Death and Dying: Learning as we go (revised)

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  More than a decade ago I remember watching a film staring Mathew Perry and Bruce Willis. "The Whole Nine Yards" was entertaining comedic Hollywood nonsense, yet one quote by Bruce Willis , aka Jimmy The Tulip" Teduski, stayed with me for all these years. It was intended as a 'punchline', but the truth in it's content was immediately categorized in my long term memory.     

     Ever since then I've had a silly vision in my head where, in my last moments of life, with whomever still cared enough to be there for me, all I can come up with to say as a last testament is "Everybody dies. Sooner or later"

     I've been thinking about dying when I get older (hopefully) and I'm sure I can come up with something a little more prophetic to pass to my kin that's not a copyright infringement. I'm seriously hoping  I have memories left other than that one silly quote by Bruce Willis. Yippee ki yay mother #*^%^& was my second choice, should I have no brain left. If it goes down that way I want it written on my headstone. Just kidding, don't do it!

    I know there are people out there , like myself, who have friends or family whom are sick and perhaps don't have a whole lot of time left. It doesn't matter how healthy we keep ourselves, or how hard we try to keep those around us, alive and well....eventually we become owners of the cold hearted reality of caring for (or at least about) a loved one whom we know will be leaving us behind, a little sooner, rather than later. It's a hard road for everyone who's ever been there, or eventually will be.

     I have been blessed with a mix of family young and old who have enjoyed life with relatively few physical ailments or impairments; that's not to say that some of us aren't a little kooky at times, but, family funerals are an unwelcome and rare event.

Seniors in our family have gracefully passed in the intended natural order. As a teenager my grandfather was first (for me) at age sixty-five . Then later, as a young adult (forty) my grandmother passed at age eighty-seven. As sad as it was, I was ok with it. As the years passed memory of my Grandfather and Nanny would come alive from time to time, leaving me with an increasing amount of personal questions about whether or not I did my best for them while they were alive. No doubt wishing I could have some of that time back. There was so many questions I forgot to ask. It's too late now.

     The death of my Grandmother in March 1999 took place at her home in Brighton, United Kingdom. The twenty years prior to her death, I had only seen her once when she made the journey to Toronto to visit family eighteen years earlier. I'm not sure if it was fate, or good fortune, but I just happened to be in The United Kingdom in March 1999 and on the last day of a two week business trip I made the three hour journey by train to see my grandmother. She didn't really know who I was as her mind had started to go other places, but it was a pleasant visit as she told stories abound as clear as if it was yesterday. Time came to say our goodbye's and as I walked away down her beautiful English walkway, I noticed Nan standing in the doorway not having got up on two feet even once the past three hours. She was staring out, as if gazing across a vast ocean. I returned to the doorway where she stood and gave her one last hug. I said "I'll be back in about a year Nanny, we'll see you you". She looked up at me and said "I don't think so...Goodbye Stevie"  Nanny remembered my name for the first time since I arrived. She used to call me "Stevie" as a young boy. That was the highlight of my day, Nan remembered my name.

    That very same evening we left Brighton's scenery behind, headed for Heathrow Airport and boarded a Boeing for Canada. The moment I stepped in the door of our downtown Toronto skyrise, the phone was ringing. It was my cousin Virginia calling to say Nanny had died last night  just two hours after I had said goodbye. That "goodbye" meant forever, I was too short sighted to see it at the time.

     Twenty-four years later I ask myself questions about that day. If I had stayed for a few days instead of hours would she have lived longer? Probably , but only while I was there. She had a sense she was dying and seemed to know when it was time to go. Peacefully, by herself, her way. This was a death that was as close to perfect as death can be. My Grandmother had a great sense of humour but I would never do the "Weekend at Bernie's" thing with her, although she loved the film and would have gone along with the idea just for a laugh. "May as well have one last kick at the cat", she'd say.

    Fortunately, for my Nanny it was a best case scenario of a real life and a real death. For millions of people at home and away, friends and family, dealing with sickness and death is a gut wrenching time of sorrow sometimes lasting for years.

     I know the feeling of sitting in vigil by a young loved one who lay dying in hospital , fortunately she pulled through, but not everyone is so lucky.  When someone is sick and needs attention, their pain and suffering is spread around through all those who love them and will miss them when they're gone.

     Everyone who is caring for a terminally ill loved one learns quickly how frivolous and trivial our everyday complaints about life truly are. That leak in the eavestrough, or the car needing new tires, it can wait. The annoying coworker or Premier who used to bother you so much, suddenly aren't so bad anymore.

     I'm certain if we aknowledged our mortality with more regularity we'd probably find that so many problems and stresses that we hang on to would fade away. We just may get along better, be less

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Recent comments

  • Ron Tizzard
    May 21, 2013 - 07:51

    Thank you, to you both, Stephen and Russell, for sharing. I related to 99% of the content(s). I don't know what's been in the air, in the last few days, but my mind has been around 'death and dying' (of family members) ; and dreamed of my deceased paternal grandmother through last night. Hmmmm!... hope you don't mind if I turn to the comic section, guys...that's denial, isn't it? (LOL).

    • Steve Redgrave
      Steve Redgrave
      May 21, 2013 - 11:04

      I should be thanking you and Russell really. This is one of those 'notes to self' that would have stayed burried in my hard drive otherwise. Cheers!

  • Stephen D Redgrave
    Stephen D Redgrave
    April 16, 2013 - 08:47

        MISSING LAST PARAGRAPH: I'm certain if we aknowledged our mortality with more regularity we'd probably find that so many problems and stresses that we hang on to would fade away. We just may get along better, be less greedy, and look out for one another just a little bit more. After all, in the words of Jimmy the Tulip Everybody dies. Sooner or later.