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Thursday April 5, 2018


The semester before I graduated from college, I had to do an internship at the University of Virginia's rehabilitation hospital — known then as Blue Ridge Hospital — in Charlottesville, Virginia. Fortunately, I was originally from Charlottesville and my grandparents still lived in town. I stayed with my grandparents during the week while working at the hospital. My grandfather had been dealing with colon cancer and had gone through chemo treatments the prior year. Unfortunately, his cancer could not be cured. During my stay with Nana and Papa, he gradually declined and had to go to a nursing home for the final six weeks of his life. He died on March 20, 1991.

I still had more than a month before finishing my internship, so I continued to live with Nana during the week. After the funeral and my parents' return to their home in Florida, it was just Nana and me in the house.

My grandmother was the sweetest woman I had ever known until Papa died. A couple of weeks after his death, Nana changed. She became an ill-tempered woman who was very angry at Papa — or rather, angry that he died.

The one thing she kept talking about was that he never replaced their front door. Now, they had lived in their home for about 30 years, located near the UVA campus. The front door was hollow and made from wood veneer, as was the back door. Nana kept talking about how she could not believe he never replaced the front door with a more secure metal door. She would go on and on about the door and expressed anger toward Papa unlike I had ever heard from her. Every day, she talked about that door!

It was so hard to hear her anger for my grandfather, whom I loved. I knew she was grieving, but it was difficult for me to be a loving granddaughter. I could not wait for my internship to be over! 

Finally, after a few weeks, her anger slowly subsided. She gradually became my loving Nana again. I knew she was 76 years old and had never lived alone before in her life. I knew she was scared about living by herself once my internship ended in May.

Witnessing her go through her grief and mourning for Papa was a learning experience. I learned to just listen. I had no wisdom to share with Nana. She was thinking of herself and her safety, which was normal during her grief. I simply did a lot of listening. Hugs were often shared, too.

Grief touches us all in different ways. We grieve differently for each person who passes away in our lives.

Eventually, Nana returned to being the sweet grandma I knew growing up. I enjoyed helping her as much as I could and spending as much time with her as possible, over the next 10 years that she lived. I know she missed Papa, but she was able to share memories about him, with love in her eyes.

Just so you know, Nana lived in that house, by herself, for eight more years. She never replaced the front door.

—Patricia Morris, Guest Contributor

Mountain Valley Hospice & Palliative Care offers free grief support to the community at large. For more information, contact us today toll-free at 1-888-789-2922.


Tags: Grief Support