Tag Archives: bereavement

Journey–Part 2

24 Feb

On Wednesday I started chronicling my recent trip to South Africa. I intended to put everything in one post, but as it turned out, a lot of activity was packed into my ten days there. This is an account of my last few days.

2012-02-15 14.27.52Wednesday: I have been looking forward to this day ever since I arrived. My friend Jenny picks me up and we spend the day together. Why am I so excited about this? Because Jenny and I have been friends since we were ten. We live far away from each other now, but something as paltry as distance isn’t going to change the fact that she is my best friend and always will be. We go out for coffee, then take a walk around the bird park. We watch a live bird show – part of it, anyway, before the rest of it is cancelled due to rain. After that we head indoors and have lunch together. It is a great day, one that concludes with us resolving to have a joint 50th birthday celebration in some exotic location. We have a few years to nail down the details.

Thursday: Mom and I head out early to do the shopping we were going to do on Tuesday. We buy presents for my boys and food for the memorial that is planned for tomorrow. Then Mom drops me off at a shopping mall, where I have arranged to meet up with my friends Faye and Njabulo. I used to work with Faye and I was in Toastmasters with both of them. We spend hours drinking coffee and talking. Eventually we go our own reluctant ways. I do a bit of shopping before meeting up with my cousin Philippa, who is visiting for a few days from the coastal town of Knysna that is now home to her. We have coffee, do more shopping, and then head home to have dinner with Mom.

2012-02-17 15.11.45Friday: My brother arrives at a prearranged time, and the three of us drive out to my aunt’s house. We have a small private memorial planned – just a few us of us, all family. With my brother protectively carrying the ashes, we go up the hill behind her house. My brother says a few words that bring smiles and tears to the rest of us, and then we scatter the ashes under a tree – the same tree where both of my grandparents were scattered many years ago. My aunt’s final resting place is absolutely gorgeous, and the rain has held off for this occasion. We go back to the house and share memories. This is just the kind of final farewell that my aunt would have wanted.

Saturday: My friend Caroline picks me up and we go out for brunch. I haven’t seen Caroline for about twelve years and she looks just the same. We have a great time catching up, and then she comes back to the house to have tea with me and Mom. After she leaves, Mom and I go out for lunch with my brother. It will be a long time before I see him again, so I am glad of this opportunity. When Mom and I get back to the house, my aunt and cousins come for tea. I finish my packing, and then Mom and I tearfully say goodbye to each other before my cousins drop me off at the train that will take me to the airport.

I returned to Toronto on Sunday afternoon, feeling jetlagged, exhausted, and filled with the sadness that comes from leaving behind a grieving mother. I wish I could split myself in half. I am so happy to be back here, with my husband and children. But I wish I could have spent more time with Mom. I feel like she still needs me, and I hope she knows that even though I am far away, I am always at her side.

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Seeing Her For The Last Time

10 Feb

Today I saw my aunt Ann for the first time in seven years. Last time I saw her, she cooked lunch at her house. She was always a bit of a marvel in the kitchen, and the meal was delicious. We ate good food, drank good wine, and shared tears and laughter as we reminisced about my Dad, whose funeral had been held two days previously.

Today, I stood in a funeral home looking down at Ann, lying in her casket. She looked bruised and swollen, and the injuries from the accident that took her life were very much in evidence. It was hard, so hard, to see her.

After we left the funeral home, we went to Ann’s house to have tea and cake, and to talk and find comfort in being together – me, my Mom, my aunt Mary (the wife of my late Uncle Philip who was Ann and my Mom’s brother) and two of my cousins. It was strange to be in Ann’s home without Ann.

I am still not sure what it will be like, trying to adjust to a world without Ann in it. I am not sure what thoughts will be going through my mind next week when we all gather to scatter Ann’s ashes.

The only thing I am sure of is this: even though Ann’s body looks bruised and broken, she will always be beautiful to me.

May she rest in peace.

Life And Death: No Laughing Matter

23 Jul

People are already making jokes about it.

