Kris’ Corner – Death, Grief, and Loss

August 22, 2023

So one thing I have touched on previously, but not really delved into is walking alongside a child who has experienced trauma through the death of a loved one. Now, to be clear, I’m not walking that path fully yet, but I am about to. My grandmother, who turned 100 years old earlier this year, is in the process of actively dying. Now you might be thinking, “She’s 100? Well how well could your youngest child (with a trauma background) really have much connection with her?”

I’m sure you’d be surprised. She was active until just about two or three years ago. The Covid quarantine that happened at the nursing home really took a toll on her. She personally never got sick, but she wasn’t really moving around much at all. She barely got up to walk around, meals were brought to her room, she couldn’t have visitors. And her vision and hearing we’re not great so she couldn’t really talk on the phone or watch TV. So she wasn’t getting any exercise, whereas before the quarantine, she had to walk a good distance form her assisted living apartment down to the dining room.

After Covid, she bounced back as best she could, but never got her physical strength back, and a couple years ago she had to move into skilled nursing. But her mind remained very sharp. I would take our youngest son to visit her once every couple weeks. We would always take a game with us and she was always able to play without any issue…even a new game she had never played before.

Granted, we wouldn’t stay long, maybe 30 minutes to an hour, because she’d get tired easily, but she always loved when I brought him to visit. In spite of the short visits, it was enough for them to form a deep and caring relationship for one another. She loves him and he loves her; he also loves the candy she keeps in one of her dresser drawers, but that’s another story. But I know he always enjoys his time with grandma, even if her candy stash drawer was empty.

In the past few weeks, she has seemed a little off, but we chalked it up to the fact that she’s 100. But about four days ago it was obvious her body was just shutting down. So we are nearing the end, and I know that I am going to have to walk through that, not just by myself, but walk through it alongside my children as well. Right now, I’m trying to keep myself positive and thankful for all the time we’ve had…and that my older boys got 22 and 20 years with her respectively. As a brief aside, that is still amazing to me…that they got that much time with their great-grandma.

And it’s not like it was a totally distant relationship; she took vacations with us when they were younger, so they’ve really spent a lot of time with their great grandma…but it was all condensed. When the older boys were younger, she lived far away, and we did not see her that often. It’s only been in the past few years that she lived just a few minutes down the road.

And when my youngest came along, things were different and she wasn’t quite so active; vacations were off the table because it was just too difficult for her to do. So, even though my youngest didn’t get annual vacations and lots of holidays together, he got the one-on-one visits; he got time to actually spend with her and not in the midst of a bunch of family together.

So after she moved, we made visiting with her a priority. In spite of the Covid quarantine, even in his nine years, he’s probably had an equivalent amount of time with her. All this rambling to say: even though she is not gone just yet, I am desperately trying to camp out in my thankfulness, and not in the grief and loss that I know is coming.

And to be clear, I’m not the most upset for myself or my older boys or my parents…it’s for my youngest son…because here’s the thing: all kids from hard places  have already experienced great loss…loss of birth family (which may be temporary, permanent, or somewhere in the middle), as well as potential loss of friends, siblings, school or ethnic identity. There are many ways with trauma history may have experienced loss. So to face the loss of a close family member seems monumental.

We have another kind of loss which is also forthcoming (I’ll be writing about it in an upcoming post as well), as our oldest son will be going overseas as a long-term missionary. So obviously a vastly different scenario, but one which can also bring up feelings of grief and loss.

I honestly don’t know what this will look like, but using history as a predictor, for our son, usually “sad looks like mad” which means a lot of angry blow-ups in our future. But I know I could also be surprised…so I just want to be forthcoming with all of you to let you know what we are currently experiencing. I’ll definitely write more, in a few weeks ahead, and let you know how things are going and why I think it looks the way it does. I know our experience will not be the same for every child, but hopefully my experience will bring some help and hope to others who have walked this walk…or will in the future.