Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Handling Loss

In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, one of the opening sequences has Adm. Kirk talking Lt. Saavik about a test she had just been through. It was the scenario involving a ship (the Kobayashi Maru) in distress. It was a no-win situation.

Kirk told Saavik that "how we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life."

The irony is that Kirk had never faced the scenario.

Unlike characters in a movie, we have to deal with death. I'll leave it to the philosophers to determine if how we deal with death is as important as how we deal with life. Although I think it is.

As a child, I knew all four of my grandparents. And two of my great-grandparents (my mother's mother's parents). I obviously knew more, since I've seen a picture of me sitting on the knee of another great-grandparent (my father's father's father). But I don't remember him, or his passing.

The first death in the family I recall was my great-grandfather (my mother's mother's father). He died in 1967.

My sisters all cried when "Pa" (as we called him) died. I didn't. Because I didn't believe he was dead. I was in denial.

I eventually came to realize that it was true. Pa was gone.

The next family member I remember losing was my grandfather (my father's father), "Granddaddy," who died about six months later, in early 1968.

I didn't like that old man. He was mean. Really mean. Probably because he had a hard life. He had one leg. One eye. One thumb. And a damaged back (broken earlier in life). No, his nickname wasn't "Lucky."

He had it rough. And was rough. I remember wishing he'd just die.

One day, he did.

I cried.

Not sure if it was from loss, or guilt, or what. But we all got home from school one day and were told Granddaddy was dead. We all cried.

No other close family member died until my great-grandmother (my mother's mother's mother), "Ma," died in 1976. I was nearly grown, and dealt with the loss not as a child, but as an almost grown-up. I didn't cry. But I mourned.

Three years later, I lost another grandfather (my mother's father), "Papa." He had been in poor health for a bit. Heart problems. So it wasn't completely unexpected. But he had been over at the house the weekend prior.

In 1992, I lost another grandparent. My father's mother, "Granny," passed away. She had been in poor health for a bit. Heart problems and diabetes.

It was odd watching her lifestyle change. Granny had been the one who you'd give a wheelbarrow for Mother's Day. Really.

She'd be outside digging stumps, hoeing her garden, killing snakes, and just living the life of a southern woman who grew up in "hard times," as she called it.

Granny's passing left me with one grandparent. My mother's mother, "Grandma," is still living. She's old, and a little bit frail, but still able to get around. Her hearing's not as good as it used to be. Her eyesight's had problems lately. And it hurts a little bit to stand. Or sit. Just part of being 93, I guess.

What brought all this up?

Well, my oldest granddaughter lost her "Granny" last night. Her father's mother took ill suddenly, was admitted to the hospital this past weekend, and died last night.

Two weeks ago, she lost a great-grandparent. Her father's father's father died. And she was really upset at that funeral.

Now, she's seven years old and facing her second funeral in two weeks.

Her mother is concerned about how to deal with it all. And she planned to tell her about her Granny's passing when she got home last night.

How we deal with death is as important as how we deal with life.

It's true. And it's a shame that children must face that fact.

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