Monday, February 6, 2017

Grandma Derby and the 'New Normal'

Any of you who read my last post for the new year saw my reference to the health of my Grandma Helen Derby. At the time I wrote that, she was in very poor health and her passing seemed imminent. In fact, it occurred only four days later on January 4th, so it's been just over a month now since it happened.
Grandma's high school senior photo, 1951

What I've learned from all this, or at least been reminded, is that no matter how much time we have to prepare for a loved one's eventual passing, it's still hard when it finally does occur. I had just gotten in from work on January 4th maybe 20 minutes before my grandpa came and told me she was likely passing, so was there when it happened. My mom, aunt, and Grandpa were all there and it was very peaceful. The initial moments weren't all that emotional for me; it was the subsequent time afterwards that I got more emotional as the reality of "it's over" hit me. When I posted the announcement on Facebook with some photos of Grandma, I used the scripture from Revelation 21:4:
"And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away."
When I read that, it was enough to put me over the edge emotionally and was the first time I really cried about the whole thing. Grandma had been in poor health for a few years by then, and had gone to the hospital in late October before coming home to be on hospice care in late November. In other words, we knew this was coming, and for all intents and purposes, the grandma I knew most of my life was largely gone as she was only a shell of her former self. Even so, that final realization that this latest chapter of my life had closed and that she was now, in fact, gone, was still hard to realize. Even over a month later I have to remind myself that she's not there at all.

Grandma's first year of teaching, 1965

Now let's get one thing straight: I most certainly believe in the eternal nature of our souls and that death is merely a stage in our existence. In other words, Grandma is no longer with us here, but that doesn't mean she no longer exists. I could do an entire blog post of why I believe that so strongly, but suffice it to say, there isn't an issue here of my Gradma's passing feeling like a complete and total loss. In the end, I believe I will see her again and she's merely in a different place right now.

Grandma in 1954 when she lived in Long Beach, California

Grandma was huge into family history, so I have no doubt she's interacting not only with her family members who have gone before her, but also all the people she did research for, which is literally in the thousands. Quite often when I was growing up, when I visited my grandparents, Grandma was busy doing some sort of family history work, be it filling out forms, verifying vital information, or doing digital indexing on scanned records. I even went with her on some of her family history trips to gather information. The trip I remember most was a drive down to West Virginia when I was in second grade. What I remember most about the trip were two things: it was my first time that I remember seeing cardinals up close (quite a few outside the window of the house we were staying), and the lady we stayed with had this large clock that I just loved. I remember I kept secretly hoping she'd give it to me for some reason. Even better, I got to leave school early for that trip, YES!

Grandma and Grandpa in 1980 at a family reunion. I'm fairly certain this is an early "selfie" :)

But even with the knowledge and beliefs I have, the adjustment, as anyone who has lost a loved one can attest, isn't easy. I have referred to it as the "new normal". In thinking about it, every day we make adjustments to our daily routine, whether it be a slightly different route, a new food, new clothes, etc. But every so often, major changes occur in our lives, like a new place to live, a new child, new spouse, new job, etc. All of these things cause us to adjust what is "normal". The same is obviously true when someone passes away; the difference is that now we don't have the option of contacting them at all. When we move or bring someone new into our lives, dynamics may change in who and how we interact with others, but we typically still interact with them. Moving to a new place may prevent us from interacting more frequently with certain people, but we most likely still interact with those we want to, like friends and family. But someone passing away is so different, which is why it seems like it takes longer to adjust. You never fully "get over" missing that person; you simply learn to adjust to their absence.

Like I said earlier, I had plenty of time to adjust to Grandma not being home as she was in the hospital and rehab the first time she got sick about two years ago, and then again between late October and late November when she was in the hospital. Even so, again, it's different when someone isn't home and you know they're somewhere else. The absence now is permanent; she's not somewhere I can just call or go visit.

Christmas Eve dinner 2012 in Kent

It's important to understand that everyone grieves differently and adjusts to that "new normal" in equally different ways. In all honesty, this is largely new territory for me, Yes, I have lost family members, but prior to this, the only direct family members I lost were great-grandparents, and the most recent was over 16 years ago, when my great-grandma died at the age of 95. While I saw her regularly, it certainly wasn't an everyday occurrence, so her loss wasn't much of a change in my life. The closest I've been was the loss of our family dog in late 2006, followed by the family cat a few months later. In those cases, especially our dog, the adjustment took about a year to fully make, partially because I was away at school when he died. The hardest thing to adjust to was the quiet and his physical absence.

The best way I adjusted back then and how I have done so this time is sharing memories. Sharing good memories, especially humorous ones, gets us to smile and laugh, which on its own can be therapeutic. Further, it makes it seem more like the person is simply absent as opposed to gone, so even if you don't believe in an afterlife or the eternal nature of our souls, you can still feel like the person is just away for a season instead of gone. But no, as I said, we don't ever "get over" someone being gone and there are times we really wish we could talk to that person. Instead, we simply learn to adjust to that missing part of our lives as we acclimate to our "new normal".

Grandma and Grandpa with my brother Andy and sister-in-law Heather back in 2008 in Kent. This is how I  remember Grandma the most.

I've included the obituary for my Grandma that ran in the Record-Courier on January 6. I wrote the obituary, my first time writing such a thing. The online version can be read here. The only changes I need to make are first, we verified her graduation years from Kent State. She got her Bachelor of Science in Education in 1968, her Master's in Education in 1973, and a Reading Specialist degree (which she regarded as equivalent to a doctorate) in 1976. Second, the mission to the Toronto Temple was 1994-1995. I will add that I feel myself very fortunate to have had all four grandparents be part of my life for so long. And it's not like I'm all alone in that regard now as I still have three grandparents alive and well right here in the area. I will definitely miss my grandma's dry humor and even the things she would fret about (most notably the electric bill), along with her high sensitivity to salt (pretty much any hint  of salt was "too salty") and her complete dislike of anything even remotely spicy (pepperoni was too spicy). Once spring returns I full intend to get all the gardens back up and productive after a year they were mostly left on their own (besides the flowerbeds around the house). Grandma loved to garden and I enjoy it too. Along with that, I've made sure to keep the houseplants watered in the house, something I took over awhile back once she wasn't able to move as frequently. Until we meet again!

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