Dealing with Death
When you begin writing a blog you vow to yourself, your readers, and your friends and family that you will not, I repeat, will not discuss your personal life. Sadly, I broke that vow quite early on and I’m going to break it again today.
I was in Ontario last week for a family emergency. My granny was and still is dying. The doctors told my family that she did not have long for this world and the best thing to do was to bring her home from the hospital. So we did. We bundled her up like like a Russian doll (you know the ones, except there wasn’t a smaller version of my granny inside…at least I hope). She took the ambulance ride like a trooper, joking with the EMTs when appropriate. After two days at home she asked for food. This request may not seem that startling, but as my granny had not asked for food in almost two months, it came as a surprise to us.
From that point, she started to become more engaged. Eating a little bit more each day, drinking water and juice, and even joining the family in the living room. While she remains a shadow of her former self, her unexpected rally (which is still happening) was a pleasant surprise for me and my family.
Yet, even though it was a pleasant surprise it was and remains stressful for all involved. As a family, we had to accept the fact that bringing my grandmother home would result in her death. We moved through this challenge and came to some level of acceptance of what was to come. Then we had to accept that death wasn’t going to occur within the time period the doctors had estimated – that she was going to live longer. I had to inform my work that my grandmother, after two months of basically being non-responsive to food, liquid, and family care, had decided to live again (if even for a short while). My family had to do the same – informing their respective workplaces that they would be returning to work within the next few days, that my granny had come back from the almost-dead.
Moving back and forth between life and death is an exhausting process. It’s sad, stressful, and completely gray – there is no black or white, well, until the person actually dies. It’s exhausting because every person involved in the dying person’s care has a different outlook and expectation about what should happen. Some family members are spiritual, some are not. Some don’t like using the word death while others cannot stand using inaccurate terminology. So whilst dealing with the process of losing someone you love, you have to manage your own expectations and behaviour so as not to offend or upset a family member. And let’s face it, that’s hard for anyone, regardless of intellect, age, or life experience.
So why am I sharing this with the blogosphere? Perhaps it’s helping me to process the events of last week. Perhaps it’s because throughout the week I managed to remain fairly level-headed and calm. My emotions didn’t run away with me. I helped when needed. I cared for my granny when she asked. And I find this surprising based on my behaviour in the past when dealing with stressful or difficult situations.
I attribute this relative state of calm to two things: 1) Mindfulness and, 2) Exercise. Since integrating and accepting the concept and practice of mindfulness into my life almost a year and a half ago, I have noticed a seismic shift in how I approach and deal with stress. I still have a way to go, but I am impressed with the results so far. And lastly, exercise has been and always will be my go-to coping mechanism. I managed to get to the gym twice last week (I even got to workout with my mom which I always love doing) and went for a walk with my dad (in -20 weather, eek). My workouts were not overly intense, nor long, but they allowed me a break from the ongoing and ever-stressful situation of dying. Yes, exercise is a stress on the body, but it’s a good stress. It makes you stronger and better prepares you for future stress. It makes the body and mind more resilient. So not only were last weeks workouts beneficial, but all the workouts I’ve ever done before last week.
As the creator of mindfulness states, “it is better to weave your parachute before you jump out of a plane”.
We must think of exercise, mindfulness, eating healthy, taking breaks at work, or whatever you do to effectively manage stress as threads within our metaphorical parachute – the more we do, the more threads we have and the stronger our parachute becomes for the inevitable jump.
My parachute was ready for the jump. My only task now, make the necessary repairs and continue to weave for the future.