Friday, August 17, 2012


The final stage of grieving is called "Acceptance." This is the agreed upon term for the final stage of grief by all mental health professionals. It doesn't matter if they're looking at the typical 5-stage model or trying to sell you a book with some extra special stages they have added for novelty. Yes, they all agree on "Acceptance."

Acceptance seemed like a pretty straight-forward concept to me and I wasn't sure why it was considered to be the final stage. Of course I accepted that my grandma wasn't coming back. The finality of death is indisputable.

I had just turned 30 years old a week before Grandma's spirit left her body. Thirty. I know a few people who freaked out about turning the big three-zero. I have known since I was in grade-school that thirty would be special. Thus far, none of my other birthdays had seemed that special. Just another day that felt like yesterday. 19 was not that much different from 18. Pimples, check. Uncertain about the future, check.

"When I wake up on my 30th birthday, life is going to make sense," I shared with anyone who would listen. People had mixed reactions. Usually people who were older than me just smiled. Others engaged me in debate, "Is that so? What kind of answers will you have?"

"All the answers," I replied with confidence.

October 30, 2010 Facebook Post:
Was sitting in a hospital room with my Gram the other day. As I watched a machine do her breathing for her, my Dad turned around and said, "Take this as a lesson. THIS is how fast it goes. One day you're 18 and the next..." I listened to him. I listened to myself breathe. Every breath, every moment is a gift. All you have in life is THIS moment. 30 feels great so far, every breath of it. Much love to all.

October 30, 2010 Facebook message from my Mom:
30 years ago this moment I smiled and you cried...and your Grandma stood with outstretched arms waiting to hold you...

Concordia Lutheran Ministries: Good Samaritan Hospice
Cabot, Pennsylvania
early November, 2010

Grandma's stay in Hospice lasted longer than the doctors and nurses anticipated. In hospice, they take away all the i.v.'s, the feeding tube and breathing machines that keep the body alive. Hospice is a place of transition. They keep the physical body comfortable while the spirit gets ready for the journey back to its first home.

The whole concept of dying seemed foreign and morbid to me.  

Died. Passed away. Those are past tense concepts--news you hear after someone is already in the state of death.


People have said to me, "Well, we're ALL dying a little more every day." Well aren't you clever?

 The family agreed Grandma should not be alone during this time. Agreement coming from a big family who rarely agrees on much of anything seemed like a profound moment to me.

My mom, Uncle Pete and I took the night shift.

The Nurses and Aides floated in and out of the Suite. "Do you need anything to eat or drink? Can I get you anything at all?" They always asked these questions.

See, when you're holding the hand of someone who is on their way to death, simple things like eating are forgotten. The growl in your stomach doesn't even seem like your body's way of alerting you to hunger. It's more of a reminder of how very small you feel in this room, in this universe where someone you love is on their way to death.

Hospice nurses and aides are very special. Angels. They know "dying". They bring comfort to the one who is preparing to leave. They bring courage to all the other people in the room - to the people who have to stay.

An aide was combing Grandma's hair. She marveled at how Grandma's hair still had so much black and very little gray. She wondered, "What was she like as a girl?"

I hesitated. Maybe her question is rhetorical? I thought of all the hours I spent sitting on the floor of Gram's bedroom or cross-legged on the edge of her bed while she sat at her desk. I listened to Grandma's stories, conjuring up images in my mind of what she was like as a child, as a young woman with a nursing career. I loved to hear her tell me about her life before she became a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.

I found my voice. "She was strong. She went to a one-room school house. There was a bully in her class...this older boy who was mean to her. Not just mean, he was abusive. One day he had a long pin or needle...something sharp. He pushed it into her thigh, trying to get her to scream or cry. She looked him straight in the eye and never said a word. She told me that he never bothered her again."

The story led to other stories. I wondered if Grandma could hear me. I hoped I was getting it right.

Stories help. When you're inside of the dying-bubble, you start to feel like maybe you're dying too and that dying is just where you're at and where you will always be. Nothing else really seems to matter.

