One year ago today, my mom called to tell me that my grandpa passed away. The month before that had been spent with grenades and bombs and tsunamis as the information had come in – my healthy grandpa was sick, my healthy grandpa had a mass, my healthy grandpa had cancer, my healthy grandpa was going to die within the year, my healthy grandpa was going to die in a few weeks.
We went down to Florida during that month, for one day, to say goodbye, when the call had come in: “If you want to see him one last time, you need to go. Now.” And we did – and I put on a smile the entire day. Trying to enjoy my time with him. Trying to be strong for my Gram. Trying not to fall apart when he looked me in the eye and said, “This is a bad way to go out, kid.” Trying to not die inside when he told us he wished he could be at our wedding. Trying.
And I never processed it. Because two days later was Thanksgiving. And I spent the day putting on a smile. Yes, it was so great to see him. Yes, we’re so happy we went. Yes, it was so meaningful.
A week later he died. Four days later was the funeral. And six days later was my baby cousin’s Bat Mitzvah. Where, yes, I spent the day putting on a smile. How lovely it is that we can celebrate such a happy occasion. Thank goodness for the happy times.
Do we sense a theme?
For those next few months, I certainly grieved. But not for myself. My tears, my anxieties, my depressions, my worries, were spent on my grandma and my mom. I cried for my mom, who lost her dad. I sobbed for my gram, who lost her husband. I worried about my gram being alone. I had a pit in my stomach every time I imagined her waking up alone, eating breakfast alone, going to bed alone.
And I didn’t really speak about it. I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t know how to say it. So it was buried.
And then I was about to get married. And there were seven zillion things to do each day, and I was focused in on that. And I got married, and it was beautiful, and magical, and incredible, and the honeymoon was a fairy tale.
But then things quieted down, a month or two passed, and life calmed down.
And I noticed that I started crying more. And I noticed that my chest constricted and my stomach convulsed each time I called my Gram because I knew I would feel her pain and feel her loss and I was so worried about her and sad for her and I just couldn’t bear it.
I noticed that I felt like I had been punched in the stomach each time I looked at our wedding photos and Grandpa wasn’t in them.
I noticed that in walking around my apartment, I averted my eyes from Grandpa’s paintings on the walls.
I noticed that my voice became flat. That I lost my appetite. That I just cried, a lot.
And by early September, when Rosh Hashanah was around the corner, when in every year past I had felt elated and excited at the thought of Gram and Grandpa coming to celebrate our New Year – I felt dread. Despair. I couldn’t bear the thought that she was coming alone.
What is wrong with you, I chided myself. People lose people all the time. They cope and they deal. It’s been more than six months and you should be coping a lot better now. I then helpfully added, He was only your grandpa. My mom and her sisters lost their father. Gram lost her husband. I have no right to be as upset as I am. And to clinch it, I oh-so-kindly reminded myself, I have friends who have lost their moms or dads this year. They have a right to be upset, but I don’t. Just stop it.
And so, for more reasons and a more complicated back story than is necessary to get into here, I decided it was time to do something about it.
I spent each week crying, sobbing, as we processed the traumatic memories. Florida. Thanksgiving. Rosh Hashanah.
I sobbed, as I told her, “I spent the last year either pushing it down, or grieving for my mom and my aunts and my Gram. But I never grieved for myself, and I’m just so sad, so devastated, so heartbroken that I lost my grandpa. I just miss him, and I am so sad that he’s gone.”
And it got a little easier. I got to a point where I could talk about him, think about him, think about Gram, talk to Gram, without falling apart. But time is funny, and so just a few short weeks later, here we are. We had Thanksgiving without him. And today is the one year anniversary of his passing.
And so now I’m crying more often, sobbing a bit harder. And a year later, it hasn’t really gotten any easier. But I’ve learned:
This is grief. There is no rule book. There is no hierarchy. I have every right to feel however I feel. If I have days where I cry, that’s okay. If I have days where I’m just down, that’s okay. If I have days where I feel fine, that’s okay, too. I don’t have to justify my grief, or the form it takes. It might get easier, it might get harder. And I need to ride that wave – and be where I am. Without judgement, and instead, with kindness, acceptance, and compassion.