This Bizarre Condition Known as Grief

Karen & Jane

Me and my Granny

For my followers who don’t know me personally, you may have wondered where I have been for the past few weeks.  My wonderful grandmother, who has been living with us since February, passed away on July 12.  But let me reassure you, I don’t intend for this post to be depressing.  It may be sad, yes, but hopefully not dismal.

First, let me say that I am blessed to have so many people who have made my life better in some way or another, just by being part of it.  But the fact remains that by loving we open ourselves to the inevitable pain of losing that loved one sooner or later.  I have lost several people to death, some quite unexpected, such as the teenage son of a family friend who was killed in a car accident, or my paternal grandfather who died peacefully in his sleep several years ago, with no advance warning that anything was wrong. Some we were able to “prepare” ourselves for, if there is such a thing, such as my husband’s step-dad’s mom, both of his dad’s parents, and both of his mom’s parents. His mom’s mother, his “Nan”, lived with us for the last 9 months of her life.  While I certainly loved all of my husband’s grandparents, and my grandpa, I wouldn’t say that I had a particularly close relationship with any of them.  Even his Nan was not quite the same woman I knew, as dementia had left her usually thinking she was a young girl.

Jane & Janice

Gran with my mom, Janice

scan0039

The Nicholas Family
Johnny, John, Jane, & Janice

But my granny was a HUGE part of my life.  I was born in Orlando, FL, to an unwed mother who recognized that my biological father did not have the ability to help care for a child.  For the first two years of my life, mom and I lived with her parents.  When she married my step-father, who is truly my daddy, we lived within walking distance of my granny and granddaddy for the next several years.  Just before I turned seven, we moved to Indiana to be closer to his parents, and I mourned the loss.  But we continued to visit granny and granddaddy nearly every summer, and as I got older I would frequently spend several weeks of the summer with them.

After I got married, Rob and I continued to travel to Florida nearly every year to stay with my grandparents.  Then in 2005, when both of them were struggling with health issues to the point that they really needed help, they moved to Indiana, two blocks from mom.  I was thrilled to be able to see them more often.  And even with two kids of my own, and working or taking classes toward my PhD, we tried to have dinner with them every couple of weeks or so.

Nick, Granddaddy, Katie, and Granny

Nick, Granddaddy, Katie, and Granny
Just before they moved to Indiana in 2005

Many of my best qualities I can at least partially attribute to them: a fierce loyalty to family and friends, a faith in God that has seen me through some pretty rocky times, a passion for hosting guests and making them feel at home, and a desire to help and care for others that extends far beyond my small sphere of influence.

Nurse Jane

Nurse Jane

Gran was a nurse, and spent most of her career in a nursing home in Orlando.  Though I suppose some people would think it odd, it never seemed strange to me to go in with her on her “graveyard” shift to work side-by-side with her as she cared for her patients.  I watched her give everything she had, even as she battled ever-increasing back pain from her early forties.  She was short in stature, but far stronger than she looked.  And she approached even daunting tasks with a determination that overcame her small frame.

I suppose her stubbornness was one of her most defining characteristics.  She never wanted to admit there was something she couldn’t do. This did cause some conflict in her last few years, because she was determined to do things she could no longer do safely.   But I couldn’t help but recognize that that same bull-headed obstinancy was a trait that I had so admired in her.

She was also quick to smile and laugh, to just be silly, and she loved her family with the ferocity of a mama bear.  She loved her grandchildren dearly, and often lamented that they didn’t live closer (mom in Indiana and uncle Johnny in West Virginia).  I think for her that was the biggest perk of moving up here:  she got to see some of her grands and great-grands.

She was bouncy and enthusiastic on the last day I saw her before she abruptly fell ill.  She had gone to church with granddaddy and mom that morning, and ended up making a batch of fudge after we left that evening.  She was going to stay with granddaddy for at least a little while, because she was doing so much better.  The next day, she was non-responsive and running a high fever.  She had developed a UTI, and it was the final hit for her already failing kidneys.  She never did regain consciousness, and by Friday evening she was gone.

