In the last couple of months, I’ve covered Kid Birthdays, Thankfulness, being a Working Mom, and how short life can be if someone is called home before we are ready. On the flip side of that, medical science has advanced quite a bit in the last century. We have pacemakers to make our hearts work longer, medicines to take care of common illness, and any number of treatments that help us extend our lives and enjoy time with our loved ones for as long as possible.
In December of 1799, George Washington contracted a head cold and sore throat after spending the day out on horseback in snow and sleet inspecting his farms, but went to dinner without changing out of his damp clothes, and he went out again the next day to mark trees that needed to be cut down. When the former President came back in, he was obviously sick. Instead of rest and recuperation, chicken soup or broth and Tylenol, the overseer and then several doctors took several pints of Mr. Washington’s blood – up to 5 pints! – which was the medical practice at that time. The first President of the United States died the following day.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we’ve come a long way. Our first President died at the age of 67 after living a very full life, with a long list of accomplishments under his belt. He survived numerous military campaigns, helped forge a new country, and guided our nation in its opening days – starting traditions that we still follow today, more than 200 years later.
One hundred years ago, “the war to end all wars” had just ended, and the world had lost over 16 million people during the fight – with another 50-100 million deaths following the war from resulting genocides and a flu pandemic. Little did anyone know that another world war would be just around the corner in less than 20 years.
We still have wars, and flu, incurable illness, and death. However, medical science has come a long way.
In October, we suddenly lost my former brother-in-law after a heart attack (do we ever expect a heart attack?), and my nephew lost his dad. I wrote about taking advantage of the time we have, and living life to the fullest.
This last week, we lost someone very special. My husband’s grandmother was 96 years old. She was a real life “Rosie the Riveter” during World War II – welding Liberty Ships to support the cause – and an absolutely amazing, classy lady. Mother of four, grandmother of nine, and great-grandmother of sixteen kids! She was a feisty, no-nonsense matriarch. She always opened her home to everyone, and loved to go out to eat or cook for a crowd. There was always coffee on for whoever might stop by, and if anyone did drop in, she always wanted to feed them.
Do you remember your great grandparents? I have one vague memory of going with my mom to visit her grandmother in Boston when I was very little. I did not know her, but I did meet her one time. My dad’s parents died before I was born, so I had my mom’s parents and stepmother as my only living grandparents while I was growing up. When I married my husband, I gained two grandmas and a granddad, and they were all wonderful people. I cherish the memories with all of them.
I am so incredibly grateful that my kids have known their great-grandmother so well. My middle – our 8-year-old son – took the news the hardest when she went into hospice two weeks ago. He loved his grandma. How amazing is it that my kids have been able to know her?! My oldest actually knew three of her great-grandparents, and this grandma is the last of them.
So, how do we talk to our kids about grief and loss? I am pretty frank about everything. I told each of my kids that grandma has had a long life, and reminded them that she has been sick, and that it is just her time to go to heaven. We believe that she is going to be with God, and I think our faith is a comfort. If you do not have the same beliefs, that is ok – as Christians, this is ours.
We had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day with her, she was awake and alert the whole day, ate a whole plate of food (and another of pie), and she enjoyed visiting with everyone. This is the best memory we can have.
I took each of my kids up to the hospital to say goodbye. I took my older two kids out of school, and I think they were glad that I did. I really debated taking our youngest up there. First, I took her over to a friend’s house to play while the older kids and I had our visit. But, when I picked her up, she said “I want to go see grandma.” And that is good! When my grandfather died – over 10 years ago now – I flew to New York to say goodbye in his last days. My daughter, who was 4 at the time (now almost 16), was furious with me because I didn’t take her with me on the plane. Kids need closure, too. But, each child is different and we certainly do not need to force a goodbye if they don’t want to see someone in their final days. I think it is always better to give them the opportunity if you can, just in case they may want to do that.
While we are never ready for death, it is part of life. Whether it is sudden and unexpected, or the end of a long life well lived, let us cherish the lives of those around us. Let us celebrate the memories and traditions that were shared with our special people. Grandma Betty loved the holidays, time with family, and baking/cooking for all of her kids, grandkids and great-grandkids. These are the things we will treasure as we all come together during the Christmas season – even more than usual. Be thankful for your family and friends, cherish the times you have together, and celebrate life!