Death Be Not A Stranger

When my grandmother Parks died in 1988 I was nine. She had breast cancer, but I didn't find that out until my Mom died and it was mentioned as we developed a life story for my Mom's funeral program. We had traveled to the west coast from the east coast because we knew it would be soon. My Mom had been there for several months already. My brother Ben was in the room when she died. I wasn't. I overhead the a description of her death, "she reached out her arm, and kept asking for someone to help her."

It is a tragic image that has stayed with me ever since. My grandmother was never heavy to begin with. The cancer had turned her face into a gaunt hollowed eyed shadow of her former self. I pictured the frail arm dressed in the pale blue flowered print reaching out to those standing by her hospital-style bed. Her pleading eyes moving from one face to another. Her tortured cries for help. I wondered why she asked for help. Was it the pain? Was she afraid to die?

A few weeks earlier she had asked for some fried chicken. My grandmother hadn't eaten chicken in decades. My little vegetarian soul was shocked at this. When she became a vegetarian was it only to prolong her life? Did dying negate the vegetarian vow? Why had my parents raised me a vegetarian?

At the funeral home they had a separate room for the family to sit. There was a window we could look out and see the casket and the others attending the funeral. When we left we all walked by the casket. Her face looked caked with makeup.

My Mom had her camera with her. She took pictures of the flowers at the funeral home. She took pictures of my grandmother in the casket. She took pictures at the graveside. At the time, I thought it was strange. At my own mothers funeral though, I took pictures also. Following in her footsteps. I didn't really see any of it then. The pictures helped me to see it later.

I wished I could have stayed longer in the room where they first brought us in to see my Mom in the casket. There was a lot going on at the time. Subplots with in-laws and well wishers. I did what I thought best. I stood close to my Dad. I appreciated my friends who dropped everything to come be with me. Yet had I really come to terms with death? I never touched her. Was it better that way? I don't know.

I held my guinea pig when he died. Poor thing was really having a rough time of it. I felt like I should be sadder than I was. Truth was, I had never grown as attached to him as I felt would be proper. When my hamster died my brother Ben told me that if it was his hamster he would have cried. He didn't think I was as sad as I should have been. I held my guinea pig's small body in my hands and marveled at how one moment he had been alive, and the next he was dead.

I once heard death explained by using the analogy of darkness being the absence of light, death is the absence of life.

What do you think?

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