You are probably thinking, “Wow! So much death around the holidays – how sad!” It actually isn’t uncommon for loved ones to pass around the holidays, I’ll talk about that a little more in a future blog.
And to be honest, even though I grew up knowing my paternal grandfather passed on Thanksgiving, it didn’t phase me. I never knew him. In fact, the first time my mother “met” him was at his funeral. My parents were planning on travelling to NYC that Thanksgiving and announcing their engagement, but instead of celebrating the happy news they were celebrating my grandfather’s sudden death. He had been suffering symptoms while preparing Thanksgiving dinner. Convinced to see his doctor, he suffered a massive heartache while sitting in his doctor’s office.
His passing was just part of his story. It just was.
My maternal grandfather’s passing, on the other hand, was much harder. I knew him. We were close. And while he was ill, he had lung cancer, and we KNEW he was dying, we didn’t expect for him to go so quickly. In fact, being as his birthday was just a couple days after Thanksgiving and we knew it would be his last, we had a large birthday party planned.
He didn’t make it. And that was hard.
It wasn’t the concept of his death, however, that was hard. I’d had family members pass before. I’d even had a friend I’d known since elementary school pass the year before. So I was keenly aware of the concept of death and what it meant.
What was different about this was witnessed some of the things a dying person experiences that assists them with their transition.
Here is what I learned from my grandfather’s passing:
- They See the Other Side – Loved ones that experience a slow transition see glimpses of heaven before they pass. My grandfather made a joke of this by saying to my mother who had just painted the walls and ceiling, “Margie, you missed a spot. Don’t you see it? There’s a big spot right there.” He would continue to joke about this, point at the ceiling and talk about the light. In retrospect, I know that he was seeing the light from the other-side.
- They are Visited by Deceased Loved Ones – Family members who have already passed come to assist in the transition. It is not uncommon for dying loved ones to talk about those who have passed as if they are with them, talk about dreams of those loved ones, even confuse those who are alive with those who have already passed. These are signs loved ones are around. Why are they around? The familiarity with loved ones helps the transition go more smoothly as they welcome a dying person to the other-side. Their presence can bring comfort because the passing individual is assured they are going somewhere (not just a pine box) and that they are going to the “good” place. In the days before his passing, my grandfather insisted that Lois, my grandmother, was around him. In addition, Eugene my grandfather’s cousin who was a medium, mentioned that he had seen family members around him.
- They Check Items Off Their Bucket List –Again, this tends to be individuals who are experiencing a slow transition, although in retrospect people who pass suddenly, often have that one important goal they hope to accomplish in their life and work hard to achieve it before they die. It could be going on a trip, saying goodbye to someone, one last meal… for my grandfather, it was coming to Thanksgiving Dinner. Because he was ailing, we were uncertain he was going to be able to make it to our house that day. When he did arrive, he didn’t eat much or do much, in fact most of the time he was at our house he slept on the couch. But, he was there with his family. That’s what was important to him.
- They Say Good-Bye – People who are passing, even if it is unexpected, often have a sense the end is near. Knowing this, they often go out of their way to say good-bye and express their feelings. As my grandfather left, not only did he give me a hug but he also whispered, “I love you.” My grandfather was not a warm and fuzzy man, and honestly that is the only time in my life I can remember him telling me he loved me – and I was his FAVORITE! But, he said it that day… likely because he knew it would be the last time he’d have the chance on this side.
When my grandfather told me he loved me, I knew I was never going to see him alive again. And sure enough, less than an hour later, the phone rang. I remember sitting at the top of the stairs and starting to cry before my mom even got off the phone. It had been my grandmother letting us know “Al was gone.” When they arrived home he went upstairs to his apartment, she stayed downstairs to let the dog out. When she made her way upstairs, he was already gone.
He was ready. He had done the things he wanted to.
Each November, these memories flood back. They are bittersweet… and while sadness floods in at first, I am immediately reminded and comforted that we had that one last Thanksgiving. Love you Grandpa!