One Year of Grief, Still Got Some Tears Left to Cry

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.

me and ba ngaoi aw

A picture of me and my grandmother when I was much younger. So cute, right?

“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.

2018 thank u next number 3 top 100 songs guardian wow i LOVE my girl ari.png

Screenshot from Guardian’s top 100 songs of 2018 list. I definitely shed another tear when I read this praise that perfectly articulates my love for this song and Ari.

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.

hello selfie for grief post

Gonna end this post with yet another selfie. Inspired by my grandmother.

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!

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “One Year of Grief, Still Got Some Tears Left to Cry

  1. Wishing you all the best as you navigate this difficult time Thomas, and I’m glad to hear that you’ve been able to healthily process your grief so far. Losing a loved one is never easy, even more so when you had such a special bond with them. I like the idea of great loss as something that can shape us into becoming kinder and more empathetic people — as something to feel deeply, not run from or try to overcome. In my experience, that’s been the most helpful way to approach grief.

    • Thanks so much for the support Michael. And yes love the idea of feeling grief and other emotions deeply, woo! Glad to see your blog posts and book reviews so frequently. (:

  2. Liking this post seems the wrong thing to do but until they have more buttons … I was thinking about you because it’s almost up to the anniversary of my grandma, too, and in my case the irrevocable loss of any possibility of having a relationship with my direct family ever. I will cherish my friendship with my cousin and aunt and make sure I’m kind to myself in the days around the anniversary (I’m spending the day with my best friend, actually, which is good – she’s fighting through some hard times so I will be able to think of her but also draw comfort from her, as she’s one of my few friends who actually met my family). Must love to you, and how proud your grandma would be of you right now.

    • Thanks so much for your solidarity and vulnerability Liz. From the limited amount you shared it sounds like I may actually be in a somewhat similar situation in terms of not having a relationship with my direct family. It warms my heart to hear you’re spending the day with your best friend and that you’re mutually supporting one another, that sounds lovely. Thank you also for your warmth and compassion, always.

  3. Holidays are the worst for missing people you are close to, right? I lost my grandmother that I was really close to about 3 months after my son was born in 2011, and I couldn’t go to the funeral. I always get sad at really random points. But I agree with the comment above, I think your grandmother would be so proud of you and how far you have come. I like to think my grandmother would be of me.

    • Also would you have any ideas of how I could honor someone’s mother? I didn’t personally know her, but my boyfriend’s mother died on Dec 29th last year and all I can think of to do is take him to a Puerto Rican restaurant and share his memories of her (she was Puerto Rican).

      • Hi Rachel, thank you so much for your vulnerable sharing. Even though I don’t celebrate the holidays much I agree that it’s a difficult time for grieving. So sorry that you weren’t able to go to your grandmother’s funeral. I appreciate you reaffirming that my grandmother would be proud of me, it means a lot.

        And I think what you’ve written about sharing his memories of her sounds like a fabulous idea! I think talking about it is one of the best ways to go. A quick Google search I did also helped me find this which may be helpful: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/grief/helping-someone-who-is-grieving.htm

  4. We all have our own ways of coping with grief. I remember when each of my parents succumbed to cancer, I had more of a sense of relief that their pain and suffering was over. Certain things will trigger memories – like when I’m cooking a dish that suddenly pulls me back into time when I would be watching mom cook. My siblings and I still get together to celebrate their birthdays over dinner.

    I’ve always believe our loved ones are nearby in a different plane or dimension. If writing and/or talking about it helps – then please continue to do so. I know it can be cathartic.

    Take care.

    • Thank you for sharing what your grief process was like when your parents passed away, as well as how memories like the one of your mother cooking will emerge. Glad you and your siblings still get together to celebrate their birthdays. Also, thank you for your understanding and compassionate wishes, they mean a lot to me.

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