Death and Dying
Death and Dying, Losing a Grandparent
The death of a grandparent is a devastating time in a person’s life. However, when the grandparent contracts a fatal disease and suffers for the duration of the final stage of life, this can make the situation more overwhelming. Dying is a component of the life cycle (Santrock 1999), and this phase can be the most complex to endure. At the concluding stage of my grandfather’s life, he became dependent. We could only watch helplessly as he dwindled away. One thing that comes natural is to reflect upon the memories, comprehend what is taking place in the life cycle, and to treasure the memories that will be with me forever.
One of the earliest memories that I have is as a very young boy. I was about three or four years of age. My Grandfather had a large family and always drove a station wagon. Station wagons in those days are the equivalent to the Sports Utility Vehicles of today. I do not know why I can remember this story so well, but it stands out in my mind. My mother gave birth to the first grandchild, who was I. In the sixties, most large families planted gardens, and raised their own livestock, in order to feed their families. There was a man who lived down the road from where my grandfather lived. This man raised chickens. One morning, my grandfather and I drove down the road to the neighbor’s house to purchase eggs. The neighbor I am referring to owned the property, which my grandparents lived on. Farm fresh eggs are not the same as the eggs we purchase in our neighborhood grocery stores. The eggshell is brownish in color, and when the eggs are cooked, they appear to have a dark yellowish appearance. This is a reflection of the simpler times, which may or may not be the good ole days. We did not have many of the amenities that we enjoy today. We did not have indoor plumbing. We had an outhouse that I was petrified to utilize. That is another story for another day.
Observations and Reflections:
Although there are memories that I could reflect upon that are too numerous to mention, the last cycle of life is one that we will share with a friend, loved one, or experience personally at some point in our life. Death is the number one life-changing event (T.S. Holmes and T.H. Holmes 1970), which we will experience. The final year of the last stage of the life cycle for my grandfather began in the spring of 1999. My grandfather complained quite a bit about the many body ailments that he claimed to have experienced. There were times when I thought he was a hypochondriac. My grandfather and I became very close during his final year of existence. We belonged to the same church, and most of the time, he would accompany me to church. This was perhaps safer for him and for every unsuspecting driver that he met on the highway. The first time I concluded that something was wrong with my grandfather happened to be at church one Sunday. Upon attempting to stand up, he s!
tumbled and almost fell to the floor. He would have fallen if it were not for the assistance of one of the deacons.
As we were driving home, I asked my grandfather if he was okay. That is when he told me that he had been diagnosed with cancer. The proper words would not come so that I could tell him everything would be all right. He told me that he was to visit his doctor at the beginning of the week to have additional tests run, so he would know just how bad his situation really was. My grandfather was 84 years old at the time, and I knew that the chances of his surviving this ailment would not be very high.
The news we were all anticipating but very much dreading became reality. My grandfather had been given up to one year to live. This was very depressing news, and it took faith, love, and prayer in order to get through this difficult time. There are five stages of dying that dying persons experience (Kubler-Ross, John W. Santrock). I witnessed my grandfather go through each of these stages during his final year of life on earth. The first stage was denial and isolation. Grandfather felt that he would get past this disease. He believed that the doctors would be able to cure him of his illness and that death was not upon him. Additional visits to his doctor convinced him that he would not get better.
The second stage of dying which he experienced was anger. I am not sure what brought on the anger. Was it the fact that there were so many things he was yet to accomplish? Perhaps, was he simply not ready to depart this life? The third stage is referred to as the bargaining stage. I did not observe this from him. This stage is generally when a person makes a deal with God. The deal may be that if God will allow them to live, they will do something in return such as helping other people.
