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On the Death of My Loved One

April 27, 2016   |   By Andy Stoker
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In loving memory of my grandmother, Shirley Halas (1928-2016)

I thought I was prepared. The years of sitting with families. The training in hospitals. The provision of hope in ritual. All of it did not ready me for the human experience of watching my loved one die.

There was little for me to do at the bedside but watching each breath, reading the slight changes in her face for any discomfort and re-presenting her best interest with every guest. I can only imagine that the many who have walked this path have done the very same. As the emotions flood over, one begins to make meaning of this experience we call death, at least I did. And the meaning is not in the dying, but the living.

I have always been in awe of my grandmother’s living. When I was born, she was already in the throes of a burgeoning corporate career. Her daughters were already on their way to adulthood; seemingly, her work inside the home was finished. My experience of her was not in her home baking or our reading together, it was at sales meetings and, in south El Paso, on deliveries. A red Pontiac would pick me up and we’d be off; we talked about how much someone produced in her neighborhood or created the agenda for the next meeting. (This was the best part because I was able to try out some new impressions while introducing the next month’s featured item. You’ve never heard Ronald Reagan give the sales bonus challenge for Skin-So-Soft, have you?). I learned so much from her example on how to lead and when to follow. And, now, I have learned this even from her even in her dying.

Her understanding of life was living up to your death (thank you, Paul Ricoeur, for this turn of phrase from your deathbed), and that she did: faithfully and flamboyantly living. This two-time breast cancer survivor found the courage to faithfully live and with that new lease on life, flamboyantly so. She knew life was precious and not to be squandered. She loved herself and others by insisting on excellence. She cared by giving her full attention to a task. She encouraged by listening first, then showing.

Now, my grandmother is gone. Supposedly, I was prepared; truth be known, I wasn’t. But I loved. I cared. I encouraged. Just like the many who have sat at their loved one’s bedside, I will forever marvel in the glorious and precious weight of this human endeavor, death, and, pray too that I can live up to it.

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