How Four Generations Experience Death

Closeup portrait of a young girl holding a mobile phone in sorrow with a friend consoling her
Closeup portrait of a young girl holding a mobile phone in sorrow with a friend consoling her

After my mother's funeral, it was shocking to talk to her good friends. They all told me she was a wonderful person whom they loved, but not a tear was shed. Not even by her best friend whom she had known for 80 years.

Interestingly, each of the four generations mourning Mom's death experienced grief differently. And it took my mother's 9-year-old great grandchild to find the best way to honor her memory.

A great grandchild's drawing of herself and Bubbe (Great Grandmother)

My mother was 91 when she died and had lived through the loss of her husband of 68 years and most of her friends and relatives of her generation. Her address book was filled with whiteout covering the names of friends and relatives who had died. When she shared that a peer had died, she would accompany it with what I thought was a cavalier remark about having to make new friends. In her final years, she often skipped the funerals.

What must it be like to have lived long enough to lose your spouse, sister, brother, and all of the relatives of your generation? Sickness, loss of independence, and death were her constantly stalking her. To survive and make the most of each day, Mom and her peers had to lean forward to make new friends, take pleasure in their children and their families, and accept the inevitable.

My brothers, cousins, and I, reacted with what I would call sad resignation. We are old enough to have expected this and experienced it before. Our sorrow was tinged with the realization that we were now the oldest generation in the family. I cried, but I also felt extremely anxious. How had time passed so quickly? Would I soon start to lose people I loved from my own generation? With great sorrow and heavy hearts, my brothers and I delivered eulogies as Mom had requested.

For Mom's eight grandchildren, the tears flowed heavily. Not one of them thought they could give a eulogy without sobbing. They loved their grandmother and couldn't believe she would not be there anymore. The ones who lived out of town were sure there would be more time. There was a family wedding coming up in August. They would see Grandma there. It was simply too shocking to realize what I already knew. Sometimes, there just isn't a next time.

It was my 9-year-old granddaughter, her great granddaughter, who wanted to speak at Mom's funeral. In part, she said in a sweet, clear voice,

"I loved and love my Bubbe...[she] helped me inherit the gift of being good with elderly people...I felt very close to her...If she was in a Harry Potter house, she'd be a Hufflepuff, loyal and kind. I miss her so much...Her spirit is in us, and we remember her in the way she wanted to be remembered."

Sometimes it is the child who leads us. That was definitely true here. My granddaughter was not burdened by the baggage of the older generations. She saw what really mattered. Kindness. Loyalty. Love. And remembering.