My grandparent’s death over the weekend cast a heavy shadow, leaving me with a mix of emotions that seemed impossible to untangle. As I opened a text message from my estranged dad, the reality of the situation was anticlimactic – at first. It wasn’t only about my grandparent’s death, but also about being distant from my family, making this news a little more difficult to digest. In that moment, I was surprised by the weight that settled in the room, a realization that I would never see my grandpa again in this life. It felt surreal, as if I needed to pack away those overwhelming thoughts and emotions in a box, dismissing them as non-existent. But the thing is that deep down, I knew they were there, waiting to be acknowledged.
And so, as I grappled with guilt, sadness, and conflicting thoughts, the journey of grieving for my grandparent’s death began.
My grandpa died over the weekend, early Friday morning to be precise. I received a text from my dad that same morning which I am grateful for. Although, if I were to be totally honest with you, I would tell you I barely read the text through one time and asked Mr. Sexy to read it for me more thoroughly. And now, you might be curious as to why I barely read the message. From what I can gather from my own brain, I knew immediately what the text was about even though I can’t remember what specific phrase was used. The fact it came from my estranged dad, probably in a group text with me and my estranged siblings, and that it was about my grandpa’s death all made this a difficult moment to digest.
I was surprised how I felt in the moment. There was a weight in the room as I thought about the finality of never seeing my grandpa again. Not in this life anyways. And then I moved on, or in actuality, I put it away in a box. There were too many big thoughts and feelings yet I felt silly for even having them then to make things even worse, I went on with my day and for the most part, forgot.
There is something that feels strange to experience a death in the family and yet be so far away from it.
Years ago I went with my mom to her dad’s funeral. Now, looking back I realize I went on that trip as a support person for my mom because my dad was out of town (per usual). I wasn’t particularly close to this grandfather and the things I knew about him as a father to my mom growing up put emotional barriers between me and him. I am grateful for that, too.
So now here I am again facing anther grandparent’s death and to be honest, the experience is eerily similar.
Like with my other grandfather, I have never been super close to my recent grandpa even though my family lived with my grandparents for a few years and my grandparents took us grandkids on an annual summer trip for many years. Yet I always felt more at ease around my grandma. She was soft, had more energy and a ton of sassy personality. On the other hand, he was always more stoic, reserved and generally stiff though he wasn’t a mean man by any means but kind and intelligent and pretty spry for an old guy. I mean, think about it, my grandparents had to be in their 60s when they took all 7 of us grandkids to Camp Bear Paw every summer for an entire week.
I am so blessed to have that time with my family and to keep those memories.
However it’s been a lot of years since Camp Bear Paw, Craft Camp and any sort of holiday I have spent with my grandparents. Even through these last years of Parkinson’s and Dementia, I have only seen my grandparents on zoom or heard their voices over the phone. I am pretty sure I am the only family member who has not visited my grandparents in recent years. As the oldest grandchild and the first grandchild, I do carry a certain amount of guilt for that.
That guilt came out to play on Saturday as I began the process the reality of my grandparent’s death.
Saturday morning I popped into Facebook and saw a tagged photo on my little brother’s Facebook page. It was my grandpa’s casket, standing in my grandparent’s entry way, with a huge American flag spread over it. That’s the moment I realized my grandpa died. And that’s when the feelings and the guilt and the conflicting thoughts took over.
I spent the rest of Saturday moving between guilt, deep sadness and anger. Is this grief? Is this how grief manifests itself? I’m not really sure. But you know what, I am proud for how I worked through all these things on that day. And in fact this day turned into something sweet because I have the sweetest kids who love me so much.
My kids didn’t have to understand all the invisible strings tied to my grandparent’s death.
Emily noticed immediately that I was sad – and I hadn’t even shed a tear. I was sitting in the couch getting ready to load Fortnite and fighting back the lump in my chest and the river behind my eyes. All Emily had to do was walk in the room and she stopped and stared at me.
“You okay mom?” she asked.
I think I replied, “I’m just processing,” and with those words I could feel the tears about to break free from captivity.
“Can I give you a hug?” Emily asked gently.
I nodded and the tears broke through as Emily threw her arms around my kneck. I let all my tears flow silently down my cheeks, to my neck, to her face and in both our hair. Then I noticed my body shook a little bit and I hugged her a little bit tighter because it felt so good to feel her love holding my body. A few solid minutes went by with her holding me and me silently crying with a few big sniffles here and there.
And then finally I relaxed my grip and she let go of me, too.
Well, I wasn’t expecting that later in the evening I would have a similar experience with my teenage son. Per usual, he was tidying up the kitchen as part of his evening duties when I walked in to make myself a stiff drink. Even though I dislike using alcohol to cope, I decided I was done feeling sad, guilty and angry. Instead I wanted to feel the numbness that alcohol always brings. Then to my surprise, Evan asked, “You okay mom?” And I looked at him, and said, “My grandpa died.” With that statement voiced, I cried out loud while Evan held me in his strong 15 year old arms. While I rested my body heavy against his, I noticed he is taller than me now and allowing him to hold me in my grief is a moment I will hold onto for a very long time.
What a beautiful moment the two of shared – even this difficult moment.
I heard a saying recently by Garth Brooks that to everything there is a blessing and a curse. The more I think I about this, the more I find this statement to be so damn true every day. This past weekend is a great representation of that. For one thing, I grieved the loss of my grandfather and then my family spent an entire day celebrating me for Mother’s Day. The curse was death, and the blessing was my family. I can’t say I am totally done grieving my grandpa. This loss is tied to so many other things like an invisible string.
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