Friday, July 1, 2011

Triplet Grief

They say things happen in “threes,” right?

Maybe we seek out opportunities to confirm old wive’s tales such as the preceding, or maybe there really are times when you are confronted with more items than you initially feel you can handle.

My grandfather’s death was not a huge surprise, but it was a huge “hit.” At thirty (ahem) one, I have had all of my grandparents. Grandpop (or “Pop” as so many called him) was 93 years old. He was in hospice at home and a variety of ailments over the past few years took away much of his mobility and thirst for life. In an effort not to focus on the macabre and detail out how his life came to an end, I have felt it more appropriate and therapeutic to spend my energy reflecting on how he lived. As my uncle remarked at his funeral last week “Pop never met a stranger.” And wasn’t that the truth! He could strike up a conversation with anyone and everyone, and leave with a forever friend—even a few German soldiers in WWII. I have so many memories of my Grandpop, and as fast and tiring as the funeral weekend up in PA was, it was wonderful to reflect on a life so full, meaningful, and long. And a partnership between him and his wife that is the epitome of unconditional love.

Through my continued reflection, I’ve come to realize that grief is such a personal experience. We all plow through the emotions at different rates and in different ways. Sometimes, in completely unexpected ways. In the receiving line during the calling hours, my cousin was visibly mourning in such a visceral, and yet beautiful way. And the fact that he and my grandfather share a name—Paul—made seeing him cry even more poignant for me. My grandmother, stoic as ever, found the energy to attend almost every element of the day (from calling hours, to service, to burial, to the reception). That is no easy feat when you are 70lbs soaking wet, on oxygen, and fighting for your own life (more on that grief #2 in a bit). My father tends to acquire a nervous cough. He will hate that I am calling him out on this, but as far back as I can remember, in times of stress or sadness, he coughs. I shared a hotel room with my 2 older brothers, and in the middle of the night, my one brother screamed in a grumpy muppet voice: “LILA, LILA, LILA!” (my grandmother’s name). I had fully expected to be a blubbering mess, but I surprised myself and just felt an enormous sense of sadness for his loss, but relief knowing that pain was relieved. Tears were not easily accessible. I had moments of questioning why my saying good-bye to him did not necessitate me going up to the open casket and saying a prayer or my good-byes like so many others. But that’s grief. Unpredictable. Personal. The two moments I felt that ball rise in my throat and reached for some tissues was during my father’s remembrance during the ceremony—he talked about legacy, and how my grandfather’s legacy is in his children’s, grandchildren’s, and great grandchildren’s education. And my ducts always get wet whenever I hear my Dad’s voice quiver or see him cry (talk about breaking down a stone wall.) That, and when the military honors were performed at the burial site; I just hoped that somehow, someway, my grandfather was “aware” of the well deserved pomp and circumstance.

On the way home from PA, I felt like I had done a lot of good processing. But upon the night of my return, I found out that my grandmother had fallen and was at the hospital. Although the fall was what brought her into the hospital, it was just a means of having the doctors confirm yet again that her body was failing. Scleroderma has slowly shut down her internal organs over the past couple of years. Prior to Pop’s death, she would find refuge in the hospital, and resist words like “hospice.” She took piles of medication, and in my estimate, did what she could do to stay alive to be with her husband. Now that he is gone, I think she is ready to “go” and is not in a fight to stay alive as long as she can. I don’t blame her. She lost her best friend…and is tired…and probably really lonely. She decided to go home on hospice, discontinue most all of her medication, secure a hospital bed, and live in comfort.

It was a 1-2 punch. Figuring out how to grieve for someone who was just lost…grieve for someone who is barely still living…and then the 3rd punch--grieve for something that has yet to “live.”

With my grandfather, I have spent a long time thinking about a lifetime of events, moments, memories. With my grandmother, I have spent a long time thinking about her current state, projecting about her own passing and funeral, and with the third personal loss we experienced this week, I have spent a lot of time thinking about a lifetime of missed events, never realized moments and memories. Seven weeks is not a long time, and outside of pretty intense fatigue and terrible morning sickness, I don’t have a lot of memories; the grief comes in not reflecting on the memories of what was, but what could have been.

So what do you do when you receive that third blow? I know we all are in the contest for having the best husband…but I have the best husband for me. In regards to our own personal loss, we have been doing a lot of processing, talking, crying (okay, just me there), questioning, deciding, and even arguing over the past week plus. And at the moment—I’m feeling okay. (And I hope Eric is, too.)

For me, being with my family, going over pictures, and telling old stories was exactly what I needed to grieve for my grandfather. Checking in on my grandmother, thinking about her every hour, and even beginning to think about old stories is exactly what I need to begin to grieve the impending loss of my grandmother. And this past week, talking and being with Eric is what I have needed to grieve a life not even "lived." Believe it or not, it’s one of the first times I am not compelled to share more than what I have already--not even with friends or close family. Remember—grief is unpredictable. It’s not about denial, and it’s not about it being too hard to handle; it’s about feeling that what is right for my process is to go through it with Eric—just the two of us. I have also found a strange sense of comfort, if it can be called that, knowing that (un)fortunately, tha majority of women I know of child bearing age have had these kinds of experiences. I don't wish it on anyone, but sometimes there is relief in knowing you are not alone.

I anticipate a few e-mails (and lord knows my Mom is going to inquire), but please don’t be offended for my limited response. The beauty of life is that it proceeds. And that new life emerges every day. Perhaps there will be new life in our future...perhaps not.

So maybe some things do come in three’s…and maybe other things don’t (at least not right now).

But what can come in unquantifiable measure, is the love and support of a spouse. Something Paul and Lila demonstrated over 70+ years…it’s their legacy that through all our live's ups and downs, are trying to replicate.


  1. oh honey, i'm so sorry for all of your losses. my heart aches for you. will be thinking of you and your whole family.

  2. Alison, I'm so sorry to hear about your losses. You're in my thoughts. We went through a few like your third loss, and I know how devastating it is to lose something that, like you said, never "lived" so please, if you need anything, just let me know.

  3. It saddens me that I have nothing to give comforting words to say out of fear that I'll say something trite or stupid. I am thinking about you and your family, as always.

  4. Alison, not much I can add except I'm sorry! I've experienced my own more personal losses more times than I like to remember. The hurt is so intense and intimate. I still cry and feel no guilt over that even though I have 3 reasons to celebrate life! You are all in my prayers.