The first news stories about the untimely death of 27-year-old musician Amy Winehouse started circulating less than an hour before I started writing this post. Within about ten minutes of me first hearing the news, fan pages started to pop up on Facebook.

Amy Winehouse is dead, at least theres enough drugs about for everyone now (with a smiley face emoticon at the end)

Police say that winehouse’s death was unexplained LOL, at that point they were probably stoned on the drugs in her <profanity>

Screw Amy Winehouse, she was a druggy and had death lined up for her

Amy Winehouse is dead…..HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH

Now, I don’t know much about Amy Winehouse. I don’t exactly fall into the demographic that stays up-to-date on popular music. However, I do know that she was insanely talented, even though her music wasn’t really to my taste. I know that she was plagued by substance abuse problems. I know that she was young and had a lot of life ahead of her, and that she had tons of potential within her.

I know that her death is unspeakably sad.

These jokes that are circulating, these fan pages that are being set up, and the derision with which some people are treating this story, is a sad statement about how people have become so desensitized to tragedy that they can have a good laugh about it before the deceased has even started to cool down.

Or maybe it’s nothing new. This is not the first time I’ve heard jokes about a tragedy soon after its occurrence: the space shuttle Challenger disaster, and the death of Mozambican president Samora Machel in a plane crash, both of which happened in 1986, are cases in point.

I wonder why this is, why there are people can make light of events like this. One theory is that they just don’t know how else to deal with news of tragedy. There is some credence to this idea, and I saw it in action on the day my father-in-law died. There was a mix-up that resulted in the wrong funeral home attempting to collect his body from the hospital, and when my mother-in-law heard about this, she made a joke about the funeral homes fighting over her husband’s dead body, and she laughed heartily. I believe that allowing a chink of humour into the day was a way for her to cope with the initial shock of being widowed after almost fifty years of marriage.

In the case of more widespread disasters, I believe that sometimes people make jokes simply because they don’t know how else to process the information.9/11. Hurricane Katrina. The tsunamis in Thailand and Japan. The Haiti earthquake.

Sometimes, though, people are just plain insensitive. They don’t feel any empathy either for the deceased or for the newly bereaved loved ones. Or  – and Amy Winehouse’s death is an example of this – they somehow rationalize that because the person lived in a certain way that they do not agree with, it is OK that he or she died.

Here’s my thought on all of this: Yes, Amy Winehouse was a celebrity – a colourful one with a controversial life, at that – and therefore her life was, to an extent, public property. And yes, she seems to have died in an Elvis-like manner that is bound to attract a lot of attention and speculation.

But above all, she was a human being with hopes and dreams and feelings and loved ones. The fact that she had substance abuse problems does not mean she deserved to die. It does not mean it is OK that she died. Her life – and her death – deserve the same respect as anyone else’s. Her family and friends should be able to grieve for their lost loved one without the world making public fun of it all.

I hope against hope that we as a society can somehow regain some of the humanity and compassion that seems to have eroded.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ups/2066092204/)

Making A Living Out Of Dying

26 May

A week ago, my co-worker H lost her father. He had been sick with cancer for a long time, and seeing him go through so much pain had taken its toll on H and her family. His death, as one would expect, hit the family hard. I know perfectly well what it’s like, having been through this with my own Dad several years ago.

As if losing her father was not a huge enough thing to begin with, H has been dealing with the funeral home making it abundantly clear that him dying right before a long weekend was inconvenient to them. They didn’t come right out and say that, of course (that would have been insensitive – note the dripping sarcasm). No, they just showed the sentiment through their actions and their stonewalling.

H’s father was cremated in accordance with his wishes. Sounds easy enough, no? No. Because of that pesky long weekend, the funeral home couldn’t arrange the cremation until five days after the deceased passed away. Which, OK, I can kind get because lots of people aren’t around for long weekends. Just don’t be narky about it to the grieving family.

