My maternal grandmother passed away very suddenly this past Thursday. It caught me completely by surprise, in fact – I was working on arrangements for a weekend guest at our home when my father called me with the news.
It shocked me, to say the least. Here are some of the things the last few days have taught me.
The grieving process is different for everyone. After I received the call, I cried a bit. I sat in a daze for a while, thinking about my grandmother. I then threw myself into doing something, calling a few distant relatives, then cleaning out the pantry in order to give my mind and body something simple to work on.
That time gave me what I needed to be emotionally strong for the funeral and the family events before and after.
Other family members dealt with things in different ways: tears, humor, solitude, eating, cooking, cleaning, and so on. Some wanted to talk about Grandma. Some wanted to talk about anything else. Some wanted to talk about nothing at all.
The best thing you can do is take a deep breath and realize that everyone around you is dealing with the same painful thing you are, in their own way. Be there when others want to talk, back off when they don’t want to, and feel fine giving yourself the room you need.
Times like this are what emergency funds are for. Obviously, the news meant our weekend was filled with an unplanned trip to spend a lot of time with people who weren’t expecting us to visit. This meant a lot of unexpected expenses – a long road trip, food, flowers, and so on.
If we were back in our paycheck-to-paycheck days, this would have been a big problem for us. Our budget for the next month would have been seriously hampered by the onslaught of little expenses here. More importantly, it would have added more stress into an already stressful time.
Instead, we didn’t worry about this at all – we just handled it. Our focus was on our family and our grieving process, not on whether or not we could afford to buy several bags of groceries or a 400 mile road trip or a contribution to a floral display for the funeral.
Times like this are when a strong social network comes through. The large social network that my parents have (that I’ve mentioned before) came through time and time again during the days between my grandmother’s passing and the funeral. They provided lots of food, lots of companionship, and help with arrangements as well. They ran errands, made phone calls, got deals on flower arrangements, gave advice on estate issues, and many, many other little things during those painful days.
These people didn’t need to be called or asked to help. They didn’t expect anything in return, either. They were simply willing to do it, no questions asked.
Why did these people simply do this? Why did they just step up out of nowhere when they were needed? They did it because my parents had always done it for them, no questions asked. My parents spend so much of their time helping others, providing advice and food and phone calls and technical assistance and many, many other things to the people around them on a daily basis. If they see someone near them in need, they simply help them instead of worrying about their own needs and free time.
That giving nature was returned to them in spades this week when they needed it – and they always have that helping hand when they find themselves in any difficult situation.
Rarely have I seen such a clear example of why it’s incredibly valuable to give freely of yourself.
Letting go of the bad memories is vital. When people pass away, there is a window of opportunity there to let lots of little things be bygones and let petty bad memories take a back seat, at least for a little while.
It can be painful to see some people at such a time, but there is no better time to embrace those people and begin the process of rebuilding a broken relationship.
I was able to watch this very thing happen a few times over the last week – and I truly hope that the end of my grandmother’s life will be able to plant the seeds of a few rebuilt relationships.
Perhaps, in some ways, this is my grandmother’s final gift to all of us.