My grandmother, Dorothy, was dying.
Later in life her hair thinned out and she wore a wig to cover her patchy scalp. But as she lay in her hospital bed near the end of her life, the wig was gone. Her mouth was open as she struggled to get breath and her false teeth were not in their designated place.
Grandma Dot always lived local and eventually moved to a retirement home that afforded us with regular visits to see her and spend time with her.
And spend time with her we did. Our family routinely walked to visit her. We brought her flowers in the summertime. Our kids paraded around for her, all dressed up in their Halloween costumes. We celebrated birthdays with special treats.
My kids were used to seeing her because she was a part of our lives.
Grandma Dot dying in the hospital didn’t look like Grandma Dot who celebrated birthdays and Halloween and who accepted our gifts of flowers with a smile. To see her dying was quite a sight for Jack and Avery, who were 5 and 2 at the time, and at the end, they weren’t comfortable visiting her.
But this is what I do and who we are. As a funeral director, death is a part of life in our family. But that didn’t matter nor did it make it any easier for my kids to see Grandma Dot in the final days of her life.
A few days after Grandma Dot passed away, we gathered as a family to “view” her at her visitation. As we walked into the room, Avery let go of my hand and ran up to the casket. Putting her little hands on the side, she pulled herself up in order to get a glimpse of what was inside.
While on her tiptoes, she turned around, and with uncontainable excitement, put her hands to her mouth and yelled, “Dad, Grandma’s back!”
She was right. And those words will forever be with me.
As funeral directors, we talk a lot about the impact viewing a loved one can have on us as individuals. Death is hard, and there is a temptation to avoid hard things like holding and attending visitations and viewings. But beautiful moments can emerge out of these times, and as a parent and a funeral director, I am thankful for my daughter’s joy at seeing Grandma Dot and what that taught me about the power of sight.
Matt Hollebeek - Life Story Funeral Director and Owner: Heritage Life Story Funeral Homes
What about you? What have you learned from attending the visitations of loved ones?