Lessons Remembered After Deaths

Image may contain: 9 people, people smiling, people standing, wedding and child

A family portrait ~ 1984. I’ve got the yellow flower in my hair and am seated in front of my grandmother, Rosetta. My aunt Tracy, who also passed, is two over, the first seated person on the right.

Oddly enough, I’ve thought a lot about death. The subject matter has haunted my books for whatever reason. In Scented, in particular, the main character, Bryan, has to deal with knowing people around him are about to die. And so to get into his head, and to really flesh out that story, I had to get used to thinking of death and what it means to varying people.

Though, I must admit, all my thoughts on death did not prepare me for March of this year, a month that saw my aunt (the youngest of my grandmother’s 10 children) die suddenly of a heart attack, followed only three weeks later by the death of my grandmother.  (We’ve decided that we Craytons will forevermore be wary of March, as my grandfather also died in March [back in 2012]. Not a good month for us.)

So, of course, issues of death, and of course, life, are heavily on my mind again. So I thought I’d share a few random thoughts on the subject.

Stop in and say hello. On many days, we’re busy and running around and we think we don’t have time to stop and say hello to a person we haven’t seen in a while. Yet, we really should. My dad, who was in town visiting his mother, stopped in to see his sister on Saturday, and she died that following Monday. And it was an unplanned visit, but it turned out to be so important in the end.

Fun Beyond Funerals. I actually had a wonderful time when I went to my grandmother’s funeral. Not because funerals are fun or because I was glad she was dead. But more because I got to see so many people I don’t normally see. Rarely are all my aunts and uncles in the same place, and they all know how to tell a story and how make you laugh. So, it was a real joy to spend time with them, as well as my own parents and siblings. But, it just reminded me that we should try to get together more often than at such somber occasions as funerals.

You only get one life. One of the folks who came to my grandmother’s funeral mentioned how he was retiring at 58, and another person there, said “Aren’t you worried about healthcare?” and his response was, “My mom died of pancreatic cancer, and she had stayed at her job longer than she wanted to because she wanted to save up and do all these things, and all she got to do was die. I promised her I wouldn’t do that.”  I found it somewhat refreshing. Of course, I’m not suggesting one throws out all practicality, but I do think sometimes in life we have to make choices that thrust us fully into living our lives in the moment, not putting off for some later time. I do think my grandmother was excellent at that. Though, with 10 kids, you had to be in the moment.  She was also really awesome in deciding what she wanted and going for it. She learned to drive at 50, and she loved to travel, going to Hong Kong and Jamaica. She was a lady who made her moments happen.

Well, that’s all for now. I’m off to write and enjoy life. I hope everyone has a great rest of this week.



About RJ Crayton

RJ Crayton is a former journalist who now writes fiction. She's reported for the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle, as well as the smaller publications Education Technology News and Campus Crime. She has two published novels, Life First and Second Life and blogs for Indies Unlimited and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. For exclusive content and first looks at her new work, sign up for the newsletter at http://rjcrayton.com/subscribe.
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6 Responses to Lessons Remembered After Deaths

  1. Death is just another stage of our present life. I honestly believe we transition on to another (superior) plane of existence. What happens there is unknown to us lowly mortals, but I feel it’s obviously much better than what we have here. I also believe, once we reach that sphere, all of the events of our earthly lives come into focus and make sense. People who fear death were probably the same ones who feared being born; a baby who cries in its mother’s womb is not a good sign.

    Friends and relatives have noticed I have a preoccupation with death in many of my stories. It’s not that I bear a love or fetish for the macabre. I just see death as that transitional stage of our time in this world.

    I lost my father and my dog within 5 months of each other last year. My father had suffered gastrointestinal problems for all of his adult life; issues that only grew worse within the past decade. As his health deteriorated, he kept saying he was “on my way out.” Then he’d tell my dog – almost in a confidential manner, yet loud enough for me to hear – that “we’re going to go together.” After my father passed away in June 2016, my dog’s behavior became more curious. He’d wander into my parents’ bedroom and sit and stare at something for the longest time. On other occasions, something would seem to distract his attention. I realize now it was my father. Last December, as temperatures dropped severely here in northeast Texas, I was stunned to see some irises my dad had planted years ago in full bloom. We had a brief warm spell a couple of weeks earlier, but I don’t think that could explain it. I then understood that it was my father telling me everything will be okay. It had been 6 months since his passing, and I was still depressed and anxious.

    But people actually grow stronger when they deal with death. Studies conducted on people in their 90s and 100s showed they’d experienced the death of many loved ones during their long lives; more importantly, they were able to handle those deaths with the simple understanding that such events occur. Even as tragic as some were – a child or young adult, for example – they grieved and accepted it for what it was.
    One of the best things I’ve ever done is to capture stories of my parents’ youth on video. I didn’t spend as much time with my father as I’d liked, and my mother’s memory is faltering with every passing day. But, as mundane as they may have thought their younger years were, they had some truly interesting stories; sometimes funny, sometimes sad. Yet, they were parts of their lives.

    That’s why I encourage people to sit their beloved relatives down in front of a video or cell phone camera and let them talk. They may be hesitant or embarrassed at first; perhaps a little perplexed why you think their lives might interest anyone. But, if anything, such recordings can be precious family mementoes. Besides – being a typical writer – I’ve gotten some great story ideas from them!

    Thanks for this piece, RJ! It’s critical people comprehend these matters and embrace that reality. And please accept my condolences on your losses. Even if you can prepare for these things, it still hurts.

    • RJ Crayton says:

      Thanks for sharing your father and dog’s tale. That’s so fascinating. I’ve always thought that sometimes people are still with us. So, this notion that your dog would be staring at your father seems very believable. Death is a part of life, and we have to enjoy the people who are here with us when they’re here with us. I wish I had spoken more to my grandmother about her childhood, as it was quite interesting. Different times, different people. One of the funny stories with my grandparents is how they met. Grandpa was one of 12 (an older one) and she taught his younger siblings at school. With his younger siblings, he ran into her at the store, and they were introduced. He apparently hustled them into the car, drove the home like a bat out of hell, kicked them out and zoomed back to the market so he could talk to teacher alone. 🙂 You gotta like a man who knows what he wants.

  2. It seems like the older you get, the more likely it is that the only time you see your relatives are at weddings and funerals.

    Sorry for your losses, RJ.

    • RJ Crayton says:

      Thanks for the condolences, Lynne. I think you’re right. Everyone seems to be too busy for much else but weddings and funerals. While globalization is nice on some level, it also means that families tend to spread out so much more. You don’t get to just bump into people because you all live in the some place, or just stop by and say hello.

  3. I was there at my mother’s bedside when she died. Our relationship had been very strained. Being there allowed me to make peace with that, even though she was in a coma. It was a healing experience.

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