There is never a good time to say goodbye to a loved one, but death of a family member during the holidays seems to deal a triple whammy!

In the short span of five (5) years I have witnessed the death of four (4) of my closest family members. Two of them died between Thanksgiving and Christmas. One died shortly after New Year’s Day. My father died forty one (41) years ago, one week before my 25th birthday. Add it all up and you get my age. I was the person who took care of all of his funeral arrangements, including visiting the morgue to give instructions for his haircut style. No one else in my family was emotionally strong enough to handle such details. My father’s death had been sudden; he contracted pneumonia and died the same day he was admitted to the hospital. His death certificate read “pneumonia and complications”. I believe to this day he received an overdose of pain medication as witnessed and reported by his hospital roommate.

As second to the oldest of my parent’s four children, I think I was born old, thus an “old” soul. After my father’s death, I became the caretaker of the family (of sorts). I was always the one with the solid, sound advice. I prevented my dating age sister from ruining her life with a married man, even when it meant I had to beat her up to stop her from going out.

My sister was the first of the siblings to leave (die) five years ago. She had led a sedentary life, smoked and had bouts of depression. She suffered a stroke in her early sixties from which she never recovered. The disability of the stroke led to an assortment of other illnesses and eventually she died shortly after New Year’s Day 2002. My mother was very angry with everyone, including God. She exclaimed, “If he (God) was going to take her, why didn’t he take her as a baby?” My sister’s death was a prelude to my mother’s decline and to “add insult to injury” her youngest son (my youngest brother) suffered a massive heart attack just three months after my sister’s death. I prayed “Please, David cannot die at this time, my mother cannot handle it.”

David, my youngest brother by eight years, had quadruple by pass surgery and was given instructions how to alter his lifestyle in order to extend his life. In the meantime, I moved my mother to live with me in California. She loved and hated me for doing it. She needed and wanted me near her, but on her own terms. She wanted me to move back east to Tennessee. She had never visited me in California because she was afraid of flying; however, at this time I forced her to fly, explaining it was the expedient way to get home. She enjoyed that flight immensely! She talked about it for months!

My mother was actually quite healthy; at 89 years of age she was taking no medication, negotiating stairs to her bedroom and even preparing her own oatmeal for breakfast. She insisted no one could prepare oatmeal as she did. Now, how difficult is it to cook oatmeal? Nevertheless, the point is she was mobile and independent. She had been living with me approximately 1 year and eight months; when on that crisp November morning, I did not hear the TV in her room blasting at 7:00 AM. I never asked her to turn it down as I felt she needed that volume to hear it. I went to her room and asked if she was okay. She said, “Yes, I will be up in a few minutes.” What seemed like several hours passed and she still was not up, but she continued to say the same words. I really became concerned when I went to her room for her laundry. I asked if she had any dirty clothes in her closet. She responded with “Are you washing anything wet?” This alarmed me because even though she was 89 years of age, her mind was still very sharp. I said to her you’re not getting up because you’re not feeling well, right? Then I noticed her breathing was somewhat labored. I became anxious and called an ambulance. A diagnosis came after several hours in the emergency room: she had early onset of pneumonia. They wanted to keep her overnight to monitor to make sure she was getting enough oxygen. She was continuously pulling the oxygen drip from her nose. She absolutely hated the idea of being in the hospital, overnight she became so upset she suffered a stroke. Her vital signs went wacko. They wanted to do a MRI to determine damage …she was so afraid and was trying to get off the trolley as we took the trip to the lab. They told me they needed to give her a mild tranquilizer because she had to be perfectly still in that chamber (for the test). I will never forget her words, as I tried to calm her and hold her at the same time, she said “Get me out of here, you are killing me!” Later, that same weekend, she suffered a heart attack.

Over one weekend stay in the hospital, my mother had gone from a mobile, independent, sharp tongued woman to a sullen, dependent invalid. She started refusing all nourishment and medication. She died within two weeks of entering the hospital. The date was November 18, 2004. One week before Thanksgiving.

Our Thanksgiving Day was very solemn; I kept wondering if she really wanted to die, or was she refusing the food and medication out of fear?

My two brothers did manage to get to California to see her before she left. I believe she waited because I would say to her everyday “Houston and David will be here to see you soon.” She would always smile at that. She slept away the day after they left California.

Shortly after her death, David went through a horrendous depression. He had taken our mother’s cane home with him and sat it in a place where he could see it everyday. He said, “Each time I look at that cane I see that “old woman”. That is how he referred to her in person, lovingly of course. She called him “young man”. He said, “I miss her so much”. He deteriorated to the point of not answering his phone and just seemed to set out to “self-destruct”. He drank alcohol, smoked, and did all the activities counter to an extended life span.

David went into Hospice care on April 27, 2007 and slept away peacefully on May 8, 2007. While in Hospice, he acknowledged that he had done “all of this” to himself. He did not say why he did it. It was David, while dying, who told me of the other brother’s (Houston) stomach cancer.

Houston was very emotional during this period of David’s dying and death. I believe he was more afraid for his own life, given the state of his health. It was impossible for me to talk with him rationally about David’s death, without him breaking down and crying uncontrollably. After radiation treatments, he was told he was tumor free, but they would test him at three month intervals. He resumed his beloved clock restoration and repair activities, but at a slower pace.

I was not prepared for the call I received on December 3, 2007. It was his wife, Denise stating that Houston had been hospitalized for kidney failure. At this point she was hopeful that his kidneys may start working again. It wasn’t to be, the tests showed the cancer had returned with a vengeance and had already moved to his liver. His death was imminent. He departed this life December 12, 2007, less than two weeks before Christmas.

I thought, “God is this some kind of test?” It has just seven (7) months ago that David passed away and it is Christmas Time to boot. I am saddened, even though intellectually in each situation I know and understand that it was impossible for either of them to continue to live, but I will still miss them. After all, these are the people I have known and loved my whole life. Why is this happening to me?

As I look back over our lives, one of us had to be the last to go of the four siblings. Everything happened exactly as it was destined; I am the one most able to cope. They always told me I saw the world through rose-colored lens. That is so true and I am glad that I do. I can always find that silver lining. During this holiday season my gratitude is a multitude when I think of how my mother has been spared the grief of losing her beloved and favorite sons. I am reminded of how blessed I am to have my own good health, the love and support of my three sons, and the sharing of so many friends and loyal clients.

I take comfort in believing that all four of my late family members are now onto great new adventures.

Death, after all, is an integral part of life.

Author's Bio: 

Carolyn Zellander is the Author of "At Last: One Woman's Journey to Truth" and owner of small business SKIN by Carol Z. Tamanu Oil is one of the natural tropical products which can be purchased at her website: