Grandmother’s death brings lesson in living

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The day my grandmother died I wasn’t sad. There was a sense of relief.

After seeing my 84-year-old grandmother suffer through months of kidney failure in hospice I knew her death would bring her peace. And although hard to deal with, I knew I’d be fine as well.

The beginning of the end

Two years ago my grandmother was hospitalized with a bowel obstruction and told she was in kidney failure. At the time she only had 30 percent kidney function. The doctor said that if she went on dialysis she could live for five or six more years.

She said no.

“I saw my husband go through that. I’m not going through that,” she said.

Without even realizing it, this is when my family entered its first stage of grief – denial.

In her 1969 book On Death and Dying Elisabeth Kubler- Ross a psychotherapist identified five stages of grief that everyone experiences differently. The stages are denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance. Some people may jump around from stage to stage or take as much time needed to process their emotions until they complete the cycle of grieving.

Denial

When my grandmother, Yolanda Euzarraga, said she wanted something the family knew not to argue. She was the matriarch. My grammy said everything was going to be OK, so everything was going to be OK.

She grew up in Segundo Barrio and graduated from Bowie High School in 1951. She got married when she was 21, had 5 kids and went to school full-time while getting her degree in bilingual education. She was the first in her family to graduate from college. All of her children attended college as well, something she was extremely proud of.

When we had troubles she would tell us not to worry about it. “Everything will fine,” she would say. “Pray and everything will be OK.”

Whenever I followed her advice and prayed or meditated everything did turn out OK. So, when she chose not to do dialysis, we had to let her have her way and hope it would be OK.

In January 2017, her kidney function was at 15 percent. It was down to seven percent in June when she insisted I go on a study abroad trip to Italy. I was ready to cancel the trip. But she wouldn’t let me forfeit the $500 deposit fee she had made for me.

I went to Italy thinking she would be fine. I had the time of my life and brought her a bunch of presents. As soon as I got home I showed her all the photos of the trip and told her what an amazing time it was.

A day after I got back she moved into hospice.

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Although not a fan of pictures, my grandma was fascinated by snapchat filters.

Bargaining

After Grammy told me she was ending medical care and going into hospice, I knew she was tired and didn’t want to live anymore. She lost her husband of 49 years in 2004, survived skin cancer, lived with high blood pressure and kidney failure, financially supported her family for years and was a kindergarten teacher for more than 30 years. She was tired. As painful as it was I knew that my Grandma was ready to pass on.

Still, after finding out that she was going into hospice my first thought was that if I finished school faster, my grandma would be better.

Anger

I found myself becoming angry with my grandma. How could she want to die when I’m a senior in college! I didn’t even want to go to college, but I did it for her.

She had a choice. She could have gone on dialysis. The doctor said she could live for five or six more years if she did.

“I am tired. I’m done,” was what she told everybody.

After she died in October I was angry angry in school. I was mad when I was out of school, I was mad at my boss and I found myself doing poorly in school and at work.

Isolation /Depression

I found myself not wanting to go out. I did not want to attend school or work and it showed. I went from being friendly and outgoing to walking around in a cloud and keeping to myself.

Random bursts of crying hit me as I was driving or doing routine things. I stopped taking my dogs for walks. I stopped cooking for my family, which I had loved to do.

I was fine I didn’t think I needed help.

Making my way back

In going through these emotions I found there are some things that might be helpful when experiencing the death of a loved one during the school semester.

I found that by informing my professors on my current situation, it helped them understand why I wasn’t enthusiastic or doing well in their class. But some classes I couldn’t salvage and I took a failing grade.

Surround yourself with people who care

My boss, who is amazing, one day took me aside for a chat and helped me realize there was no reason to go through this alone. Having a person talk with you about what you’re going through helps you cope and manage these feelings better.

Although there might be times were you feel you want to be alone, don’t. One a friend showed up uninvited and sayd “we need to go out.” I didn’t want to, but he convinced me to go. We went out for dinner, drinks and dancing and had a lot of laughs. I felt the kind of happiness I hadn’t known since my grandmother was alive.

I also learned to appreciate the little gestures of support that were offered to me. One of my Facebook friends is a former customer from my days working in Santa Fe. Kathy was kind and a sweetheart of a regular customer. After hearing about my grandmother, she immediately sent me her condolences on Facebook: “I remember how you used to talk about how your grandmother loves and supports you. I’m truly deeply sorry for your loss.”

It was a simple sentiment, but meant a lot.

Acceptance

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My Grandmother Yolanda S Euzarraga drinking a margarita on her 81st birthday. Photo credit: Matthew Euzarraga

I realized that although losing a loved one is heartbreaking and earth shattering, the world goes on. I say this because if there is one thing I have learned it is that we need to work past the pain. Our loved ones would not have wanted us to give up on finishing school, living our lives and accomplishing our dreams.

I did give up for a time until I realized the only way I was going to honor the memory of my grandmother was by setting out to finish what I had started. I had to push my graduation date until May 2018, but I know I am going to make it.

I see now everything my grandma had taught me while she was alive was for my benefit: dreams do not work without action, love is stronger than anger and depression. And most importantly, although I’m not religious, I believe that God or a force bigger than us all does exist. It is inside you and me. It is underneath the pain and sorrow. And every day we work through it, we are working toward a better tomorrow.

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