I think it’s very important to share your grief with others. I think it can be harmful to keep it all inside, in an effort to appear strong. I know from experience that you will only hurt yourself and take it all out on those around you. When I was 13, my grandmother Pearl (mom’s mother) passed away in December, she was just 61. I was so utterly heartbroken and angry, but I kept it hidden. I let the sadness depress me and the anger control me, make me an angry person. I didn’t fully grieve her death. I still have to come to terms sometimes that she is gone. It’s especially hard at big moments in my life.
I have to admit that I hated her and God for the longest time. That’s being honest. That is a time I lost faith in God and in my family keeping their promises. Pearl promised me that she would be there for me, through everything. She broke that promise. I didn’t forgive her for the longest time, maybe I still don’t. I know that her death was out of her control, but to a point I expected her to be stronger. She had beaten cancer once, couldn’t she do it again? One day, just a year or so after, I discovered this diary that my mom kept after her mother passed. I didn’t even know that she kept a diary. What was inside it was even more shocking than the fact that she had a diary. She had poured her grief, heart and soul into it. I knew I probably shouldn’t be reading it, but decided to do so anyway. That was the turning point for me, was realizing that Hey, you’re not the only one who lost someone. I read it all and realized how selfish and blind I had been. She had been in so much pain, I could’ve done something to help ease it for her. I could’ve behaved better or actually talked to her about her mother. But that’s what happens when you’re a kid or when you’re younger. You’re blind to everyone else, and for the most part you only see what affects you.
When you grow older, that’s when you feel it more. When you get older your field of vision widens to include others. That’s when the Seven Stages of Grieving comes into play. I found that out when my grandfather passed in 2014. Even as an adult you have this belief and hope that the people you love will be around forever. In fact, that is just assumed, until you do start losing people. People who were once these big powerful almost immortal figures you looked up to were suddenly, human. And this breaks you.
I remember it was October 25th, 2014. We had some family from out of town come over to my parents’ house as a sort of small reunion. I saw that a call was coming through from my grandmother. I answered it jokingly, as she was calling my dad’s phone. He was outside at the time. I knew something was off because she sounded upset and kept repeating my dad’s name. I ran out to the yard and gave the phone to him. I think at that time a small piece of me knew, but didn’t want to believe the possibility. I mean he had been bed ridden for several months, but he had been that way before and bounced back. He could do it again, right? That’s the question I had to live with while my mom and dad went to my grandfather’s house, leaving me to stay behind and take care of our guests. The shock and disbelief slowing washed over me and it was all I could think of. I finally got over there because I wanted to see it for myself, and I did.
I remember the raw grief on my parents face, my grandmother’s face. I don’t remember seeing this when my grandmother Pearl died, possibly because I was young and selfish at that time. This time I cared more about everyone else than myself. Only thought about myself before, but this time I thought mostly about everyone else. The funeral home people brought him from downstairs and I made the decision that I needed to see him right then and there. I didn’t want it to be like it was with Pearl. With her, the last time I saw her alive she was obviously uncomfortable and in pain. She couldn’t open her eyes, just seemed lost and miserable. Then the next time I saw her was at her funeral where she was cold and made up with a ton of make-up. I didn’t see the full transition.
But this time, I would see it, the dreaded death in its natural form. I’m glad I did it because when I went over to him, it was devastating to see someone you love gone, quiet. But what overwhelmed me the most was the look on his face of relief, he looked at peace. It looked like someone took all the pain and suffering out of him. I remember that as a moment when I knew he had to go, he was suffering and he finally had peace. We made funeral preparations after that night and I’d have bouts of random crying. I wanted to wake up the day after, hoping it was all just a horrible dream. But I woke up and knew it was real and cried right then. I can’t remember the last time or any time I had ever cried immediately after waking up before.
Once you get past the shock of seeing your loved one gone then you go through denial. Maybe he really wasn’t gone. Maybe in transit to the funeral home he woke up and they’ve taken him to the hospital. And of course I had that thought, that it would be quite possible for him to wake up at the funeral, that it’d be a miracle and everyone would be shocked but very happy and grateful. I had this denial, this hope until we left him at the cemetery. Even then, I wanted the I impossible to happen. I didn’t want to have to fully face the loss. I didn’t want to believe it was true.
Denial can trick the mind as well as the eyes. I would keep thinking that I would seem him at random places. Maybe at the store or walking on a sidewalk.
Everyone goes through bargaining when they lose a loved one. You say out loud that if you could have them back, then you’d be a better person. Go to church more, volunteer more, and visit more. You’d do anything to see that person again, anything. But the bargaining falls on deaf ears or if people hear it they just try to ignore it because they know there’s nothing they could do. I think knowing that there’s nothing you can do can be devastating enough. I bargained to have him back for myself, but mostly for my father. He had lost his father, his best friend in the whole world. You reach that time in your life when he’s worried about how you’re doing but you’re more worried about how he’s doing. Bargaining didn’t work for my grandfather, just like it didn’t work for Pearl. I had bargained or tried to, to keep her around, but those requests fell on deaf ears.
