Why it's okay to celebrate death

It's okay to celebrate death.

The initial responses I received when telling others my grandma had passed were "I am sorry for your loss" and "What a horrible thing." While inside I soaked up these words of compassion and melted in awe at the condolence letters that came pouring through, I wanted to speak out to explain that her death was not so much of a loss—but more of a beautiful and mysterious celebration. 

When I said this out loud, I will admit that I received multiple reactions. Many did not understand how death could be such a celebration; others were confused, for in their minds, death was a horrible, sad event that could never be seen as a celebration. 

There was the utmost relief after my grandma died. That is the honest truth—for my mother, myself, and mainly, for my grandmother. While many might think this is selfish, we took care of her deeply and lovingly for many weeks—so when I say we felt relief, I mean we felt it from a genuine place. We felt utterly exhausted and emotionally burnt out.

For many might have not known it, but at her death bed she begged the nurses multiple times, in broken English, for them to relieve her pain; she did not want to live anymore, and she was tired of this life.

"Please give me something that will kill me faster!" she would say, pleading into their eyes, tears streaming down her face.

Many did not know that she would wake up frequently from her drug-induced state and look over to my mother and I in disappointment, wondering why she was still alive and why the death process was taking so long. Not only this—but that she had wanted to die for many, many years before she had gotten to that point. 

The beauty of her death was not only in the event itself, but also in the process.

She had gone through phases of letting go, as many people do when they know that they are dying. Hallucinations, writing good-bye and forgive me/I forgive you letters, loss of appetite, confusion, and delirium were the most prominent stages we witnessed. She would wake up vividly hallucinating, believing that she was back in Japan. Other times she had visions of people who had passed years back. It was almost as if she was in two worlds at once: One foot lingering in the physical world, one foot in another dimension. But she was greatly comforted and laughed at these hallucinations, happy to see those loved ones again.

What fascinates me most is how the body and mind proceed through these stages as an individual dies. Research shows evidence of what is called the "death bed phenomenon"—occurring all around the world in many cultures and religions—where, before death, an individual is comforted by their deceased loved ones through hallucinations. Other experiences include packing—"needing to leave and go home" and "needing to catch the train" are common. Other instances such as reaching out to "something that is not there" or seeing things in the corner of rooms... is common. Occasionally, my grandmother would start packing her clothes and saying that the ones who passed were coming to get her or reaching out in the corner of the room and smiling.

There was suffering, but there was also great comfort in the hallucinations my grandmother experienced. She was surrounded by my mother and I as we took care of her and comforted her during her transition; when she was more lucid, she explained that these hallucinations were "fun" and at least she didn't have to be bored while waiting to die.

My grandmother's death was a celebration. We celebrated the end of her suffering and also in this life she lived.

Maybe it's not the type of celebration where you rejoice and are ecstatic—because, of course, I wasn't. There were days where tears ran down my face—tears of exhaustion, and tears of sadness for the suffering she experienced and complete burn out from everything we had gone through. For all she wanted was to be relieved of the suffering and to be with the ones who had passed before her. 

And at the end, I want to clarify that every grieving process is completely different and unique. In other situations, I have mourned and have deeply grieved in deep suffering, wishing the death of my loved ones to have been only a nightmare. In this situation, I come from another side of myself—a side that knows that if you are experiencing relief and comfort, it is normal and okay to feel this way. Death does not have to be deeply sad and horrible each time, and your experience is 100% valid and normal.

It is okay to say, "Shit, that was really tiring and I'm glad for that person and for myself that it's over." For this is what my grandma had wanted: She had wanted to die, and it is okay to be happy for someone who wants to die and finally does.