Dealing With A Death In The Family While Having Mental Illness

On Tuesday, August 4th my paternal grandmother died in her sleep a few days after having a major stroke.  She was 97 years old.  Grandma Foster was one of these people who was always looking out for other people almost like they were her own kids.  I can imagine as the oldest of eight siblings growing up on a farm in Nebraska during the Great Depression she would have developed those skills of caring for others and making that a huge part of her life at an early age.

Every summer my brother and I would spend a few days with her in her hometown.  After my Grandpa Foster died of a heart attack at their farmstead in the early 1980s she moved into town.  While I can’t remember the farmstead she, grandpa, and my dad lived on, she and my dad both used to tell us stories about life on their farm.  Grandma was one of these farmers’ wives who could do a little bit of everything.  She said she could have taken a chicken from the henhouse and cooked on the dining room table in about an hour.  She also did quite a bit of the same farm work my grandpa was doing during the first few years of their marriage right alongside him out in the field.  This was back in the late 1930s when  the corn crops where still being harvested by hand well into the winter.

During World War II, after my grandfather couldn’t qualify for the army as in enlisted soldier because of his age, grandma and grandpa went to Wichita, Kansas to work in an aircraft factory.  They both worked in that factory for the duration of the war.  A few years after the war ended the family moved back to Nebraska.  My grandpa farmed for the rest of his life.  It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized that grandpa and grandma never owned their own land and instead farmed for others.  In addition to being a farm wife and a worker in a aircraft factory, Grandma Foster worked for a number of years as a payroll clerk in an automotive parts plant.  In the 1960s and 1970s she was filling out those payrolls by hand, doing several hundred of those every two weeks.  She didn’t have much time to enjoy retirement before grandpa had his heart attack but she did enjoy having her grandkids and the kids of her extended family around as much as possible.

Even though I have been fighting a mental illness for my entire adult life I’m not as distraught by her death as I thought I would be.  That might be changing soon as my dad, my brother, and I will be spending the weekend cleaning out her apartment.  I’m also going to be one of the pall bearers.  I was a pall bearer at my maternal grandmother’s funeral too.  But as I have been working with a mental illness for quite some time I know myself well enough that often anticipating some bad event will not only lead me into a downward spiral, the anticipation will be worse than the event itself.

So as of right now I’m not thinking about cleaning out the apartment or the funeral or being a pall bearer or the visitation the night before the funeral.  It helps that we had a small birthday bash for her a couple of months ago and she was as mentally sharp as ever then.  She had been hampered by arthritis for the last several years that made walking without a walker or a cane very tough.  As much of an extrovert as my grandmother was this had to be tough.  But she managed to stay in contact with her many friends and family members through Facebook and phone calls.  She was one of these who wasn’t afraid to use new technologies while not losing the old style compassion and empathy for others.  Grandma used her Facebook account to show her caring and to keep others aware of what went on in their social circles.  A couple years ago she said that she went from being in awe of the Ford Model T to looking at flying drones just in her lifetime.  Who knows what my nephews and niece will see in theirs.

At this moment I’m not completely torn up that this compassionate sweet lady has died and is leaving a void that will have to be filled by others.  In time that void will be filled by others in our family and among her friends as it is natural for others to step into rolls that others filled after a death.  Rather than being distraught about her death, I’m grateful that she and those like her lived and impacted as many people as they did.

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Author: alifeofmentalillness

I write about my experiences with mental illness and life in general. I am also currently under going 'lifestyle changes' (I hate the term 'dieting' as it's sounds so temporary) and have lost 70 pounds since spring 2014. I've put my poetry and novel writing on lower priority since I started losing weight and blogging more seriously.

4 thoughts on “Dealing With A Death In The Family While Having Mental Illness”

  1. she lived a good life full of family, friends, and good food. she loved parties, celebrations and holidays and we are better off for knowing her and spending time with her!

  2. I am also sorry for your loss. How marvelous that your Grandma lived such a long, amazing life and it is okay to celebrate that as well as grieve when it hits you. You may have been subconsciously been preparing yourself for her death because of your Grandma’s age. I didn’t cry at the loss of my mother until I cleared out her house. Look after yourself.

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