2022 saw an immense amount of grief for me and taught me, once more, the horrible lesson that the culture I exist in doesn’t make space for it. When folks can’t fix something, there’s a seeming unwillingness to ask about the unfixable and to walk alongside someone with a heavy heart. Some grief has been invisible, like grieving the lost time with my birthmom’s family that I’ll never be able to make up. I excused folks for not understanding this less obvious, more nuanced grief. When my grandma died, I was nearly relieved to have a very visible, societally sanctioned grief in my hands rather than another hidden one. It reminded me of the start of the pandemic where suddenly we all had a reason to talk about mental health.
I told people clearly and repeatedly to ask me about her. I wanted to speak of her, to share her stories that she trusted me with, to help her soul live on, to ensure I still remembered her as the memories of her quickly began to fade. I forgot. I forgot! I forgot folks don’t ask, don’t want to really often know, and don’t see the sacredness of it all. I fell into bouts of disappointment before slowly closing up, telling myself her stories, re-listening to our recorded conversations on tired walks, and noting all of the things I wanted to tell her. After a few months of this, I stumbled into closeness with someone who does want to know and, after only crying briefly to two friends months after she died, I found myself tearing up regularly with her — my stories and my grief finally safe.
I love questions so here are some that have come to me in writing about this and in wanting to still talk about her. Perhaps this is a safer medium with folks able to engage and witness her through a screen, reading or not at all. I don’t care anymore. I want to talk about her and I don’t want it to be mainly in my head. I want her to be out in the world in some way, even if it’s just in a random blog post.
What do you most wish you could tell grandma about from this last year?
I wish I could tell her about settling into Seattle. When she died, I had just started my time there and had no clue it would become a place I’d want to stay for a time. I wish I could tell her about the coffee scene and how there are three coffee shops at least mere blocks from me. I wish I could still send her photos from my adventures, the glorious mountains and bike paths through the seasons. I wish I could tell her about trying to date again and hear her tell me to “be cool” as she always seemed to when she was worried I would get hurt.
How did losing your grandma impact you this year in particular?
It grounded me to a halt and I think it’s a big reason why I signed a lease in Seattle, giving me time to appreciate the city more deeply and to help me find ways to open back up. It’s also helped me set boundaries with numerous folks. Life is too short to be yelled at, lied to, etc. It’s kept me deep in a space of work life balance and broader pondering around what I want my life to be about. I feel extremely in touch with where my heart is because it’s pounded louder and more painfully this year. It’s also left me in a more open ended place having been cleared out by suffering and the unknown. I feel deflated in many ways, both in a way that feels exhausting and in a way that feels refreshing, like something new can come from it.
What does it feel like to start a new year without her?
It feels terrible to see a year she’ll never touch. In a way, it’s been another opportunity of facing grief. Side note: I see moments where intense grief hits as opportunities to process and hold myself a bit closer with more love. I’ll never write a letter to her with 2023 on it. I’ll never be able to ask her all sorts of silly questions — Did you think you’d live this long?
How is the grief changing as time goes on?
It feels both realer, like the ramifications are adding up, and more sacred. The waves grow further apart. A few folks in my life are deep in grief and I feel myself entering the zone of paying forward what the loss of my grandma has given me. There’s a real perspective change and sense of standing to attention when your own needs are overwhelming to both you and those around you. I don’t want folks to feel that way. As I watch and hear the stories of those grieving, I once more see how many don’t know how to show up. I feel the ways in which I don’t know how to show up. I feel my limitations and the deep desire to fix, fix, fix rather than walk alongside. Mixed in with all of this is relief that she is free and that we no longer have long discussions about how ready she is to die.
I wish I had hugged her body one last time before leaving the hospital room where she died.
Be aware of grief in others. Ask what they might need. Address it directly, regardless of how one responds. Take the risk to speak to it. Hold real space for it and do the work to be able to hold real space. One day, it’ll be your turn.
“In the Lakota/Sioux tradition, a person who is grieving is considered most wakan, most holy. There’s a sense that when someone is struck by the sudden lightning of loss, he or she stands on the threshold of the spirit world. The prayers of those who grieve are considered especially strong, and it is proper to ask them for their help. You might recall what it’s like to be with someone who has grieved deeply. The person has no layer of protection, nothing left to defend. The mystery is looking out through that person’s eyes. For the time being, he or she has accepted the reality of loss and has stopped clinging to the past or grasping at the future. In the groundless openness of sorrow, there is a wholeness of presence and a deep natural wisdom.”― Tara Brach
It’s unfathomable to think of all we lose collectively when we don’t leave space for grief.
The image alongside this post is one of my favorites. It’s candid and a moment of her lightly giggling. She was generally a quite serious and private person but this photo captures how I saw her in many ways.