Grampie died peacefully earlier this week. Tim was at his side as the life left him.
In medicine, we often speak of good deaths and bad deaths. This is usually referring not only to the nature of the cause of death (for example, traumatic accident vs. old-age) but also to how well prepared the family was for the passing.
My Nanny, my mother’s mother, used to say “There are worse things than dying”.
My Granny, my father’s father, after the passing of her husband of 60 years, “It is very, very sad, but it is not tragic”.
Grampie’s death was a good death. And his extremely poor quality of life at the end, meant that there was some blessing in his passing. But it was still a tragedy. He was only 65. He had been ill and debilitated for the entire lives of his grandchildren. And it feels like he, and we, were a bit robbed. But Grampie himself, used to say long ago: “If I died tomorrow, it would OK. I have had a great life. I have seen my sons grow and be successful”. And so, Tim felt very sad, much sadder than he expected, but he was at peace with the loss of his father. It was time, he felt.
However, as much as we adults can know about bad/good deaths, sadness vs tragedy, to children it is completely different. Our 2 younger children have taken this in stride. I am not sure they even quite realize what has happened. But Micah, Micah is sad. This is a tragedy in his young life. We learned, that to him, his relationship to Grampie was the same as with his other grandparents. Even though Grampie was never able to really play with him, read to him, chat with him, Grampie was able to LOVE him and that was all that mattered. Micah cried and laid his head on Grampie’s chest when we took him to say goodbye. Even though it made him so sad, he wanted to return several times. When I was talking with him afterwards, he told me that was so sad that the only grandparent that lived where we lived, was gone.
This was such a lesson about love for me. Children really do love purely and unconditionally. It doesn’t really matter what you do with them, as long as you show up and are present in their lives. For Micah, Grampie was present. He came to celebrations, he shared his favourite Aero bars with Micah, he love listening to Micah play the violin. Grampie was his Grampie.
Tim and I struggled a lot with how much to include the children in what was happening. Our own personal experiences with death came at a much later age. But Grampie was dying on a weekend, we were all focused on being there for him and for Tim. Relatives were coming and going and children are very astute observers. We decided that we should tell them the truth. And we didn’t want them to be afraid of death. And so we took everyone over to see Grampie, to cuddle him, and to say good-bye. They all did this. They all climbed into bed with him and spent time with him. They weren’t afraid, amazingly.
I think Grampie had a “good” death, if you can understand what I mean. And I think the children had a peaceful, non-threatening experience with it, I hope they did. If there was anything positive to come out of the loss of a grandparent at such a young age, perhaps it is this: Micah is sad, but not scared. And he has another memory of his Grampie and I have learned another lesson about love.