On Death and Dying: Part 1

Last updated: August 2022

I have COPD, which is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Under the COPD heading are emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and alpha-one deficiency.

This subject may be peaceful, scary, or even taboo for some.

Remembering when I was young, maybe six or seven, I was learning about death. It was terrifying. What if my mom and dad died? What if I died?

Our young brains are forming. How we experience death as a child helps us form how we are and how we think about death when we get older.

Thinking about death as a child

As a child, I would say bedtime prayers. Old: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord, my soul, to keep. If I die before I wake, I pray to the Lord for my soul to keep. Amen.”

So afraid to go to sleep because I was terrified that I might die. Thankfully now, they have made it child friendly.

New: "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray thee, Lord, my soul to keep. See me safely through the night, And wake me with the morning's light."Amen!

When I was a child, I thought that only old people died. It was Johnny's 5th birthday. The family went to his grandparent's farm to celebrate.

He was riding his brand new tricycle along a brick wall. It collapsed, and he was killed. The funeral was so sad. I remember crying. It wasn’t fair that a sweet little boy would die.

Another neighbor and friend’s 7-year-old brother Dean had a brain tumor. He went to the hospital a lot and always looked so tired. He died. He left behind a loving family and friends. He also left behind his pain.

As I grew older, our aging generation of relatives was getting older as well. Logically it was because more people that I know were getting older. I advocated for my grandparents and others when they couldn’t advocate for themselves.

He kept lying in a hospital bed, telling me he was cold. I tried to warm up his ice-cold feet. It was obvious that he was nearing the end of his life and that his organs were shutting down.

He kept asking me if he was dying. I was grateful when I saw the doctor and suggested we ask him.

I had no idea what to tell my grandpa. Hurting my grandpa was the last thing I wanted to do. The doctor said something to him, “You’re okay and will be fine.” I followed the doctor out to the hallway.

I said, “What in the heck are you telling him? You know that he is dying. Tell him. He knows he's dying and asked about it, be honest with him.”

As the doctor walked away and down the hall, my aunt overheard the loud conversation and asked what I was so upset about. I told her, then I went in and sat by my grandpa.

Taking his hands, I told him, "yes, you are dying, and it’s okay. Soon, it will be your time. You will be free of pain”. A peace went across his face. He knew that soon, he would be free of his suffering and pain. He died that night.

Experiencing death in adulthood

My Grandpa P. had lung cancer. Every day after work, I would call my grandpa and tell him hi, also that I loved him.

I would talk about memories of my day. Once he was tired, my grandma took the phone and told me they loved me.

Because of cancer, he was unable to talk. My grandpa told me how much my calls meant to him when grandpa died. He died soon after.

It’s hard to believe that he lived a year or so on ½ of a lung. I was six weeks smoke-free when he died. That was 1975. On the day he died, I started smoking again.

Grandma P. died in the hospital of a heart condition. I stopped to check my schedule at my second job.

I was tired after working my main job. When I got to the hospital to see my grandma, I was shocked that she had passed away. Upset that I checked my schedule before going to the hospital, I realized that I needed to let go of the what-ifs that wouldn’t have made a difference.

I visited grandma regularly, and she was pleased with that. Regularly, I visited my grandmother in the nursing home.

Walking into the social room, I told the staff that my grandma was wearing messy underwear again and needed to be changed. That happened the previous week too when I went to visit her.

Telling my aunt, who lived in the same town, and a cousin about what happened, I hoped that it would bring more awareness. This way, they knew what to watch for.

Working in a nursing home as a teen

I worked as a nurse’s aide when I was in high school. I worked in a nursing home. I loved this job, and the residents were so wonderful. I learned so much.

During this time in high school, I so enjoyed working with the residents. Usually, I worked before school, after school, and on weekends. Working as a nurse's aide in 2004 was a blessing.

I felt terrible because I was always so hurried. There were more residents per aide and less time per person. What was sad was that they didn't get the needed time. I tried to go in to visit whenever I could or at the end of my shift.

Sadly, I had to give notice. My back was screaming at me. Beds were at different levels; some were low. I couldn't do it.

When I gave notice, they offered to give me physical therapy and whatever else I needed. Knowing my back, I've done PT more than a few times throughout my life.

I had a history of back problems when I was young. Knowing that I had arthritis and fibromyalgia, I couldn't work as an aide.

My story will be continued in part 2.

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