"Say what you have to say, and not what you ought."
~ Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Margaritas and Memories

Last week Mike lost his beloved 88-year old grandma, known to friends and family as G. It's been an especially hard loss for him as she was the mother figure in his life. Losing someone you love, especially someone who represents comfort, safety and security in your world, is devastating. Even though I feel like a seasoned veteran when it comes to loss and grief, I've felt more than a little helpless and at a loss as to how to help him navigate the painful journey ahead. 
G and Mike having a margarita on her birthday.

I've tried to help by taking care of the practical things, the many tasks that follow a death. It's all reminded me of the business side of death, the bureaucracy and paperwork that follows, all of it necessary and none of it anything someone deep in the process of mourning wants to, or is even really capable of dealing with. When my sister died I remember wanting time. Time to cry and be sad, time to come to terms with the awfulness, but it seemed there were so many decisions that had to be made so quickly. It's that way after all deaths. Before anyone has barely had time to wrap their mind around the reality of their loss, they're expected to focus on myriad mundane details. It all seems a little wrong and insensitive to me.

One decision Mike didn't have to make was which mortuary to call. That alone can be a difficult choice, especially having to decide at an extremely emotional time. G had long ago made the decision to donate her body to the University of Utah's Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy body donor program. I wasn't sure what to expect of the process, but everything was handled smoothly, efficiently and with kindness and sensitivity for the family. A day after her death, Mike received a thank-you from the University along with a pine tree sapling to plant in G's memory. Every year on the Friday before Memorial Day they hold a memorial service honoring donors and thanking the families for their gift. All in all, I was impressed with their level of care and respect. 

Sunday, a wake was held to honor G. Friends and family gathered and shared a margarita toast in her memory. She loved margaritas, so it was a very appropriate gesture. Now come the other tasks, stopping automatic deposits and payments, closing accounts, settling the estate, cleaning out her home. None of it is easy. Dismantling the details and belongings of some one's life, cleaning out a place that was home--the place were cookies and hugs were given and so many memories made--is excruciating. The urge to keep nearly everything is strong. So many things are tangible reminders of moments. Letting them go takes time. It's something I found was best done in stages, erring on the side of caution. Later, after the loss isn't so fresh it's easier to let some things go. 

Mike and I have already been through so much in our three short years together. We've seen each other at our worst, during some of life's most challenging moments. Sometimes it seems like we've both aged 20 years over the last three. Surviving Julie's death, Mike   fostering Isaac and pushing so hard for him to get legal residency, job changes, financial challenges, and most recently, overseeing G's need for 24/7 care for the last seven months have been a crazy roller coaster ride. 

Facetime with G earlier this year
One thing I've learned for sure over the last three year is that Mike has really strong shoulders! He juggles more than is really humanly possible. Shortly after I met him, I met G. Mike was taking her on errands and he carried her purse for her on one arm, supporting her with his other. People say to pay very close attention to how a man treats his mother, as it's an indicator of how he'll treat you. In Mike's case, his mother was G, and I paid attention. He loved her unconditionally, cared for her, treated her like gold. Over the last several months I've watched him carry her down her stairs in what turned out to be the last time she left her house, lift her in and out of cars and into her wheelchair, make her laugh, fight for her getting the proper level of dignity and care from her medical providers, and quietly weep from the pain of slowly losing her. I knew that very first time I saw him with a purse on one arm and his little gray-haired grandma on his other that he was a keeper. He still is. 


  1. This is a beautiful post. Mike is definitely a keeper, Keicha. He will be leaning on you, but I am sure you will hold up, since you've been forged in your own fires of loss. Sending you both big cyber hugs and feeling how this post opened up my heart...

  2. I love the images that I have in my mind of Mike helping his grandmother. I have always said that there is no greater blessing that to have your grandchildren near you and helping you as you go through your final days. Mike did this for his grandmother. I know she was grateful. I hope that helps to ease the pain of her loss a bit for Mike.

  3. He is a keeper. While I'm sorry for the losses you have had, I'm glad you've had each other through it all. Peace.

  4. Oh, Keicha -- what a wonderful tribute, not only to G but especially to Mike. It tells me you are both lucky, despite your rugged years, to have found one another. I've found that challenges like these can either tear people apart or bring them infinitely closer together and I see how you two have such a strong bond that apart is not even a flicker.

    You made a couple of interesting points that I was pleased to see -- I'm not stating this exactly as you did, but the idea that every death is different -- some are sudden and tragic, like Julie's; others are lingering, but still sad, like G. Yet every one matters -- especially to the person most feeling the loss. And honoring that is so important. I go through this periodically thinking about illness and how mine is less significant than others' -- but have been repeatedly reminded that it is my experience, just as losing G is Mike's. You are so wise to see that.

    You also mention the things like closing accounts and such. That is so hard. I was a little luckier with my dad in that so many things were joint, but still... a lot to do when you aren't at your best. Sometimes I still wonder if I got everything. Good for you on handling that, so Mike could grieve.

    What a lot of respect I have for you, Keicha. So much.


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