My grandmother passed away last year on December 20. Sometimes I shrug off her death. “Yeah, she was like my actual mother, so it’s sad,” I’ll say to a friend, “but it’s fine, like I’m fine overall.” I like to use the word “fine” a lot, because it helps me avoid how not fine it is to lose the person who had loved you the most. Or I’ll point to my planner and say, “Yeah, it’s tough, but I did this therapy session, and this research meeting, and that class reading, so it’s okay. Sad, but okay.”
But sometimes grief and loss and mourning are not okay, and no matter how much I want to embody put-togetherness, I just have to feel that shit, that not-okay-ness. I was driving a few weeks ago and “No Tears Left to Cry” started playing on my stereo and I burst into tears, bawling so intensely that I pulled over into some random parking lot and wept, hit the replay button, wept more, and blew my nose with napkins from Chipotle I stored in my glove compartment, in the same car my grandmother gave to me after she stopped driving. A few nights ago, I was reading someone’s Q&A online, and they mentioned the word “mom,” and I burst into tears again, sobbing so hard I threw myself onto my couch and covered myself with a huge blanket as if that would staunch my tears, which it didn’t. When I finally stopped crying, I played the “No Tears Left to Cry” music video on my laptop, which of course made me cry for another half hour as I watched Ariana traverse across glimmering skyscrapers and thought about how much I missed my grandmother.
“No Tears Left to Cry” came out on April 20, 2018 and was the first song that 100% captured how I felt about my grandmother passing. The song contains both complete sorrow and complete hope. Sorrow: I had lost the one member of my whole family, aside from my little cousin, who loved me so unconditionally, so completely, who would always ask me about how I was doing, if I was happy and taking care of myself, and never about my grades or my accomplishments, though she would always quietly praise me with a soft smile and wide eyes when I told her about my achievements, my ambition, and my kindness, too. Hope: that somehow, in my super abusive family, I had been gifted with a woman who taught me endless compassion and empathy, and I hope her example lives on in me. When I say I want to help build a world that prioritizes love and kindness, my vision comes from her and how she raised me, how she treated everyone she knew.
I miss my grandmother a lot. Gail Caldwell, in her masterful memoir Let’s Take the Long Way Home, wrote “I know now that we never get over great losses; we absorb them, and they carve us into different, often kinder, creatures.” My grandmother, and the loss of my grandmother, have carved me into the therapist, mentor, and teacher I am today. I still mess up sometimes – when I send an email to a student that’s a little too authoritative, or when I feel the slightest impatience creep into the back of my mind with a client – but I catch myself, and I remind myself to lead with the compassion and empathy my grandmother would.
I am taking more time to honor my grief and my feelings surrounding grief such as by writing this blog post when I should be writing academic papers lol don’t @ me. Because to experience great grief means you have experienced great attachment. And what matters more in this world than the attachments and connections we create with others, the love and empowerment and strength we provide for those closest to us, to those who are marginalized? I’m honoring the connection I had, the connection I have, with my grandmother. And I’m going to keep on honoring it, and feeling inspired by it, societal norms surrounding the masking of negative emotions be damned.
I loved and I love her. I’m still living. And I’m picking up all the gifts she gave me – and I’m carrying them forward.
Wow another blog post before the end of 2018? It’s almost like after all these years I still can’t stop disclosing intimate details about my inner world to the internet I’m using writing as a healthy coping mechanism amidst a turbulent time in my life, who would have thought. Would love to hear other people’s experiences of grief and loss and how you’ve coped, or are coping, or are not coping, with it. Until next post!