THE BLOG

Losing Grandma: A Life Lesson

02/05/2013 02:19 pm ET | Updated Apr 07, 2013

This past week was a hugely challenging and life-altering one for my family.

My mother in law, Lilli Newman, passed away unexpectedly at age 86.

As I write these words, it feels quite surreal and sad ....both the reality and the finality of the situation.

I've always found the notion of death a challenging one to fully wrap my head around.

We will never see her again.

My husband lost his beloved mom.

I lost the only mother-in-law I will ever know.

And, my son has lost his only grandmother. My mother passed away before I became a mom, so Seth never had the opportunity to meet her.

Lilli had been in the hospital following a trip to Florida, where she returned suffering from the flu, pneumonia, bronchitis and severe dehydration.

She spent two nights in ICU at North Shore Hospital in NY, and while things were serious from the get-go, including the fact that she was incoherent, she slowly, day by day, improved. On the day she passed away, my husband had visited her, along with some of her closest friends, that morning (I didn't go due to a bad cold -- I didn't want to get her sick), and he texted me that things were very good. She had become coherent and was chatting with everyone. And, in fact, for the first time, she was sitting in a chair alongside the hospital bed and received some PT. Things were on the upswing, and discussion was underway re: ultimately, when the time was right, transferring her to a rehab facility to build back her strength.

That never happened. Around 7 p.m. that evening, my husband, Marc, got a call on his cell from a number he didn't recognize, and from the look on his face, I could immediately tell something was wrong. I kept saying, "What? What?" He responded, "Mom passed away," and he got all choked up and tearful. I started to cry too, and our son came to hug us both and didn't quite know how to respond to the depth of emotion and sadness he was witnessing from his mother and father.

Marc quickly drove over to the hospital to speak with the medical staff and to see his mother. I can't quite imagine how it must have felt for him to see her deceased and lying in bed in her hospital room. He said she looked pale.

Right away, he phoned his brother Ira, who was on a business trip on the west coast, and Ira bolted home on the red eye that night back to NY.

The next day, Marc and his brother jumped into high gear, planning the funeral and making all arrangements. It was wonderful to see them acting efficiently as a team. They shared the emotional burden of organizing all the details, going through important papers, etc. They exhibited love and support for each other, as both pitched in equally, doing what needed to be done. I admired that, as planning a funeral isn't easy for anyone.

The service was held in our town, followed by a long drive via limo to the cemetery. Marc spent time writing a speech to deliver at the ceremony, and it led me to tears when he asked that I read it before he finalize his words. It was both heartfelt and humorous, and he told it like it was. He loved his mother... warts and all. He always said "that's my mom," when she said something that irritated him. She had a habit of being critical. It didn't matter. Theirs was an unconditional love.

The ceremony was standing room only, and while it felt like a blur, I was really taken aback by the outpouring of love and the presence of those who I didn't expect to attend. With little notice, people rearranged their schedules to be there. It was important to them to honor Lilli's memory, and to share with Marc and his brother and our respective families. To let us know we're not alone with our grief. Those who knew her well and attended were grieving too. She had some friends for over 30 years, and they were sorely missing her. All were stunned by the news, and it was hard for Marc, Ira, Caryn (my sister-in-law) and I to quickly alert people. It's not the kind of news anyone wants to deliver or receive.

The first day of Shiva was at Marc's brother's house, and it was a long, physical and emotionally exhausting day. The following five days/nights, Marc and Ira elected to sit Shiva separately, though Ira joined us here the last day. It was easier that way, since we needed to be home for Seth each day when he returned from school. We wanted to disrupt his routine as little as possible, though he was pulled out of school the day of the funeral and even came to the grave site.

Many people have asked how Seth is taking it. It's hard to say. He hasn't expressed much. It's helped that friends who paid Shiva calls brought their kids for him to play with. I was also touched when Seth received a condolence card from a close classmate and friend. How kind and wise that his mom taught him the value of sending a card. Another good mom friend brought her son over more than once because she wanted him to learn the importance of being present to support a loved one, whether friend or family, and to understand what Shiva is all about. They were also present when we held the minion at our house, with the Rabbi saying prayers, etc, on the final Shiva day.

My mother-in-law lived a very full life, and she adored her grandkids.

I'm grateful that my son, at least, had one grandmom in his life, and that he's of age to remember her. And, I'm also glad that he's cultivating the awareness, even at his young age, to understand the value of family and friends, and to take the time to be with them and show love. No one lives forever, and none of us knows what tomorrow brings. Things can turn on a dime, as they did for my mother-in-law, so we all need to do our best to live in the present and be good role models for our kids. Even death can serve as a life lesson.