Places I will cry on any given day:
- The shower (tbh I do my best crying there)
- At the front desk at work
- My car (what else are red lights for?)
- In my bedroom while folding laundry
- In the kitchen while grating cheese.
Greif is sneaky. One minute I will be completely fine, and the next minute I won’t be. I’ll be laughing or talking or reading or showering and then, out of nowhere, a pain will shoot through my entire body. It feels like lightning, zinging through the top of my head all the way through to my toes. It leaves me a little disoriented and dizzy, and then the tears come. Sometimes it’s just a few tears, and other times I am full-on ugly crying while shaking and making a concerning noise that sounds like an animal in distress. I don’t know what triggers it, if I did I certainly would make sure that it only happened when I’m alone and not when I’m shopping for toilet bowl cleaner at Target. But like I said, grief is sneaky.
My most intense experience with grief was in 2011 when my grandma died. Her death came swiftly out of nowhere, like a thief, and robbed me of the most precious, loving person in my life. I wasn’t prepared for her death, in lots of ways I’m still not prepared for it even though it’s happened. I experienced all of the stages of grief like I was “supposed” to. These stages are a way for people to better understand what they are feeling; to have a name for their pain I guess, and are loosely described by professionals as “a cycle of emotions that humans can expect to feel, resulting from some type of unexpected loss.” This loss doesn’t have to be death of a human being, or even someone close to you. You can grieve the end of a friendship, or death of a pet. Sometimes you don’t get into the college you wanted to get into, and grief occurs there as well. Some people say there are five stages, some people say there are seven. Having experienced grief on such an intense level I can say that there are a few more stages than that, if you add all the “eating your feelings” stages in between the others. They say the last step is acceptance, but I’m still hung up on that one. I’m not sure I really “get” acceptance. It’s interesting that there are different types of grieving that occur for different situations, but the formula for grief is always the same. We’re in denial of what has happened, and then angry that it has happened to us. We bargain and make deals or pleas to whoever; sometimes God, sometimes ourselves, sometimes complete strangers. And then when we realize there are no deals to be made we get intensely sad. There’s no timeline for these stages, sometimes they happen quite quickly and sometimes they take years. I guess it depends on what you’re grieving. At the end of it all, we are supposed to accept, and be at peace. We are supposed to understand that all this happened for a reason, that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. There’s a master plan somewhere, and this fits in somehow. Better things are coming. Happiness is just around the corner. Seems like a tall order for someone experiencing the great tragedy of her life.
I’ve had many discussions about grief with friends and family, and I just can’t figure it out. I don’t know how to move past my sadness over the void my grandma’s death left behind, or if I should even want to do move past it. Does moving on mean I’ve forgotten? It’s been years now since I lost my grandma. And I say “lost” because it was a loss. It was a devastating loss. There are times where it still hurts like it hurt just days after it happened. In some ways I’m still waiting for her to come back. It’s like maybe she is on vacation or something? Sometimes I catch myself going to call her, or stop by her house, and then my grief starts over again, and I feel as though I just found out she is gone, like I’m sitting alone on the hospital hall floor, fluorescent lights buzzing overhead, with my face in my hands, sobbing uncontrollably. What makes grief so strange and sneaky is that time is a huge factor, and there is nothing weirder or trickier on this planet than time. Time is different for everyone. Sometimes it feels like my grandma isn’t dead, sometimes it feels as though I’ve just been told that she died, and other times it feels as though she has been dead ten years. After a certain amount of time passes, you start to forget things, even though you said you wouldn’t, even though you swore not to. It just happens. I still remember my grandma’s hands. Her smile. Her laugh. The songs she would hum. I keep some of her things in a plastic airtight container to preserve her smell. The two items that smelled like her for the longest were a pillow and a scarf. Smell is always the first thing to go, I think. I can smell a bottle of the perfume she wore and be reminded of her, but I can’t ever smell her anymore, and that cuts me deep. Sometimes I think maybe I’m on the edge of forgetting the rest. The outskirts of amnesia. Like maybe it is coming soon, and that scares me more than anything.
I do believe that our tears have a purpose and that the grieving process will help me repair myself and move forward, I just wish there was an exact time limit on it. There’s a quote about grief that I love, from one of my favorite authors, Hillary Thayer Hamann. It says, “People say the passage of time is the best cure for sorrow. But what good is waiting, if pain is gone only when things no longer hurt? There ought to be a way to get over grief when it is still purple like dahlias, and alive.” I think about that quote a lot, and I wonder what color my grief is now. I wish there was a handbook or a help line or something. “Press one if you have lost a loved one who is a blood relative. Press two if you have lost a loved one who is not a blood relative. Press three if someone you love has lost a loved one who is a blood relative”, etc. A help line would probably just frustrate me. I’d be transferred to someone in India who will thank me for my patience, tell me she is sorry, but she cannot further assist me with my issue.
I remember when a new family moved into my grandma’s house about a month after she died. I drove by her house to see a new car in her driveway, a big family car. New voices filled the home where our voices once were. I would sit outside that house and cry, wondering if they knew how many hours I spent there with her. Washing and cutting her hair. Talking. Laughing. I wondered if they knew how tired my family was, moving boxes into there a few years ago, and how absolutely broken we all were when we moved it all out the summer she died. How, when everything was boxed up and gone, I went into her room, laid on the floor, and sobbed.
I wish there was an exact formula for grief so that there could be a cure, but there just isn’t. Grief is personal, and different for everyone. That can be hard to understand. Everyone in my family reacted differently to my grandma’s death. Though the stages of grief may be generally the same for everyone, the experience itself is very personal. The only way past the pain is to experience it. We all grieve at different speeds and it’s important that we allow ourselves and others to heal in our own time. In the first months after my grandma’s death, I saw her often. In dreams, both asleep and awake, she would come to me. Sometimes I think it was really her and sometimes i know it was just me wanting it to be her. She would tell me she can’t stay long, and I knew she couldn’t. I knew she had to go, that she didn’t belong here anymore. When I stopped seeing her I wondered if I was being punished. I wondered what I could I say, or what could I do to summon her. There is no cry that is big enough, no building tall enough to shout from. There are no words that that will ever explain what is missing in my heart. It sounds trite, I know. But it’s real. And it burns, burns, burns.