In the meantime, the cemetery have a policy whereby they refuse to begin preparing the plot until the ashes are in their possession. Again, OK. You don’t want a hole in the ground – even a little one that will contain an urn – and then be faced with delays.

The crematorium had promised the family that they would have the ashes on Tuesday evening. The plan was to get the ashes to the cemetery, who for reasons known only to them need two full days to dig a little hole for an urn, and then have the funeral on Friday.

Despite H making repeated phonecalls to a bunch of people, the funeral home only told H this morning that they had received the ashes from the crematorium. Which meant that the cemetery did not have the ashes. Which meant that they were not willing to dig that little hole in time for a funeral on Friday.

Which means that this grieving family have not only been waiting to say goodbye to their loved one, they have been getting royally jerked around while they’ve been waiting.

To add insult to injury, the funeral home admitted that they received the ashes yesterday morning and didn’t bother to tell the family. If they had, the funeral could have happened on Friday as planned.

While this has all been going on, the funeral home guy has been – to put it mildly – a condescending, arrogant, insensitive jackass.

I feel very angry on behalf of H and her family. I think it is disgusting that a grieving family can be treated this callously at such a sad time in their lives.

If you’re going to be in the business of death, at least be kind and sensitive, and mindful of the fact that your clients are vulnerable and grieving.

A Final Goodbye

9 May

One of the guests at our wedding gets a special mention today: our wonderful friend Ken, who was there with his equally wonderful wife, Jo-Anne.

I’m not sure exactly how Ken and Gerard met, but it was over thirty years ago. In years gone by, Gerard spent many Christmases with Ken and his family, and for the last several years, I myself have been on the receiving end of Ken and Jo-Anne’s kindness and hospitality. They have been great friends to us. We have shared meals and laughs with them.

Many, many laughs. I have always referred to Ken as the only guy in the world who is as weird as Gerard.

Ken and Jo-Anne’s presence at our wedding was truly a blessing. The day just wouldn’t have felt right without them. When I said goodbye to Ken that night, I had no idea that it would be for the last time.

Six days after the wedding, Ken died suddenly at his home, taken by an aneurysm.

The news has been a tremendous shock to both Gerard and myself. But among the shock is pure gratitude that Ken was there to share an amazing and special day with us. Our final memories of Ken are fine ones indeed.

May Ken rest in peace. May his wife Jo-Anne and his son Will find themselves surrounded by strength and love.

If there is such a place as heaven, it has become a very, very funny place.

Goodbye for now, Ken. Your friendship and laughter will be sorely missed.

A Letter For Amy

3 Apr

To my dear friend Amy,

It has been more than two months now since you held your beautiful Captain Snuggles in your arms for the last time. I was one of many people who had been sending out prayers, positive thoughts, positive energy, in the hopes of keeping him alive and with you. I like to think that although the brave Captain still left us, we collectively managed to shift the Universe just enough to give you some extra time with him. Maybe, during those long sleepless nights, you felt a warm aura surrounding you as people sent out virtual hugs for you. The outcome was not what anyone wanted, but maybe – just maybe – we made some kind of difference.

I was so desperate to help you back then, to do something that could be of some practical use to you. But with us living on opposite sides of the border, this was not possible. So I donated blood. It was a momentous occasion. I felt humbled by the fact that it had taken a baby’s tragic situation to spur me on to action, and at the same time, I felt good that it had spurred me on to action. David was still with us on that day when I made my first donation, and I had entertained fantasies of meeting him someday and saying thank you to him for making me a better person.

My heart shattered when I learned of his passing. I could not begin to imagine what this was like for you, what it would be like for you going forward. I confess that I did not know what words to say to you to comfort you, so I opted for honesty. I told you that I didn’t know what to say, but that I was thinking of you, and that I was there for you whenever and however you needed.

Please know that this has not changed. More than two months have passed since Captain Snuggles left us, but for you there must be times when it feels like the blink of an eye. Grief is such a personal process. Everyone goes through it in their own way, at their own pace. No-one can truly understand another person’s grief. I still cannot imagine what you are going through and how it feels, but I am still there for you. You will be in my heart and mind as you go through this first year of birthdays and anniversaries.

