Experiencing Death From Afar


By Julie Winsel

From November 2015 to October 2016, I lost three family members. It added to the general
sense of doom it seems everyone felt in 2016.

The first death was my uncle in November. Then my husband’s grandfather in February. The last, and most hard-hitting, was my grandmother on my mom’s side in early October.

Death is unfortunately something I’m familiar with. The first death in my family that I can remember is when my great grandfather died when I was about five years old. My parents told me that a part of him was going to heaven and I hid behind my mom’s legs at the graveside service because I thought literally body parts were going to start floating up into the sky.

At 13 years old, a girl in my English class with epilepsy had an attack and died suddenly. At 16, we lost a very close family friend to cancer. At 18, my grandpa on my dad’s side died from damage to his lungs, attributed to inhalation of building materials at worksites throughout his whole career.

I have found that, so far in my loss experience, grandparent deaths cut the deepest. There’s something so personal about losing someone who directly impacted my literal existence. I live because they lived. I was born because of decisions they made. And now, because of their death, a part of my history is gone.

In both grandparent deaths, I have been five hours away. In 2010, I was in college. This last October, I was at my house (I seem to like the five-hour radius). I think being so far away when deaths occur has directly impacted the way I’ve grieved their loss. Because I saw them so infrequently, I don’t feel like they’re gone from the earth, I feel like they just stayed home that day. Even after I’ve attended their services and received the condolences, it doesn’t quite click.

I’ve moved on and up in the world to pursue my life and that has taken me far away from my childhood home and my family. I experience all news and loss from afar and so far have never been there the day the loss happens. Instead, I get the call and make plans to travel shortly after.

Because of the distance and my experience with losing people, I’ve found it really easy to compartmentalize death, which is odd, because my anxiety/depression brain doesn’t compartmentalize anything else.

Don’t get me wrong, deaths still hurt and the day my grandma went into hospice I cried heavily, horrifying my co-workers. But the distance allows me to place the hurt in a small box in the back of my brain that I don’t ever unpack when I’m in my own home. The hurt stays in Seattle with the rest of my family. In fact, the hurt seems to only radiate from the places associated with my grandma’s death: the church where we held her memorial service and the assisted living facility where she and my grandpa lived.

I don’t think it’s healthy to have this disconnection and compartmentalization in the death of a loved one. This creates a block for my grieving process. It’s been easy to go about my day as I normally would, that packed up box slipping further and further in the archives.

Little things break the tape holding the box shut, such as my grandpa (my grandma’s widower) visiting recently. Seeing him without her (and with a mustache on his historically clean-shaven face) and seeing him tear up a little at the mention of her (being emotional support for grandparents is a whole different topic to discuss) cracked the box a little. The second he left my house, however, the box was retaped.

A friend of mine, who had also lost a grandparent, told me once that she had a dream about him where he told her he was okay. Since the dream, she’s been at peace with his death. She’s had that closure.

I’ve never had one of those dreams, about any of the deaths in my life, and I doubt I will with this propensity for compartmentalizing. Part of me is holding out for those dreams. I can sense a tension that needs to find peace. Those boxes are piling up and it’s only a matter of time before they topple and break open.

My hope is that 2017 is a death-free year. Grief is something we all have to deal with and face head on. The sooner we address our grief, the sooner we can move on with our lives, as they would want us to. For now, I’m running out of storage space.

Julie is part of the Contributing Writer Network at Thirty On Tap. To apply to become a Contributing Writer, please click HERE.

{featured image via unsplash}