I went well through this stage, for both of my grandparents. For Pearl, I’ll always feel the guilt of not saying goodbye to her or that I loved her. When I last saw her, it was scary, she wasn’t herself. I didn’t want to go near her and maybe even had the idea that maybe if I didn’t say anything, she would stay. I should’ve known better, I should’ve went to her and held her hand. If I had known what I know now, I would’ve tried to comfort her and would’ve told her that I loved her deeply and didn’t want her to go. I would’ve thanked her for taking care of me and staying up late with me to eat Fig Neutons. That guilt will stay with me for the rest of my life. I’ve learned to accept it and live with it as best as possible. It’s not as bad now. Just ebbs and flows every now and again.
As soon as my grandfather passed my mind took me back to when I was young. I was so upset about something he had said, I came home and yelled out loud that I hoped he died. This was a long time ago, I don’t think I was even in the double digits, but it snapped right back into my consciousness and I felt the guilt. I felt guilty that I didn’t go over and visit enough before he passed, that I didn’t know all there was to know from him. That was fueled even more when we found some old pictures and documents in his house. If I had only known about that stuff, I would’ve asked a ton of questions to help fill in the gaps of history. Now that won’t happen. Now I have to try and fill in the stories that he may’ve been able to tell.
It really is funny how grief works. You always think that when you lose a loved one you would never be angry with them over it. WRONG! The more you love someone the more angry you get when they leave. As I said, when my grandmother Pearl passed, anger became part of who I was. I was angry at God and at her for years and years. This time, for my grandfather it ebbs and flows. Sometimes I miss him terribly to the point of sadness and sometimes I just want to lash out at him. I get angry about the things that were left unsaid and the time with him that was taken from me and others. I was angry with him that he would miss my wedding day. I was angry with him that we didn’t talk more about family, when that was supposedly so important to him.
This has ebbed and flowed since his passing. Some days I can remember him fondly and smile while recalling good, warm memories. Other days, certain songs bring me down and the thought of what won’t be haunts me. I’ve conquered this step pretty well I think. Just every now again you think about him, miss him and it saddens you deeply. But then you get through it and eventually you have a day filled with warm memories and that gets you through.
This was probably one of the hardest stages to write about. I don’t know why. Maybe because it’s hard to have any hope once you realize that the people you love, that help built who you are, they were now going to leave you one by one. You finally reached that age in life where you start losing those around you. Left with the realization that you could very well watch everyone you love pass, until it is inevitably your turn. I know that pain is coming and it makes it hard to accept that this is the way things are.
However, you learn to accept it. You learn to live on and see the hope in it all. Life will always go on and that’s hard to swallow at first. You then realize that there is more to come in life, not just the bad but the good as well. The pros far outweigh the cons. You hope that one day, you will see those you lost again. When it’s your time of course. That is the hope of myself and others. Sometimes those we lost will reach out to you in interesting ways. Every now and again I will get this gust of perfume in my face. It is her perfume and where it came from is always a mystery. I always look around to see if someone is nearby that could be wearing it, it is what most people would consider an older persons perfume. I swear it’s her, every once in a while letting me know she’s here. There’s also the Owls. One of her favorite animals. I love everything Owl related as it reminds me of her. I could see us sharing the passion together, maybe in another life when she was still around and we could hang out together as adults.
Signs that my grandfather is still around have been far more mysterious. Soon after his passing, there were at least two times were I would be alone in my car driving. I would feel this tug on my hair from behind. I would grab my head and look back, nothing. Was trying to get my attention? I had this overwhelming feeling that he was in my personal space, trying to tell me something. I felt haunted and overwhelmed. I would have dreams constantly where he would either be trying to tell me something or he would actually tell me something. I had one dream where I was out with family, he was there beside me but I was the only one who could see him. I would look over and talk to him, but my husband or mom would keep interrupting me asking if I was ok. I knew in the dream they could not see him.
What helped stop the dreams and the feeling I was constantly being haunted would be a couple of things. Planning my wedding helped, looking through his old pictures and documents helped, scanning all family photos so we had electronic copies helped and then finding a way to communicate my grief to my father helped. I was really into Pinterest and it helped me get through my grief because I found all of these quotes that said exactly what I was feeling. I put together a book of some of the best quotes I could find, the ones I thought would help him heal. I feel like that was a big reason my grandfather was reaching out to me, was because he was concerned for my father. The dreams left soon after I gave my dad that book, so maybe I was onto something.
The truth is that we must be open about grief. Don’t let it consume us, but be open to where it leads us mind and body. Be thankful for who you do still have, show them your love and appreciation. I will miss my grandparents every now again, when their presence will be most missed. I will use the grief to build me into a stronger, yet open minded adult. I know that they are at peace and happy, being with loved ones they either never knew or haven’t seen in a while. I wish them all the best in death, as I’m sure they wish me the best in life.