On Death & Dying

It has taken me a few days to work up the courage to write this post. There are no doubt countless blog entries on the vast web of internets using the same title and covering the same subject. To write or no to write, this was my quandary.

As I write this my 83-year-old grandmother, Nana Shirl, lies unconscious in a hospital bed in Modbury. She has been like this for near on a week now. Looking at the image above, taken a couple of years ago at my cousin’s wedding I am haunted by the image of what she is now.  A frail, lifeless figure who cannot communicate with the world and who I am not even sure is still within the confines of her human body.

My nana was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease a little over 12 months ago. It has been one of the most confronting and challenging times in our family’s life. Upon reflection I suspect I have been in denial about a lot of it for the better part of 12 months. I saw her gradually degrade but I refused to accept that it was happening. In many ways I put her illness in the ‘process later’ box hoping that at some point in the future all of this would become easier to digest.

When I received the call on Friday morning to say that Nana had taken a turn for the worst and was not expected to live, that nicely bound parcel of denial came crashing to the ground. Suddenly I was faced with the reality of the situation, my Nana, the woman who taught me to listen to my heart, to stick up for myself and fight for what I believed in, who showed me that it is possible to love again even when your heart has been shattered into a million pieces, was not long for this earth.

I knew deep down that this call was coming, each morning I awoke knowing that today could be the day that I got ‘the call’ but when it comes it’s like a blow to head with a sharp object. “Ok…..” was the best I could muster. It took me three days to register what was going on, while people around me were crying and distraught, I wondered what was wrong with me, why I couldn’t cry, was I human? And then the tears came, quietly at first and then with all the power and emotion I had expected.

And now I am here, stuck between living and waiting. Not quite sure what it is I should be doing right now. Some days I am strong enough to go to visit her, others I am not. On those other days I lie in my bed and sleep the day away, hoping that the inevitable will come soon. It feels wrong to ‘get on with it’ because I know that death is coming, at the same time I know that she would not want me to sleep my days away waiting for her to pass.

So today I awoke, determined to do something other than sleep. To wash my hair and put on some clean clothes, to go out to see her for a little while and then do something nice for myself. To cook my sweetheart a meal and to communicate with the world about just how it is that I am feeling.

So far, so good.


  • @spooky_girl says:

    Hi Erin. Again, I am so sorry that you and your family are going through this. I was there when my Nonno was in his last days. I brought my then 18 month old daughter to see him one last time and he spoke a few simple words to me for which I will always be grateful. As far as anyone can tell, they were the last words he spoke though he lived for another two days after that. He died the day before my birthday and I though I wasn’t there at the very end, the day before all of the family were gathered around his bed telling stories of their childhood, laughing and crying and sometimes just staring. It is truly a privilege to be with someone as they take their final steps on this most important journey of life and I will feel honoured that I was there, even though it was hard to watch.

    As I have told you, my mother is a nurse in aged care, and deals with this every day. She is old school – she tells me her patients can hear and understand, and I choose to believe that. It’s important to provide dignity, and to keep talking – to your loved one and to each other. Be with her, but make sure you cook that meal and be in the world a bit too. Thoughts are with you.


  • gwen says:

    I’m very sorry about your grandmother. She sounds like she is a wonderful lady!

    When my mother was ready to leave us, all I could do was take things one day at a time the way she taught me. I still do that everyday.

    My thoughts & prayers are with you, and I’m hoping you find something to smile about today & the coming days.

  • Wendy says:

    Love and lots of hugs Erin. There is nothing anyone can say or do that will make you feel better. It is such a sad, sad fact of life that those we love (including the furry members of our families) will one day leave us behind. Just keep remembering the wonderful Nana you had, and don’t dwell on the frail image that you now see. Those memories will get you through the next few days which will be so very hard. Don’t feel guilty that sometimes you are not able to go and see her, it is difficult to sit and watch someone knowing that they may soon take their last breath. She knows that your love is with her. Take care – cry when you need to, smile when you can and keep her memory with you always. xo

  • Thanks for communicating your feelings with us. So important to step out of your sadness to live. Your grandma will end up in a beautiful place. Enjoy the great memories of your time with her 🙂 Blessings to you all.

  • Marnie says:

    Nan’s are wonderful and yours sounds and looks like an absolute gem. Perhaps there is a special corner of your garden that can be in honour of her, full of her favourite plants and flowers. I was extremely close to my Nan who passed away 6 years ago, but I always feel a little closer to her when I’m surrounded by daisies, hibiscus and jasmine which where constants in her garden during my childhood. My thoughts are with you and your family. X

  • Erin B says:

    Thank-you so much everyone for taking the time to write to me, I have tears in my eyes just reading all of your kind words. Thank-you.xx

  • jinkzz says:

    Sorry to hear that your family is going through hard times. I can definitely relate with what you are feeling as I have gone through two of the most painful losses in my life – my mom (11 yrs ago) and my husband (a little less than 2 years ago). Coping with any loss is hard and it takes time to heal and recover – I withdrew from the rest of the world for almost 3 months, refused to answer the phone, blinds drawn, curtains down, and lights off. I also laid in bed for days at a time and barely had any energy and drive to do anything. Then one day, I just got up, took a shower, and made a resolve to continue to live again. Even now, it is an everyday struggle but it gets a tiny bit easier as the days go by… It is hard but draw your strength from friends and family who supports you. I know it may not seem like it now but in time, things will get better. Cherish the wonderful memories that you have with your Nana … our loved ones may be physically gone but they will forever live in our hearts. Hugs to you and your family.

    • Erin B says:

      Hey there jinkzz, thanks so much for your kind words and sharing your experience. I am so sorry to hear about what you have been through, I hope that you are ok, your words certainly inspired me to get up out of bed and get on with it today. Peace, Erin.x

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