Death and Dying: Something I Know Well
I remember sitting in class in college and feeling like I was absolutely thriving. I loved the
content, our discussions, and the best part was that I already knew most of it. The class was a
prerequisite for Child Life and was doubly labeled as a Nursing class. Its name? “Death and
When I told people I was taking this course, it was always very amusing to watch their faces
scrunch up or flinch, and then the “what???” comment followed.
Believe it or not, this was one of my favorite classes. If you’ve read any of my past articles, I’m
sure you can imagine why. If you haven’t, it’s because I’ve experienced a lot of death in my
short 24 years, beginning with my oldest brother, Dakota.
So Many Funerals
There were about 11 people in that class, not including our 2 professors. On the first day I
remember my professor asking something along the lines of “Who here has been to a funeral?”
The shocking part was not everyone raised their hands. Some people there had never been to
One girl talked about how her dog had died, another mentioned going to one when
they were little, and then there was me with my arm fully extended but silent, and in some sort of
shock because I had been to more funerals than I could even remember. I probably can’t count
them all on two hands, much less name them all.
It’s strange, because I know that not everyone has the unique experience and knowledge of
death as I do, and I’m genuinely glad that’s how it is. Because if everyone knew as much death
as I did, it’d be a sad world. I guess I just never had a classroom of peers say “nope, I don’t
know that many people that have died”, so it shocked me in a way I didn’t know it would.
At that time, I had been to many, many funerals. I had known about my brother’s death growing
up. I went to my grandfather’s funeral when I was 6. When I was 14, my grandmother, who had
been dealing with dementia and Parkinson’s for a while, died. When I was 20, a friend from
home was on the way back to his parents from college, got in a car accident, and died. I was
driving on that same road 30 minutes before him. That was the first time I had survivor’s guilt,
and honestly one of the first times a death wrecked me.
Different Deaths, Different Reactions
It’s interesting how deaths affect you so differently. Dakota’s death is still hard, but I wasn’t alive
when he was born or when he died, so I never fully knew him. I cry for him, I miss him, I wish
what happened to him didn’t, but there’s nothing I can do. My grandfather had been sick for a
bit when he died. It was sad, but as a 6-year-old there wasn’t much I knew to do nor
understand other than that he died and I wouldn’t see him anymore.
When my grandmother died, I was older and understood things a lot differently. I watched her
decline. I listened to her as she didn’t remember my name or who my mom was. I hugged my
brother hard when he got home from college the night she died. Things were explained to me
differently, and I understood them differently. It was much more real, and I felt that I grew up a
lot throughout her sickness and death.
It Hits You Hard
When my friend from home died, it hit me hard, harder than I expected it to. I’m not sure why,
and I’ll never really know, but I have a feeling it had to do with us being friends as kids (even
though we weren’t close at the time) and he was the first person that I really knew that was my
age that died. I knew his family and his friends. I’d held his hand and hugged him before, and
now that wasn’t something I’d ever know again.
I remember going to work the day that he died, not knowing if he’d make it off of life support,
and I kept going to the back of the store to fall apart. Friends of mine who’d heard kept texting
to check in. My best friend kept texting me with updates since her family was close to his.
I remember my boss telling me to leave, knowing I couldn’t keep it together long enough to stay
through my shift. I drove an hour and a half to my best friend’s house and we sat together in her
hammock crying, not understanding what was happening or why.
Death is Different for All of Us
All this to say, death is different for all of us, and different deaths affect us in unique ways. Our
reactions depend on our relationship with the person who died, our own beliefs, what phase of
life we’re in, and so much more. Our coping skills are different, along with our views on how to
grieve or if we even should.
I can tell you how I’ve done it, 24 years of understanding loss and
grief, but that doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. Regardless of your experience or the way you
handle things, you’re not alone. We all need a little help sometimes, and we all need a little love
when we feel like we’re losing it all.
Read more from Skye: Remembering Dakota: Sibling Loss and Its Impacts – Open to Hope
Visit Skye’s blog: Mentally Sailing