No matter who you are or what you’ve been through, at some point in your life, you will experience loss. It could be a friend, family member, or someone who has made an impact on your life. It will cause disruption in your thinking, feelings, and behaviors because grief affects all of those things. Everyone experiences grief in their own way, and you will not always understand how that person is feeling, even when they talk about it. I am here to tell you my story, and that there is life beyond loss, even though I’m still working on it myself.
I recently went through a hard time because I found myself grieving over the loss of my beloved grandma in December 2019. Most people will experience the loss of a grandparent at least once in their life, so they will know the heartache that I’m facing. But my situation is different. In August 2019, my grandma was diagnosed with multiple myeloma which is a type of cancer in which the plasma cells are a type of white blood cell in the bone marrow and with this condition, a group of plasma cells becomes cancerous and multiplies. The disease can damage the bones, immune system, kidneys, and red blood cell count. We were originally told she would have years left because it was a very curable cancer. In the long run that was not the case, as it only gave us 4 months left with her.
The news of my grandma’s cancer changed my life. I moved to Albany from Portland to be closer to her, and to be able to help out more during her time of illness. I would go over and do housework like cleaning, making dinner, mowing the lawn, and taking care of the animals, as she was too weak to do it herself. The night before Thanksgiving, she was readmitted to the hospital because she got really sick. It turns out the treatment wasn’t working anymore, which would turn into getting blood transfusions every other day while taking more extreme chemotherapy. Thanksgiving Day I went and stayed with her so she didn’t have to be alone on the holiday, but that night would change my life forever. She decided she didn’t want to continue treatment and would go on hospice care.
She had found her peace with dying, but as long as she was at peace with her decision, I was as well. She meant everything to me, and I know this was the best solution for her because working as a medical professional my whole career, I know the outcome in this situation. I ended up becoming her hospice caretaker at home and moving into her house with her during this time to be there twenty-four/seven and make sure nothing happens. The living room quickly started to look like a hospital room as we had the adjustable hospital bed, oxygen tanks, commodes, IV lines, and medical supplies. I was in charge of taking care of her, giving morphine for pain, giving medications out, and making sure she was comfortable in her last days on earth. This was the single-handedly the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.
I didn’t have the support of my family. They didn’t know what was going on with me because I showed that I was strong and flashed a smile. But never underestimate if someone is in pain because everyone is struggling. Some people are just better at hiding it than others. Five days after she came home, she passed away with all of us next to her. I didn’t get to fully grieve the way I wanted to at first, because I felt responsible for helping and taking care of my family during their time of grief. After everyone left and went back to living their lives, I finally got to be alone, but at that point in time, I was stuck in denial and pain. Eventually, there was this poem by Eloise Cole, that was spot on with my emotions.
I seem to be falling apart.
My attention span can be measured in seconds.
I cry at the drop of a hat. I forget things constantly.
The morning toast burns daily. I forgot to sign the checks.
Half of everything in the house is misplaced.
Feelings of anxiety and restlessness are my constant companions.
Rainy days seem extra dreary. Sunny days are an outrage.
Other people’s pain and frustrations seem insignificant.
Laughing, happy people seem out of place in my world.
It has become routine to feel half crazy.
I am normal, I am told.
I am a newly grieving person.
This was the start of my turning point and moving on through the steps of grieving.
One day I got a package from Hospice center with flyers and books talking about how it’s okay to grieve and how to cope with this life change. I read and tried all those techniques, but they didn’t work for me, for I had to find my own way, and I eventually did. I remembered what the hospice social worker told me one day on a home visit, “We have so many other patients that do not have the family support like your grandma does. You take such great care of her and you should be proud.” I took that to heart because she was right. I’ve worked with patients before that had no family support and went through hard times. I decided to volunteer at the hospice center as an emotional aid. Going around to different patient’s houses and being there for them emotionally and telling my story to the families. By doing this, it gave me peace because I knew my grandma would be proud of me because she was the most caring person in the world and always gave back to people in need. Two months have passed, and everything I have been doing is for her while being the man she knows I can be.
My special grandma made me the person I am today, and I will always be grateful and cherish everything she did for me. She raised my brother and me when my parents couldn’t, helped me financially when needed, and gave me the motivation to succeed. She was the glue that held this family together all these years. The death of my grandma still has been very hard on me, and I still struggle trying to overcome my emotions. Studies say it can take a person up to eighteen months to get over the death of someone close to them, in which I still have a long road ahead of me. In the meantime, I will show that I am strong and continue to succeed for my grandma, because that is what she would want me to do. While I found my way of battling my emotions and loss, you might be different. As an individual, you have to find your own way of overcoming the loss of a friend, family member, or someone very important to you. It will take time so don’t try to get over it all at once. Find your peace and live your life knowing that there is someone looking over you, smiling and hoping the best for you. I hope my story is the beginning for you to find your own way of coping in a difficult time.
By Jalen Sweeney. Reprinted with permission from Caregiving.com
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