This is something that we all must go through at some point in our lives, often multiple times if we ourselves live long enough. As we get older we expect to experience it more frequently as our grandparents, parents, siblings, and friends age. Death is the one great inevitability that none of us can avoid no matter how hard we fight it.
My first true experience with grief was the loss of my grandmother when I was 24 years old. She was the person that raised me from my earliest childhood experiences and was always there for me throughout my life. I was in medical school at the time. She developed a sudden illness and deteriorated rapidly during my final exams week. I had just visited her in the hospital a few days prior and she was looking forward to going home. I was planning on seeing her the following weekend. There was a sudden turn for the worse and a need for emergency surgery. She did not make it. I was not there to say goodbye. I never got to tell her all the things I would’ve liked to tell her before she passed. I never got to say “Thank you” for raising me and shaping me into the person I had become.
My next great loss was that of my mother in 2003. I had moved back to NJ the year before and fortunately had the chance to spend a lot of quality time together before she passed. She too developed a sudden and unexpected illness, was hospitalized, and died within 2 weeks of the hospitalization. She was on a ventilator, in a coma, unable to communicate, and possibly unable to hear what was being aloud, though I hope that her spirit could sense it and knew what I was feeling. She had no chronic illnesses and took no regular medications. It was not expected for her to be taken so suddenly at the age of 72.
Since that time I have bared witness to the loss of my brother a few years ago, a man that played an integral role in my life, teaching me many ways of the world. He was 11 years my senior but always played the role of a friend to me. I have also lost an aunt, cousins, great aunts, and uncles. None were as close to me as my mom and grandmother. I am coming to the age where I expect to begin experiencing the loss of my contemporaries. I have, unfortunately, experienced a lot of death as a result of my profession. I have observed families grieving for their loved ones who succumbed to infection, heart attacks, strokes, trauma, and cancer. It is those that stay behind that suffer, that feel the pain.
Now imagine, for a moment, how you might feel if you lost a loved one that you have not seen in a long time. Months, maybe a year or two? This is not because you lived across the country or overseas, or had a job or responsibilities you could not escape from, but because you were either estranged from them as a result of a disagreement or discord, or because you were choosing not to see them as a result of a fear of an unknown. This fear keeps you at a distance, not seeing each other for the holidays or birthdays, not gathering for a weekend or vacation as you may have in the past. How would this impact you? How would you feel? Would you feel sad, or remorseful, or guilty? Or would you feel justified in your actions and convinced that you’d done the right thing? Would you be regretful that you never got to say goodbye? That you hadn’t given them a hug in such a long time? That your children may not have seen them and experienced growing up with them? Think about this for a moment, ponder the scenario. Look deep within yourself.
This has been an all-too-common experience for so many over the past 18 months. Some by force because of restrictions and regulations. Some by choice, as a result of fear. It is important to think through this now before you have to face this circumstance. A choice like this can’t be undone. There is no going back. There are no do-overs.
While you may not be able to alter the outcome, you can certainly alter the course of the interactions and have closure, a sense of presence, and have a sense of peace. I know how I felt when I lost my grandmother and still, to this day, have regrets and remorse for having not been there. Nothing would’ve changed. She would’ve still died. But I would’ve been close by. I might’ve had a chance to say goodbye. I could not imagine how I might feel if I lose another close family member or friend and had purposely chosen to not see them and spend time with them because of some fear of the unknown. I purposely see my friends regularly. I spend time with my family as often as I can. I will not live with the regrets of a poorly made choice because that is what matters to me. When my day comes to pass from this world I certainly hope there is no one left feeling regretful for not having seen me or spent that one extra moment with me. We have this one life to live, we share it together, and I certainly do not plan to live it in isolation and fear.
These are personal choices, decisions that can be very difficult to make under the present circumstances. There is no judgment being passed. I have just witnessed the passing too often of those with loved ones that died alone, the regret of the ones they loved for having not been there for so long. Make whatever choice feels right for you, that is important to you, but realize that you can never undo what has been done. Death often strikes quickly, far sooner than we’d hoped. Opportunities will be lost. Don’t live your life in regret.