The fourth stage is the depression stage. My grandfather experienced this stage. This is the stage when the person accepts the certainty of death. It is my belief that the pain associated with this disease can contribute to the depression stage. My grandfather reached the point where he did not have the strength to perform the activities that he once enjoyed doing such as fishing and socializing with his friends. His main social support, his wife, passed away in 1976 of heart disease. I stopped by to visit him one evening and observed him leaning on the tailgate of his old truck. It was apparent that he was in relentless pain. There were times when he felt well enough to go with me for a ride or to grab a bite to eat at one of the local restaurants. During this period, he would be difficult to get along with at times. Family members would complain about how mean and inconsiderate he had become. At the time, I did not realize the reason for his behavior. During the spring semester of 2001, I took a developmental psychology course at Western Kentucky University. This class has given me a much better understanding of what my grandfather was experiencing.
The fifth and final stage of dying is the acceptance stage. Kuber referred to this stage as the final resting stage before dying. Kuber acknowledged that pain might be absent during this stage. The family knew that Grandfather’s life was near completion. He was in severe pain daily. He had lost about seventy pounds and was extremely frail. It was painful for the family to see him in such pain. It was clear that the quality of life for my grandfather was very poor. Everyone knew that at this stage of his life it was better for him to pass away than to continue to live the manner in which he was living.
My grandfather passed away on February 19, 2000. He lived to welcome in the new millennium. The memories of my grandfather will be with me to cherish forever. The fishing trips we made together, the restaurants, the road trips to and from church, and oh yes, the morning we rode together and purchased a couple of dozen eggs from the neighbor.
Death and Dying
Formation of Abstract Concepts and Generalizations
The death of my grandfather is something that many people throughout the world experience each day. So far, I have attempted to describe how my family dealt with this experience. The stages that I mentioned may or may not be experienced in the exact order by everyone. However, most people do experience one or more of these stages during the final life cycle.
In some ways, my grandfather and the family were quite fortunate. The pain he experienced was unfortunate for him and the family. No one wants to see his or her loved ones suffer. One advantage that my grandfather experienced was that he knew he was dying. This gave him an opportunity to say his goodbyes to his remaining friends and family. The most important opportunity was the chance for him to make things right with God. Not every person has the opportunity to make peace with his or her maker. Those killed in car accidents, homicides, or the nation’s leading killer, heart disease, usually leave this world without saying any goodbyes.
How does suicide victims enter into the equation? According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, more than 30,000 people each year die of suicide. Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in America (www.afsp.org). Suicide victims often leave letters to loved ones or friends saying goodbye or giving a reason for what they did. I wonder how many of them actually take the time to make things right with God.
Death and Dying
Testing or Applying Concepts in New Situations
When a person is in his or her last days of existence, it has always been difficult for me to find the correct words to say to that person. It is also difficult to address the bereaved as they grieve over the loss of his or her loved one or friend. The knowledge that I have gained will be beneficial to others and me in the future. I am better equipped to give advice to a person that may have a terminal illness and given a short time to live. It will also be beneficial to be able to say the correct words, and know what people are experiencing during the death and dying stage. When people are describing to me the events that are happening in the lives of those who are dying, I will be able to tell them that it is normal, or to be expected.
Some of the stages of dying which a person goes through could lead family members to believe that his or her loved ones or friends no longer love them. This statement is far from the truth. I would imagine that the fears and feelings one would possess during this stage of life are overwhelming. The thoughts of leaving family members behind, that may be dependent upon the dying person, and the sudden change in plans may contribute to these feelings. The plans that once included retiring, traveling, or just relaxing, are no longer an option. Death is a part of life. The knowledge, which I have gained, will be helpful to others and me in the future. However, I do not look forward to the day that I will pull from this knowledge.
Death and Dying
Santroc, J. (1999), Death and Dying (pp. 551 - 565)
Life-Span Development Seventh Edition
Holmes, H. , & Holmes, S (1970). Life Change Events: (pp. 335)
The Journey of Adulthood
Ross, K (1969), Kubler-Ross’s Stages of Dying (pp. 384 - 385)
The Journey of Adulthood
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention [Online],
Available http://www.afsp.org/index-1.htm [18 June 2001]