I couldn't even fathom that death would come. Going to Hospice with Mom, sinking into a soft, leather recliner, holding Grandma's hand, singing "Poor Little Robin a'walkin, walkin, walkin to Missouri..." to her, confessing that I did run that stop sign on Fisher Road when she was teaching me to drive, holding my breath every time her body twitched or sighed, telling her it was okay to let go of us so she could be with Pappy - those are the things that became normal.

You go through grief stages when someone is dying. Then you have to go through them again when your loved one has reached death.

The finality of Grandma's death still managed to surprise me. I felt so stupid.

November 7th, I was sleeping in the leather recliner. I had pulled the chair as close to Grandma's bed as I could manage so I could hold her hand. The nurses came in the room. They were suctioning. One of my aunts had arrived. The air in the room felt different. There was a new heaviness. People were talking about "calling the family members."

As light arrived with the morning, so did family members and relatives. The room became too crowded.

Going Home-

I was driving north on Route 38, just past the Oneida Valley Damn, singing along to Kate Voegel's "Hallelujah" when I got a text from my youngest brother: "Grandma died at..."

I can't remember the time. It was evening. This news still managed to surprise me.

Did I think I could somehow prepare myself for this moment? I couldn't. I can't. You can't. The moment you learn that someone you dearly love has left this world, no matter how long you have been expecting it to happen and no matter how many times you have talked about it, this news of death will take your breath away and crush your insides with a power that is unforeseeable.

Acceptance does not happen at that moment when you know that death has happened. It takes a very, very long time to get to Acceptance.

That cliche about time healing all wounds is sort of true. But it takes more than just time alone. Maybe you will even need counseling, like I did. You definitely need people to talk to. You need people to listen. When you're walking though a department store on a random Thursday and a memory blindsides you and takes you out right at the knees, you need someone you can lean on, even if it's just a phone call to a friend to get your legs working again.

Acceptance is not about accepting the death. Acceptance is about accepting Life. I'm still alive. The other alive-people need me and I need them. When the day came that I was able to share my Grandma's life with other alive-people, that's when I understood what acceptance truly means.


  1. Acceptance. It can take such a long time to find its way into a heart. You had a special opportunity to know grandma better than most of us did. You, undoubtedly, know things about her youth that she might never have told another soul. All those hours you listened to her. All those hours when her adult children were so busy with our lives, and she was slipping into old age, reminiscing about her past as much or more, than she making new memories. Treasure them--the memories. Stories to pass down. It will keep her alive to younger generations. This was a beautiful post, and I'm so glad that you have reached this place. It is no small task, reconciling the past with today... I love you bunches and bunches, up to the stars and back. :-)

  2. Hi Megan, we don't know each other but I hope you don't mind me commenting. Your mom shared your blog on Facebook - Hi Teresa :) - I think your post is very moving and so true to life. I like the little arc you draw from being at that age where we think we have it all figured out (I don't know what it is about that 30 that makes us feel like the village elder all of a sudden...) to accepting that we don't. We can never be prepared - and that may be all the wisdom we need.

    I pay my bills, I got married, I live in a house, I do what all the other grown-ups do, but when tragedy hits, I still feel 11 years old. 11 was the first time I lost someone close to me. I remember that hearing the news felt like being dragged away from a playground, feet-first. And feeling "special", in that really gnawing way, like Frankenstein, something I could never share with any of my peers, or shake off.
    They were children still, and I wasn't one of them anymore. "Ah here comes the one, whose dad died..."

    As we get older we understand that it's all helplessness and fear, and no one is to blame for not knowing how to handle "crisis" as it is happening. It'll get better. All we can do is accept that this is life, and we'll never know what comes next. This can be a good thing: I hear childbirth must be amazing, I hope to experience it myself some day! :))

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, a very interesting read!

    All the best to you, and a big supportive hug to you and your family!


  3. Hi Dana, I'm sorry you lost your dad and at such a tender age. The way you describe that feeling, as "special, in that really gnawing way" is so profound.

    It's not so hard to write about loss for me as it is to share it. Hitting that "publish" button has always been my biggest stumbling block.

    I think that's why I'm so proud of my Mom for writing her heart out and putting it all out there.

    Thank you for reading and for your thoughtful comment.