I guess our family was different. From the time I was a child, if a family member was dying the whole extended family would gather at their bedside and be present when it happened. Most simply slipped away after having been medicated, one fought to breathe as her lungs filled with fluid, one was racked with pain from cancer and bleeding through his skin. A cousin lost a 5 year old to being hit by a car.
Since the deaths were at a hospital, we’d gather at the deceased’s house and the whiskey would come out. Eventually someone would say, “Do you remember that time…” and relay a story about the deceased. One story would lead to another, the stories would become funnier, and eventually the whole house would be drunk and roaring with laughter while still shedding tears.
When my father died, it was the first time I got to experience this for one of my immediate family members. His loss was very painful, but by the time the funeral came I realized that I had already moved through all the phases of grieving during that night of family.
Death was a normal part of life.
Having been a medic, the worst part of death for me was the smell. I have a very acute sense of smell and the shock of just how bad some things could smell took me some time. I got used to lots of blood, but even the memory of someone who hadn’t bathed in months or had blood in their feces can still make me retch.
You can’t treat someone if you’re retching. Finally a nurse taught me to keep a jar of Vick’s (menthol chest rub for those outside the US) in my pocket and to smear some inside my mask to manage the smell. It doesn’t completely cover everything, but at least I could function.
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