This past week, my 85–year-old grandmother passed away rather suddenly. She was the only grandparent I ever met, and for a couple of years when I lived with her, she was more like a parent figure. My “Grams,” as we called her, was tough as nails. She raised four kids after her husband died at 45 years old, and she was left with nothing. She didn’t even have a driver’s license.
Grams worked 40 hours a week at a six pack store up until about two months before she passed. She always said she wanted to die by “getting hit in the a** by a mac truck.” Well, cancer was her mac truck and it happened rather quickly. Grams was checked into the hospital on a Wednesday, diagnosed on Friday with stage IV cancer, and died Saturday afternoon after the whole family got to say goodbye.
After recently losing my husband’s grandfather, I learned how the Jewish religion deals with death and funerals. But coming from a Catholic background, my experience with my grandmother was quite different. Not just because she was my best friend, or because I would miss calling her to talk politics or tell her a silly joke, but rather I felt that as a family, we didn’t properly mourn. There was no shiva for three days, no comforting the mourners, not even a meal where we came together as a family. After the burial we all went our separate ways. I picked my daughter up from preschool and went home to pack for our upcoming vacation.
After this past week, I decided that from now on, I would do things a little differently. If someone in my family dies, I want to sit shiva, or at least my version of it. I feel that we lost out on the time to sit together as a family and mourn, and maybe that’s why even now, it doesn’t seem real, as if it’s not final. I still find myself dialing Gram’s number once a week to talk about the Eagles, only to quickly remember she won’t answer. After my husband’s grandfather died, I found the shiva greatly helped the family with the loss. Maybe it was listening to all the stories, some of which people had never heard before, or maybe it is a reminder of how at the end of the day, family is what matters.
Family was the most important thing to my grandmother. She never dated another man after her husband died; his love sustained her. After he passed she focused on her children. She was the glue that held our family together, and I believe she would have wanted her kids and grandkids to be together after her funeral.
It’s hard not to compare the experiences we took away from both deaths. It’s even harder to lose someone so important to you, but I did come out of it knowing one thing: moving forward, I want to sit shiva when I lose somebody important to me. Gram’s favorite saying was, “There is no use crying over spilled milk.” She was right; I can’t get upset or change the fact that our family didn’t get together after the burial, but moving forward, I now know I can mourn in my own way.
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