My relationship with Death


Photograph by lemon-topping

Today I’m going to get a little personal here. That may make you a little uncomfortable, but it’s the internet. You are two clicks away from anything else you desire.

My maternal, and only remaining Grandfather is dying. He has been for about a year and a half now. He’s had cancer, he’s broken a thigh bone, he has vertebra fused together. He has fractured other vertebra, he is in constant pain and there is nothing the doctors can do. My grandfather lives in a large house, with his very very old dog who suffers from seizures and can no longer see, pretty much by himself. My Aunt lives there too but she works in the day and is only there at night. He has refused to sell the house, and at this point it is unclear whether or not my mother could move him to live with her in North Carolina or if the trip would do him in. My mother has already lost her mother within the last 7 years, and I am afraid that this is going to be a hard blow for her as well as my older brother.

All of this sets up the next portion of this. Since finding out about my grandfathers latest fall and thus latest stint of medication and increased pain, I have been in more frequent contact with my mother and brother. My brother is trying to think of a way to get him moved down to his house and at this point, while my mother oscillates between trying to shoulder it all and sadness. The question I’ve been facing, unsaid and said is “how are you taking all this?”, my mother goes so far as to try to remember if I cried when my paternal grandmother died.

The answer to her failing recollections is that I didn’t, and the answer to the said and unsaid inquiries into my present state of being on the matter are that I’m frustrated and worried about my mother and brother. This all leads back to my relationship with death.

I don’t remember having a world turning event that opened my eyes to life and death as a child. As far back as my memory can reach the knowledge of it has just been there. In my playing as a child it was there, I knew that first time our cat Midnight disappeared that she was probably dead. I work with Gods to whom death is an undeniable presence, where sacrifice is real and sacred. Death is gritty and real. Death smells whether it’s of bodily fluids, or of the antiseptic of hospitals or some horrid combination of both. Death comes in many forms, in degrees. From the last breath, to the last time you look your loved one in the eye and see them looking back. And the more I live in this culture the more I see that the slow Death of our privileged lives is far worse struggle than we’ve been led to believe. I grew up knowing that at certain times that my father could die and not come home. And maybe it was that fact that made me realize that it wasn’t the dead that suffered from dying so much as the living.

I didn’t cry when my grandmother finally passed away. That was a very personal and intimate occurrence in my life. My grandmother had always been an influential presence in my life even though I didn’t get to see her often. I felt connected to her and her crafts, her weaving, her drawing. Then when I graduated high school, I moved in with her. While that time together was anything but delightful, it did solidify my relationship with her. She was a strong and intelligent woman, and she hated the frailty of her body. Almost daily she would tell me “I wish God would take me all at once instead of in damn pieces!” There were many days, especially when she had to be moved into assisted living home that I cried for her. I cried at the cruelty of living. I cried because I would miss her. I cried because I too wished that she could just be taken all at once. So when the time came and she was released, I had no tears to shed for her.

The truth of the matter is, I don’t have the same sentiment for my maternal grandfather. I was one granddaughter out of five, four of whom lived with him and that he helped raised. So while I’m sure my grandfather loves me, I don’t have any real memories of connection with him. I am however put into melancholy at the helplessness. I feel a great weight of responsibility towards my family. Whether imagined or not, I feel as though I am the next head of the family after my father. My mother and older brother are very dear to me, and watching them twist and turn in grief is torturing. But there is nothing more that I can do for my grandfather than they can. I have not the means to whisk in and settle everything as I would like to. And the way life and society is these days doesn’t leave me any other options to explore. Once again Death comes and my hands are tied. I can neither hurry it or harry it. I can just wait for it to pass and hope that I can be of some service to my loved ones left behind.



  1. Your insight into this really is so touching. I’m sorry for the struggle that your family is going through, and hope that your Grandfather’s passing is peaceful. Be well.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I’m not a fan of the standardization of grief. We are far too complex, different, and walking different paths to have the same relationship with something so profound to the mortal experience. Just had to get it off my chest. Thanks for following my blog 🙂

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