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Saturday, August 28, 2010

If there were no tomorrows!

Today my mind is wandering down its own paths, thinking of a friend and how they need my prayers as they deal with the illness of a family member; how I need to go buy a birthday gift, and what will I wear to go out to dinner tonight.  I laugh at times at how much can go on in a person's mind, it's 'mind boggling' at best.

One of the prevalent thoughts that keeps peeking out through the rest, was how I have coped, dealt, handled or whatever you want to call it, with grief.  My earliest recollection of death and dying was going with my parents to a family friends wake and funeral.  My parents are European and there perception of death is that like birth it is a part of life.  I was not shielded from it, it was part of being human, it is inevitable, it is to be expected and understood, not feared or avoided.  Which there really is no way that I have found to avoid it.  At an early age I remember people crying, seeing a big box with a cover on it and lots of flowers.  It was different and I didn't ask questions, I just took it all in, and like most children, listened very closely to whatever conversation I could overhear.  I got glimpses of how he died, how his wife and children were handling it, and how sad that he was so young.  

At about the age of 6 or 7, I remember my parents getting a phone call and me and my brothers being bundled into the car.  Off we went to my grandmothers house, there were some people there already, and others kept arriving, my Uncle Joao had died in some far away country called Brazil.  My grandmother sat quietly, as others bustled around making coffee, getting this getting that, and I remember just feeling sad, and crying because all my aunts and uncles were, and this bothered me.  Why are they all so sad, they are usually laughing and tickling or teasing me, this is not what usually happens when I visit Vavo's house.  I heard the conversations, and they couldn't believe he just died at the age of 39, and that my poor cousins, who I had never met, now had no daddy.  For my grandmother it was hard, yes she had buried 7 other children most in the first year of life, but this was her baby, her first born.  She didn't cry out, but now I understand all to well, how her silent tears screamed from her heart, and I am sure she spent many a lonely night crying when no one was looking.  

Now fast forward to 15, it is just after 6 a.m., the phone rings and in some way I cannot explain, I am awake and I just know something is not right.  I hear my mom say hello, and then a simple when!  I come down the stairs, my mom is crying and trying to reach my dad who had just left for work at 5 am.  She tells me my Vavo Rose just died, and needs to call my dad.  I just sit and cry.  After the funeral and weeks have passed, I start to feel sad, really sad, we always said a rosary every night, reciting the Hail Mary, and all of a sudden I cannot say the ending to the prayer, 'now and at the hour of our ....,' the word death has me shuddering.  If I say it I know I will have nightmares, I begin to worry about my parents, what if I lose this one or that one.  I remember finally asking a priest if this was normal not to be able to at least say my prayers, and he simply told me that I could talk to God anyway I needed to, I didn't have to use written prayers, and I started to do just that.  

Wow I'm 19, I'm engaged and getting married in a few months, I'm excited and of course like any bride to be can't wait.  My Vavo Elvira has been admitted it is October and she needs surgery, okay is what my mom and her siblings agree upon.  At first everything goes well, my grandmother is responding well, November comes she is still in the hospital and we bring a cake to celebrate her birthday.  God willing she will be home soon.  Then all of a sudden something goes wrong, she begins to have some internal bleeding, at first she is still doing fine, and I visit her everyday.  But before Christmas, she has become comatose, and she is just lying there when I visit.  I finally tell my mom that I can't go anymore, it is just to hard for me to see her this way; I stop visiting her and get reports from my mom as to how she is doing.  I begin to pray earnestly for her recovery or ask God to please take her out of this pain.  Just two months before my wedding my grandmother died.  I had to call the dress shop to tell them she would not be needing her dress.  The worst part of all this was the feeling of guilt in being relieved that she was no longer suffering, mixed with the sense of loss.  All this was of course in the shadow of wedding preparations.  It hit me all at once that neither of my grandmothers would be at my wedding.  But never fear, they are always with you, the day of my wedding my grandfather handed me a letter from my grandmother, who somehow knew in her heart that she would not be there that day.  It was a bittersweet gift to receive, but one that let me know she was okay.  

I have since lost my grandfather Manuel and Joao, who both died when they were about 98 years old.  I was sadden by their deaths, but happy in knowing that they had lived full lives, surrounded by their family and friends.

2000, my dad had been living with lymphoma for over 9 years and responding well to all forms of treatment.  At Christmas just before, he had asked us to come visit, my parents were living in Florida at the time, and I was dealing with my nephews illness and the potential risk that he might not make it, and at only 14, my nephew had already gone through a lot, so I said no.  Well my dad had other plans for me, around the end of January my mom calls and tells us my dad is not doing very well, his physician calls and explains what is happening, my brothers and I fly to Florida.  We are with him for a while and even though it looks bad the doctors feel he will recover just fine.  After 9 days, I head back home.  I am home a week when I get the call that my dad had died.  The oldest of my brothers is with my mom so he helps with the arrangements there, and my 2 others brothers and I take care of all the arrangements here.  It is unbelievable, but I know my mom needs me so I go into action.  I had no guilt or remorse, I know I had been there when my dad needed me, and when I had been by his bedside at the hospital, I had told him I wanted him to stay, but it was okay if he had to go.  I reassured him that he had raised us well, and that we would be okay.  So I had said good bye and told him I loved him, even if that is not what I really wanted.  

Since my father's death, we have had several more family members who have died, and each having it's own affect on me, but all this 'experience' if you will never prepares us.  We still react with shock, we still grieve, each death in its own way.  We may have had different relationships with the individual, but they all had some impact on our lives.  And they were someone very special and dear to someone I love very much. 

Death, like birth is a integral part of humanity, to quote Disney's The Lion King - it is part of the 'Circle of Life.'  Our culture and beliefs dictate how we view death, how we deal with it.  For so many, there is the belief of eternal life, for some reincarnation, for others the spirit takes on the form of animals, whatever you believe, is what helps you move forward.  I know I will see Rachel, and all my loved ones again, and it is this belief that sustains me.  Hold on to what is dear to you, and allow yourself to fully enjoy life, and live it as if tomorrow may never come.  

Blessings! and until we meet again.

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