This is a big week for us. This is the week of the Captain Snuggles Blood Drive. This week, many people are going to donate blood (some already have) in memory of your beautiful boy. Every unit of blood has the potential to help up to three people. It has the potential to give up to three families that precious commodity of hope. Through the inspiration of Captain Snuggles, this week is all about giving life.

I know that the blood drive is not going to bring the Captain back, and it’s probably not going to make your grieving process any easier. But he will live on in the hearts and minds of all who donate, and all who want to donate but are medically unable to. There could well be people whose lives will be saved by this blood drive – people who, although they will never know it, will be alive because of this baby who has touched so many hearts.

I send you lots of love and hugs, and vibes of strength and peace.

Your friend Kirsten

Remembering Dad

13 Aug

On another Friday the Thirteenth 73 years ago, my Dad was born.  He shares his birthday with Fidel Castro (who he couldn’t stand) and Alfred Hitchcock (who he greatly admired). Dad’s birthday is always a bittersweet occasion for me. Bitter because I feel sadness that he is no longer with us. Sweet because even though he’s gone, his birthday is a reminder that his life should be celebrated.

I have tremendous admiration for both of my parents. Now that I’m a parent myself, I have an appreciation for what a tough job it is. In a way, my parents had more parenting challenges than I have, simply because they had no idea where their children were coming  from. My brother and I are both adopted, and adoptions were done very differently back then. There was no disclosure, no sharing of information, no opportunity for the birth mother to even meet, let alone choose, the adoptive parents. It was by pure chance, a cosmic roll of the dice, that I ended up with the parents I got.

Fate did well by me. If I had been able to choose my parents, I think I would have chosen the ones I got. I did not appreciate them enough when I was a kid (because what child ever does?) and I would not attempt to claim that my parents were perfect. I can say, however, that if I am a tenth as good a parent as either my Mom or my Dad, then my kids are very lucky. I am fortunate to still have Mom. She may live on the other side of the world to me, but she is still mentor, adviser, critic when she needs to be, friend, confidante, and above all, Mom.

As I think about my Dad, I see snippets of my life played back like a slideshow. Me and Dad at a father-and-daughter square dancing event when I was seven. Going for a ride in his vintage sports car. Watching the Olympics with him when we were both bunged up with colds. Our shared love of reading that generated trips to the library followed by a cup of juice, and as I got older, coffee. The tax returns he did for me each year because I couldn’t figure out how to do them myself.

I made stupid mistakes in my youth. That’s what young people do. Their brains are not wired for wise decisions, which is why they need parents. Dad, being older and infinitely wiser than me, would see the mistakes coming and warn me. Being young and impulsive, I would do something stupid anyway and find myself in the middle of a crisis. Dad would always be there to help me pick up the pieces of my life, and he was kind enough to never say that he’d told me so.

I will never forget the moment when Dad saw his newborn grandson for the first time. He and Mom were exhausted, fresh off the plane from South Africa. They had come from the airport straight to the hospital to see George, who was then just one day old. As I placed the baby into Mom’s arms and then Dad’s, it was like slotting the final piece into a jigsaw puzzle to complete the picture. Grandparenthood fulfilled something in both of them, though it is hard to define exactly what. My sadness at the fact that my boys are growing up without their Granddad is countered by the knowledge that my Dad, for all too brief a time, experienced the joy of being a grandparent.

Dad died almost six years ago, taken from us all too soon by cancer. I choose to believe that he is still around, that from some vantage point, he is watching his grandchildren grow up. I choose to believe that when I participate in races, Dad – who was one of the top marathoners of his day – is running right along with me. I hope he is proud of me, and happy with the job he did as a parent.

Rest in peace, Dad. I love and miss you.
~ Cyril James Jessiman ~
~ 13 August 1937 – 6 December 2004 ~