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My experiences with death and grief have been many involving pets, family members, friends, classmates and members of my school and faith communities. The grief I experienced differed depending on the relationship I had with the person who died and the circumstances surrounding their death. My faith and belief in an after life gives me comfort that they have gone on to a better place, and I will see them again some day.
My first experience with death other than that of a pet came in middle school when a boy, Jacob, who was two years younger than me committed suicide on a Friday afternoon. It came as such a shock to the entire school community, and we didn’t really know how to process it at first. The teachers were having a hard time with it too. We all attended the funeral in the days that followed, and I remember counselors coming in from the high schools and Catholic Charities to meet with us in large groups and individually. Their presence in the school really helped the teachers and those who were struggling with the saddness of Jacob’s suicide.
My second and third experiences with death were as a result of losing two close family members within a few years. I lost my uncle, Dan, rather suddenly as a result of liver failure. He was only 49 years old. I was able to visit him in the hospital in the days prior, but when he was close to death my mom made the decision not to take me again. That was difficult for me, because I wanted to say goodbye to him. She later told me she thought it would be too hard for me to see him in the state he was in. I could have dealt with the grief of losing my uncle better if given a chance to say goodbye to him during his final days. Several years later my grandma, Barbara, died from complications of Alzheimers. I lived in a multigenerational extended family household for the first eight years of my life with both my Uncle and Grandma living with mom and I. Living my early life with those who have now passed on resulted in a close bond and a great impact on me when they died. I grieved for my uncle, but after the funeral was over my grieving ended. I understood he was in a better place. It was different with my grandma. It has been a number of years since she passed, and I still grieve from time to time when I see things that remind me of her and our relationship.
During my college years I experienced episodes of grief from life changes such as relocating for college, death of a classmate, loss of a family pet and broken relationships. The excitement of college was amazing the first few months finding new friends, living in the dorms and having the freedom to do what I liked. However, just a few months my boyfriend of three years broke up with me. I was crushed. It affected every aspect of my life. I experienced great sadness that would flood over me at times and then wash away. I was grieving for the future I had planned. I eventually got busy with school and my grief and feeling of loss subsided. Next, came the suicide of a fellow classmate whom I had known from elementary school. We weren’t close friends, but we both enjoyed track and field and often spoke and supported each other at events in high school. The funeral was sad, and it seemed such a loss for this talented young man with his whole life ahead of him to have given up on life. After the funeral there was a period when I felt grief in the form of sadness for him and his family. The greatest loss was when my pet of 17 years, Sandy, died. As an only child she was family to me. It happened a year ago, and I still see photos and videos of a year ago on social media and miss her. My experiences of grief and loss due to death, suicide and loss of relationships have been worked through and made me the person I am today.
There are five manners of death: natural, accident, suicide, homicide, and undetermined. Throughout my life I have come to know three of the five manners of death. A majority has been through family or close family friends. The first time I knew the concept of death was my great aunt Julia. I was in second grade at this point in my life, and only had the chance of meeting her once. However I remember being very sad that such a wonderful person was now gone. Back then my mother gave me some really good advice on how to process why she had to leave us, and that was that as people get older their bodies start to break down, and also God wants them back with him. It took me a while to figure out what it all meant, but I could understand that our creator calls us back to be with him at some point. Two of the hardest deaths for me, would have to be the day my uncle died, and then when my grandmother passed. My uncle died of a failed liver because he was an alcoholic. My family hide the fact that he was dying in the hospital, because he didn’t want any of the grandchildren to see what he looked like on his last days. You’ll never truly forget the day that you find out someone really close to you has passed away. I can tell you exactly what I was wearing, what game I was playing, where I was sitting in the house and what time of day it was. All I wanted to do was say goodbye to my uncle one last time, but never got the opportunity to. Instead of really greaving I knew that I would have to be strong for my mother and family. I tried to be there for her as much as I could, and not let it show as much how hurt I truly was, and how much I missed him.
The hardest death for me would have to be when my grandmother died. She had Althemeizers which is a terrible disease because of how it attacks the body, but you are able to tell how quickly the body is deteriorating so you can sort of prepare for the inevitable. The day she passed away was one of the hardest days of my life. No one was really expecting it to happen because she was having good days prior to her death. The moment my mother got the phone call that my grandma has passed away was the moment I knew everything was going to be different. We decided to go see her in the facility that she was being housed, and all I can remember was seeing my grandmother but also truly not seeing her.
Her body was there yes, but her spirit and what made her human was no longer with us. Realizing that and seeing that was very difficult, also thinking about how at one moment one can be present and full of life and then the next just be nothing but a body. It took me quite a while to process her death. I couldn’t wrap my head around her actually being gone, it took me years to truly believe that she was no longer with us. I did not grieve very well. In fact for a lot of years I was angry that it happened. I was especially angry towards God, for taking her away. Even though now I know that she was a whole lot better off dying than having to be trapped in this world not remembering much and not being herself anymore. I was angry at the whole world, for a good three to four years. She was kind of the reason I liked going to church and believing in God, and to have that one person being taken away from you was hard for me to accept. I slowly started to accept that she was in a better place, and that instead of seeing it as a horrible thing to start remembering all the good times we had. Any day that there are cumulus clouds I always think of my grandma, and am finally at peace with her loss.
Its really hard to lose amazing people, and people that have taught you so much, but once you can get through the grieving process and accept the death that happened its not as bad if you are just able to get a different perspective. Sudden deaths are harder for one to process than if you are prepared for a death.
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