Remembering Great Grandpa
by Betsy Munro Jeffrey
I am a Mother to 2 children. “The Dude” is 7, and all heart. “The Girl” is 5, and probably my 89 year-old grandmother come back to continue teaching me lessons every day.
I am a Niece and a Daughter. I have been “voluntold” that my job has progressed to care and connection for my family. It is a lot of work I am happy to undertake, but I needed guidance. I need self-care. I need connection to myself and others in order to keep these relationships healthy. Much like my family, I realize I can not do these things alone. I want to do this, at my very best, every day.
I am a granddaughter. Last July, I helped move my grandfather from his Massachusetts, assisted Living facility of 20 years. He required end-of-life care that legally and medically, was not possible in MA. Donald, at 90 years old, a 6 year widower, Veteran, hooked up to an Oxygen tank, sharp as a tack, made a long trip. 4 rental cars, blown fuses, multiple hotels and wheelchairs later, we arrived in Wisconsin. I didn’t know how long we would have together.
He has 3 responsible, intelligent children who arranged his options, doctors, paperwork, care, and financials. I get to focus on making the most of every day with him. I get to be his voice, his connection. His constant.
An End of Life Companion
I am an End-of-Life Companion. Like you, I have always been building. I have had it in me all along. The Conscious Dying Institute was the guidance I needed to step into my role in a helpful, fulfilling and healing way. I gave myself permission and found my grace.
We had 6 glorious weeks. Our relationship grew and flourished. In the event one can have a good death, my Grandpa Donald had one.
All of this is deeply important to me. But, what I want to share today is about the legacy we are always building. My legacy includes connecting with my children, honestly and openly about death. Death, loss, and grief can be healing. A good death is possible because a good life is possible.
Remembering Great Grandpa:
When they got home from school, we sat them down, went through our after school routine, and then made space for a family talk.
Mom: “This morning I went to Grandpa’s home. He has passed away.”
Dude (openly): “He died?”
Mom (comforting): “Yes. His body stopped, and the parts of Grandpa that we love aren’t in his body anymore.”
Dude (curious): “Is his body, like, there?”
Mom (thoughtfully): “It was. I said goodbye to his body and thanked it for holding our Grandpa. Now his body has been picked up”
Girl (curious): “Are they going to bury him?”
Mom: “No. They took him to a funeral home where they will clean him and then have a special fire, just for him.”
Dude (a little afraid but curious): “Like burn him?”
Mom: “Yes, but it won’t hurt.”
Dude: “So, like Lord of the Rings?”
Mom (smiles at the connection): “Yes and then he will be ash.”
Girl (seriously pondering): “What is ash?”
Mom: “It is what is left after something burns.”
Dude: “I loved him. I will keep him in my heart”
Mom: “That would be nice.”
Girl: “I am sad”
Mom (thankful to Mister Rogers for simplicity) : “Me too. I cried a few times today, and I might cry some more. Daddy was very good at hugging me. It is OK to cry. And, his hugs made me feel better. We are here for you for whatever you need and to support whatever you feel.”
Dude (a bit confused and thoughtful): “But…I am also happy. I don’t know what to feel.”
Mom (enthusiastically understanding): “Me too! He was very happy to be around you too. You were important to him. He even told me to hang up these pictures of you with him, the other night after our family dinner. Would you like to go to his home to see? If you want, I thought maybe we could pick up the bird feeders you gave him. He loved looking at the birds. He even got a bird book. I bet we could bring those home would you like that?”
Dude and Girl (together excitedly): “Yeah!”
This article was a contribution from our Minnesota End of Life Doula Graduate, Besty Munro Jeffrey. Thank you to Betsy for sharing this beautiful story with our community!