Death is a pretty extreme event in someone's life; one that everyone must endure. We all know it is coming one day, but most of us take it for granted as we go about our daily lives. However, once in a while a person will be a part of another's death and get to experience the process from a close perspective. I have a personal experience regarding death and dying and the process that goes along with it with my grandmother. She spent her last few weeks in total care but even before that there was a long period in which the entire family knew that death was right around the corner. Some people die unexpectedly, while others well know well in advance that it death is coming in the near future.
My grandmother's case certainly represents the latter. I personally have mixed emotions about knowing that death is coming. On one hand there is a chance to say your peace and prepare yourself the best you can for the loss of a loved one. On the other hand, the process is so traumatic that there is a small part of me that wishes it could have happened all at once. One of the things about death though is that you never get to pick the way you get to go (excluding suicide of course). You are at the mercy of whatever natural or supernatural forces you believe in and must roll with the punches so to speak. In this narrative I will talk about my experience during my grandmother's death and the time leading up to it and the emotions and other occurrences that were associated with her passing. All and all, I believe that living through this experience has given me a new perspective on life in general.
My grandmother's life, towards the end of her life, was well-defined by Alzheimer's disease. Therefore, she would forget almost everything but then remember some of the most peculiar things as well. Alzheimer's is a really strange kind of phenomenon for a family to endure. For me, I knew it was my grandmother, the same person that I have known my whole life, yet at the same time it was not quiet her. It was some kind of mix of my grandmother and a complete stranger. Sometimes she would be in the greatest of moods while she sang and enjoyed her daily routine. However, other times she could be so blunt that it could almost bring you to tears. For example, on some occasions she would tell me to go away with a serious and grave face like she meant business. She would say "I have no time for you. I am dying."
Comments such as these were hard to handle. They could just make you feel awful inside. In my case it often made me angry as well. Not really at my grandmother though, it was anger that I think that was directed at the disease. Sometimes it was at the nurses or the doctors and the drugs they gave her that never seemed to help as they were supposed to. When she was in pain she was given morphine and this simply made her a different person altogether. The best way to some up my experience with my grandmother and her Alzheimer's is that you never quiet knew what percentage of the person who looks just like your grandmother is actually her and which part is the stranger.
Some of the things that she would remember would be from television. She always enjoyed her favorite TV shows and watched TV up until the end. This was always one thing that was constant and I think she liked the routine that the programming provided. She had seen so many changes in her life. Can you even imagine being able to remember the first televisions, refrigerators, and washing machines and then living through the information age during your later years? It must have been so overwhelming for her and everyone else in her peer group. It was also always interesting how she viewed the changes. She would say that we played to many video games or watched too many movies and should spend more time outside with our friends. She would also say that we should have more friends and that was one of the most important parts of life.
After the Alzheimer's disease really started to pick up its pace it really changed everything. She used to think that my brother who was in his thirties was eight years old and not old enough to drive. She stopped recognizing me and I, or someone in my family, would constantly have to tell her who everyone was and how they were related to her. She mixed things up constantly and couldn't remember where she put anything. Sometimes she would forget where she was altogether and start panicking. She would think that prostitutes were everywhere and prostitution was a common thing that happened all the time. She was also a racist against people of color and would say the most embarrassing things in awkward circumstances about people of color and how they were taking over. Sometimes she would actually get physically violent. One time she got mad about something and started throwing patio furniture. Another time she visited an uncle who she hadn't seen in a long time and she became so upset she had to be sedated.
When my grandmother's time was near the end, we all knew it was coming. The doctors had informed us that she had stage five cancers and that it had spread throughout her entire body. The doctors did not know exactly which day it would be but that they knew that it would be just a matter of a couple weeks. She spent her last few weeks under total doctor's care and under heavy medication. The doctors had told her that there was nothing they could do to save her and she would be passing anytime. Given the Alzheimer's, it is hard to know exactly how much of this she understood and how much she forgot. She was so heavily medicated towards the end it was hard to know if she could even hear you. So you got to say what you wanted to her but you never knew if she heard you or really understood. This was something of an awkward feeling but I feel better knowing that I at least got to verbalize what I wanted her to know. Some part of me feels like she understood.
The perspective gained by experiencing a death of a loved one is definitely a mixed bag. It lets you know how fragile life can be and helps you to appreciate what you have but it can be a trying experience as well. In a way, I feel like my grandmother was lucky that she got to live a full life. Many people die prematurely. You could cross the street tomorrow and get hit by a bus; you just never really know. However, the Alzheimer's disease and its implications are so difficult to deal with. I experienced the full range of emotions with my grandmother. I was angry, in disbelief, shock, and upset. I was awestruck at what she could and couldn't remember and was always surprised when she couldn't remember my name.
I think that this experience has added to my perspective because I now know that I am going to die. I always knew it but now I know what it is like seeing it firsthand. It is truly and awful experience in just about every way imaginable. However, when I think about it from time to time it actually reduces my stress levels in an odd way. When I think about my grandmother's death and how fragile life is then I don't think some things are as important as I used to. For example, when I get stressed out at school or with a girl, when I consider death and dying it just doesn't seem like it is that important anymore and what will happen. I think I gained the "stop and smell the roses" perspective from experiencing death first hand. Although I don't always have this perspective in mind, it does cross my mind from time to time and I think it has helped me grow as a person.
Realizing that we all must die is something that we don't necessarily think about on a regular basis during our daily lives. However, every once in a while in our lives, the process of death and/or dying will cross our paths; when it does it should be embraced to the fullest extent. Most people don't want to think about it or deal with death. Avoidance is definitely a common strategy. However, if you don't embrace death then you are not experiencing life to the fullest. For example, death is the opposite of life and being cognizant of the other pole helps…