I lost both of my grandmothers within nine months of each other. Two women, who strongly influenced who I am as an adult today, were both suddenly gone. No more phone calls to make. No more meals to eat together. No more pictures to take. I knew there would come a time where neither of them would be around, but I honestly believed I would have more time with them. And if one passed, life would at least let me have the other for a while longer. I never imagined they would die in such a close time span to each other.
Granny, my paternal grandmother, passed away at the age of 63 after a hard-fought battle with cancer. When she died, I knew that the first year without her might be the hardest. I started processing my grief by cycling through the different stages with every holiday that came, nights out with friends, and moments of reflection brought on by stay-at-home orders during the pandemic. But most days, I was in denial. Not that she was gone, but that it had deeply shaken me to my core in the way that it had. I clung to being happy that she wasn’t in pain anymore and that I was aware of how her final days were final days. Yet eight months after her funeral, I escaped my apartment for the freedom of the mountains. I walked around a small field with no one around me, and I broke down crying. I finally accepted how I was happy that she was at peace, but l felt robbed of time with her. I was finally in touch with my grief.
One month later, mama, my maternal grandmother, was admitted to the hospital. She wasn’t responsive, her vitals were all over the place each day, and her outlook was bleak. While the hospital wasn’t allowing visitors due to COVID protocols, my mom and I decided to fly home in case anything changed. The morning after I arrived, my mom received a call from the hospital, and they shared how they didn’t believe mama would make it much longer. They permitted us to see her one last time, so we rushed over there to say our goodbyes. An hour after our visit, she was gone at 76 years old. And suddenly, my grief was compounded.
In being in the depths of despair from one grandmother’s death, while still hazy from the other’s, I’ve learned a few things over the past year about grieving.
- I can’t control the reminders. I moved to a new neighborhood and wanted to check out one of the nearby grocery stores. As I walked around the store and turned into an aisle, I immediately spotted the jello fruit cups I used to buy mama when I visited her. In that second, tears came to my eyes, and life reminded me how it comes with random reminders of those you love(d). In these moments, a wave of sadness overcomes me, and I take a breath. I can’t control the grief reminders. I can only let them flow through me.
- I have to forget the shouldas and couldas. In the aftermath of their passing, I’ve had so many thoughts of what I should have and could have done to have more time with them. However, those thoughts are unnecessary guilt. I push away the shouldas and couldas and think of all that I did do.
- I have to talk about my feelings. Grief can be so isolating because your relationship with the person you lost is unique to you two. It seems like no one can relate to how you feel. While I’ve been tempted to close off from others during my darkest moments, I’ve been retraining myself to open up. Talking to others give me comfort, even if they’re not missing the person as much as I am that day or if they didn’t know them. I can’t hide my feelings. I have to expose them.
- I can grow around my grief. I once saw on Twitter, “People tend to believe that grief shrinks over time. What really happens is that we grow around our grief.” The grief doesn’t go away over time, but my relationship with it can evolve.
- I can do hard things in the midst of pain. The pain has felt debilitating at times, like an emotional weight holding me down. Yet, in those moments, I have also found a strength I didn’t know existed. That strength has allowed me to take on small tasks and significant challenges — despite the pain.
- I can remember the good times. I had a weekend with granny that I knew would be our final one. As the weekend came to a close, I sat silently with her. I fumbled around my mind searching for the right questions and the right words but was feeling stuck. Heartbroken, I finally looked at her and said, “I can’t imagine a time without you.” She took a few seconds to gather her thoughts, and then she looked back at me while saying, “In those moments, remember the good times.” So that is what I do when I’m alone and sad. I look through old pictures. I remember how blessed I am to have had the time I did with her. I remember the good times.
- I can find hope. I can choose to close off parts of myself off from the world as I navigate my grief. Or I can choose to be hopeful. I choose the latter. I am still alive, so I’ve decided to embrace the potential of each day.
It’s been one year since both of my grandmothers have been gone. I now know: I loved them, they loved me, and I can still find the love that life has to offer without them.