Monday, July 23, 2007

The Paths of Grief

I was fully prepared that my 92-year-old friend Florence was going to die from her malignant brain tumor. I just wasn’t prepared for her to die while I was away. She passed away the day we left for Chautauqua and her funeral followed a few days later. While I was away I just could not process her passing, concentrating more on the death of the stranger who lived across the street from us instead.

I spent much of yesterday with Lydia, Florence’s daughter who is just few years younger than I am. We had a leisurely lunch out on our deck and soaked up the bright sunshine as she talked about the end of her mother’s life. We got to experience the funeral as we listened to a recording of the well-chosen words of Toby, Lydia, her brothers, and others. It was the next best thing to being there. Lydia read us entries from her journal which described the incredible bonding that had taken place between her and her mother in these last 4 months. I learned many things about Florence I had never known.

But Lydia was in physical pain as she struggled to find a comfortable position. Her lower body seems to have seized up over all the tension that has arisen after her mother’s death. I experienced just a taste of what she is going through as I came to pick her up and had to wait while her sister-in-law combed the house to determine what she wanted for herself and her family. The tension is a result of a new focus on money and material things that is inevitable in any family with more than one child. In this case, there are many beautiful things from all over the world to be divided up and everyone but Lydia seems to be making a list.

As lonely as I felt upon the death of my parents, I realize how lucky I was to be spared the sibling sparring over the estate. I freely gave away much of the contents of the house in which they had lived for 50 years and kept what was left. I filed the estate taxes myself, refusing to involve professionals. It was drawn out but greatly simplified by the fact that nothing was contested.

My heart goes out to Lydia, who describes her family as extremely dysfunctional. She gave up her life in another big city to come here to be with her mother. She stayed with her night and day for all those months and instead of incredible gratitude, she is asked when she is leaving and questioned about expenses for food and shampoo. No wonder her hip is seized up.

There’s not much I can do to ease the way for this family who are struggling with their mother’s death and struggling with their individual preparations for the future. I’m taking Lydia for a massage this week. That’s about all I can do.

I already miss petite red-haired Florence incredibly. She is the one who wanted to read poetry and dance by the light of the moon. She is the one who came back from a Hirschhorn docent trip to Argentina one day and showed up with a noodle kugel at my house for dinner the next day. She is the one who had an endless store of poetry to share with all of us who were ready to listen. She fought a valiant fight, being bed-ridden for just a couple of weeks before the end.

I will forever remember visiting Florence 10 days before she died. One son was reading to her. Lydia was making sure she was comfortable and hydrated. Florence had on white lacy pajamas and looked content with her children around her. I’m sure she knew what would happen after she was no longer there to keep the peace. I’m sure she wishes it were still possible.


Blogger Ulysses said...

My guess is that now it will be up to Lydia to keep the peace. I pray she'll be able to find some in time.

12:26 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Ulysses -- The difficulty here is that she and her brother are co-executors, meaning there is no third party to cast the deciding vote when they disagree. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out and whether any of the siblings are speaking to each other when all is said and done.

2:44 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

I pray that Lydia finds peace with it all. Sometimes, it seems almost easier to get caught up in the sparring than to feel the grief.

3:07 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kristin -- I agree. It would be infinitely easier if there was nothing to share but the memories.

3:46 PM  
Blogger Pauline said...

Sometimnes I think that dividing up the physical possesions is a way of keeping grief at bay or under control. My mother solved the problem for my siblings and me when, before her death, she had each of us go separately through the house and make a list of all the things we liked. Anything duplicated on our lists was to be discussed and if no agreement made, the item would be sold and the money divided. Not one of us had the same items on our list and when Mama was gone, there was only hugging and weeping and no fighting over her things.

How nice of you to arrange a massage for Lydia. It's a lovely and thoughtful gesture.

8:57 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Pauline -- I always imagined the siblings that I never had. I hope we could have figured out how to do as your family did, but in truth I think it is rare.

I look at my friendship with Lydia as Florence's parting gift to me. I will be so sad when she goes home.

10:56 PM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

I'm so sorry for your loss.

Not all siblings fight over nice material objects. One of my client's mother recently died. She and her sisters and brothers have been wonderful with each other while dividing up the stuff. So sorry Lydia has to experience this and I'm so sorry you lost your dear friend.

8:37 AM  

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