In some ways the whole week was extremely surreal.  Even though she had been battling a myriad of health issues for several years, the abruptness of her unconsciousness was a shock.  I suspect there really is no way to “prepare” yourself for the death of a loved one.  I suppose we did get to say our goodbyes, but she was not capable of saying goodbye to us.

Now I find that the strangest things bring tears.  The mention of her love of Scrabble at her memorial service, the memory of how fond she was of my spastic puppy, just walking by her empty room.  It’s so cliche, having that empty room remind me of the empty place she has left in my life. 

Cutting the cake

John and Jane,
cutting their wedding cake

But the worst part is seeing my granddaddy missing the love of his life, with whom he shared 63 years of marriage and raised two children, seven grandchildren, a multitude of great-grands, and even a great-great grand.  He is lost without her, and I can only imagine how lost I would be without the love of my life.

John & Jane at piano

Still in love

I wonder how long it will be before those little reminders stop turning me into a blubbering idiot, and merely cause a bittersweet heartache.  Right now it’s still too fresh, and I don’t believe that there is a set amount of time that is supposed to pass before we “get over” the death of a loved one.  In fact, I’m not even sure such a state is possible.

But I remember how she was the last time I spoke to her.  I told her how much I loved her, and admonished her to take care of herself and to be careful.  I am so grateful that I was able to care for her for the last several months, even as challenging as she could be at times.  I remember all of the times I spent with her over the years, how much she loved me, and everything I learned from her.  And I am sure that I will see her again in heaven, where she will not be suffering any of the pain that has plagued her for most of her life.

That, above all, is my comfort.  I know I will see her again.

2008-03-08 Jane Johnny's wedding

Gran at my brother’s wedding in 2008

You are fiercely loved, Gran, and desperately missed.

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7 Important Lessons Deaf People Can Teach You About Communication

I think I can safely say that most of us who are not deaf have not spent much time pondering what it would be like if we were.  But since my daughter is becoming fairly proficient in sign language, I’ve not only thought more about what it must be like, but how my own methods of communication have room for improvement.  I think that’s why I found this short article so interesting.

I have a fairly expressive face.  If I am happy, sad, or irritated, chances are you can look at my face and tell.   I’m not very good at hiding my emotions.  But not everyone is proficient at reading those expressions.  My grandmother who is living with us has lost much of her hearing, and unfortunately has not grasped the skill of reading body language, or of choosing the most likely word.  When she mis-hears a word, she will often suggest an alternate word that may sound vaguely similar, but be entirely out of context of the preceding conversation.  This can cause a great deal of confusion, and often some pretty humorous suggestions.  But more importantly, she has a tendency to misread facial expressions.  When I come in to check on her because I’ve heard her up in the middle of the night, I may be concerned for her well-being, but she interprets the lines on my forehead as anger that she has disturbed me.

I must admit that I’ve found this quite frustrating.  I have come to check on her and see if there is anything she needs, and she is convinced that I’m mad at her for waking me up.  So not only do I have to determine whether she needs anything, I have to spend a good deal of time convincing her that I’m not angry.  I have tried to school my features a little better, so that she doesn’t get that wrong impression, but I’ve been pretty unsuccessful so far.  So the idea that we all should get better at  maintaining eye contact, and be more observant of body language and interpret it correctly really hit home with me.

I much prefer to have a conversation with someone in person.  I’ve never been much for long conversations on the phone, or carrying on a relationship exclusively online unless distance made it necessary.  I would rather see your face, interact with you, and hug you goodbye.  But so much of our communication is online now, and we end up sacrificing those minute details of interpersonal communication.  Emoticons are an effort to make up for part of that loss, but of course they can’t compensate for everything.

I think that’s why it’s even more important to make sure that when we ARE physically together we focus on the conversation at hand, instead of constantly posting to FB, checking e-mail, and otherwise excluding those details that are not available to us online or over the phone.  Surely that friend or family member is worth a few moments of your undivided attention.  Let us not forget to really plug in to one another when we get the opportunity to do so!