cancer started in her lungs and by the end, when she was in the bed, when I was curling up next to her and playing with the puppet I instructed my mother to buy for her to make her feel better, it was deep in her bones. I didn’t get to know my grandmother that long, but I do have many memories of her because she was very involved in our lives, and I always felt that she loved us very much. I felt close to her as a little girl even though that was the only stage of my life she was able to share with me. She would sit at the table in the kitchen and play this game with me where we counted around this star that was in the retro style table top they had, you know the ones I mean; the 60’s or 70’s style that had geometric shapes and flecks of gold or silver type stuff on the top. I don’t even remember what we were doing, but it sure was fun to the child me. She always buttered the best toast too.
It was disturbing when she died, especially being that I didn’t exactly understand death so much at the time. Staring into her eyes, I could tell she wasn’t there completely, but it was still her. Did she see me? Was I one of the last things she saw before she died? Regardless of what I did or did not understand, I believe something within me understood the gravity of the situation. I stood for what seemed to me so long but could have only been minutes, my eyes taking in the scene like matching juvenile cameras. My one aunt finally noticed me and shooed me out back into the dining room with the rest of the kids. Very soon all of the children including myself were taken over to my aunt’s house to spend the night. In the morning they told us she was gone. I remember not entirely understanding what death was exactly, just knowing that she was “gone”. I remembered her eyes, though, and the heaviness of the moment, as my aunts were resuscitating her.
I was somewhat disturbed by this event for a time as a child. It gave me a pretty graphic example of a death. A couple of years later my maternal grandfather passed from cancer as well. Somewhere around the same time our baby sitter at the time, a sweet older woman, died. She had a stroke while she was driving and drove off of the road I believe. In my mid teens my uncle, my mother’s brother, passed from cancer. My mother’s sister since passed from cancer also.
All of these deaths I experienced, but only by viewings and grief. I was not an eye witness. I still had this negative image of death that was haunting me. This image wasn’t rivaled with a more positive one in my psyche until just 4 years ago when I had the honor of also witnessing the death of my paternal grandmother. I was at the foot of her bed, alongside her children and other grandchildren when she passed. It was a more “beautiful” death, if you will. It was horribly sad, but it was a much happier event than the first death I had almost witnessed. And I am certain that as with my maternal gram, I was one of the last people she saw before she closed her eyes for good. But that’s a different blog.
Regardless, this event left me with a lingering fascination or fixation if you will on death maybe. I didn’t join a cult or sacrifice animals or anything, but I think that it formed some of the paths for my thoughts and choices, reflecting now on the situation. Death is always an issue with everybody, but I saw it as a life goal when I saw it come full circle for me while witnessing the death of my second grandmother. I saw it as a cycle of destruction and creation with the later death of a friend and the birth of my daughter. A life-cycle.