Dealing With Death

I’ve been no stranger to death in my lifetime.  I remember as a child going to several funerals with my family.  I don’t remember much except running around with the other kids and lots of flowers.

Me, my brother Marion, and Maw Maw Green

The first death I really remember was my great-grandmother.  We called her Mawmaw.  I was only about 4 at the time, but I remember going to her house, and then we couldn’t anymore.  I also remember going to an open auction where they sold her belongings.

The next one I remember was my little cousin Kohl who drowned in a swimming pool.  That one was hard because he was just a baby.  I remember seeing my mom comfort my brother who had been looking at his picture crying. I remember going to the funeral.  I remember listening to a man speak about how we didn’t know what was going to happen to him after he died, and then I remember my Dad talking to his parents afterwards saying that they could take comfort in knowing that they actually do know what happens after he dies.  He’ll be with his Heavenly Father, and we will see him again.

Then my uncle Kenneth died.  He had cancer.  I was still small.  Maybe 10.  The memories are pretty fuzzy.  I remember sitting next to a cousin in a Catholic chapel and watching her cry.  I had never seen her cry before.

One of my favorite pictures of me and my mom

And then the really hard one came.  My mother died when I was 12.  July 10, 1997.  I’m not sure that any of what I had previously experienced prepared me for what I felt then.  Lost.  Alone.  Scared.  How could I possibly live without my mom?  Some vivid memories from that day include me seeing my mother lifeless in a hospital bed, seeing my Grandmother Pettus walk through our back door sobbing and saying, “She was always so good to me,” and the huge amount of people that were in my house with good intentions, but I really just wanted them to go away, so I could be alone to cry without feeling watched.

Me and one of the strongest women I know - Grandmother Pettus

Right before I went away to college my Grandmother Pettus got sick.  I visited her in her home, and I realized it might be the last time I get to do that.  I cried when I left.  While I was at school, she died.  That was hard, too.  I loved her so much.

Since then I’ve had more of my uncles to die, and each time it’s hard realizing that I won’t be able to see their smiling faces again.

And then I had two miscarriages.  I lost children that I didn’t even get to see–didn’t even get to hold them in my arms, and it hurt.  So much.  It was different because I didn’t have any memories to remember, just a lot of what ifs.

I’ve gone through the stages of grief just like everyone else.  I was emotionally numb for a long time–especially after my mom died.  And I did the same thing when I had my miscarriages.  I’ve asked a lot of whys and hows.  I’ve felt angry or cheated. I’ve wondered why God could take those people away from me.  I’ve cried many, many times.  I miss those I loved so much, and I think about what would’ve happened if I had those babies.

Certain dates are hard.  Anniversaries of their deaths.  Holidays. Sometimes hearing a song or smelling a certain smell brings back memories.

But through all of this–all of this huge mess of life and death–I’ve been able to find peace. One of the things I’ve learned about life is that I cannot do it alone.  I’ve always prayed.  I’ll admit that sometimes I avoid it.  I think part of grieving is wanting to hurt for awhile.  When I had my second miscarriage, I told Heavenly Father that I knew I would want peace eventually, but right then I just wanted to cry and mourn the loss of my little baby.  And he let me.

After I lost my mother, I wanted to see her so badly.  There have been so many things in my life that I wanted a mother for, and I didn’t have her.  And it hurt every time.  But the only thing that has kept me sane is the knowledge that one day I would see her again.  I remembered what my Dad told my aunt and uncle a long time ago.  I know exactly where she is, and I know that one day I will see her again.  And when I do, she won’t have a kidney disease anymore.  She won’t have to do dialysis anymore.  She won’t be in pain anymore.

As I write this, I’m not exactly sure what my whole point was.  I suppose I just wanted others who are grieving to know that you’re not alone, and there are others who have felt at least part of what you feel.  Talk about it.  Write about it.  Get the thoughts out to someone you trust, and you’ll feel a little better.  A burden will be lifted.  And it’s okay to cry years after it happened.  I cried today about my mom. It’s okay to miss them.  It’s okay to remember them.  It’s also okay to move on.   Don’t feel guilty for finally getting rid of some of their stuff. (That’s something I still struggle with.) Don’t feel guilty for not thinking about them every second of every day.

Most of all I just want others who are grieving to pray.  Really pray.  I know not everyone believes in the same God I do.  I know that.  But I have to tell you that believing in God and Jesus Christ has been the one thing that has kept me afloat through the years.  When I look at this list (and I’m not even including the illnesses and near-death experiences), I could be a very bitter and miserable person. And I have been bitter and miserable sometimes, but often when I get to that point, I take all my pain and sorrow, and I say, “Here, Lord.  I can’t take it anymore. Please, help me with this burden.” And he takes it.  He always does.  And those are the moments that I feel peace, and those are the moments when I really know that God loves me and is truly aware of me.  And if he’s aware of an insignificant person like me, then I know he will be aware of you, too.

The scripture that helps me the most:

Book of Mormon – Alma 7:11 “And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.”

He can take away your pain, too.

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5 Responses to Dealing With Death

  1. tricia says:

    Johanna- this is beautiful. “I think part of grieving is wanting to hurt for awhile.” That is an incredible statement. I haven’t felt grief of the magnitude that you have or do- And it is something I fear because I don’t know how I will or can handle that test. I am glad you have a way to repair and move forward. Your post is really something. I hope you’ll share it in the forum.

  2. Lora Bonham says:

    A perfect story. Thank you for sharing such hard things. Your mom was a beautiful lady. This story was a wonderful tribute to her.

  3. Robert Poss says:

    What a wonderful Mother you had . She also was a wonderful cousin and friend to me . We were always close when growing up and she was more like a sister than cousin . I remember so many times visiting at Uncle Noble’s and them visiting us . It’s funny how marrage and getting older seperates you from your loved ones . But there will come a day when we can visit again and never more have to be seperated but only grow closer as a bigger family . I love you Vickie and I love all of your family .

    • hanneyjo says:

      Thanks for the beautiful words about my mom. I wish I could’ve known her like you did. 🙂

      Yes, one day we’ll all see each other again.

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