Yesterday, I made my first meal in the crockpot that belonged to my grandfather. It felt innocuous enough at first, but I quickly found myself wiping away quiet tears as I added each quartered potato into the pot. Grace ran up behind me, grasping on to my leg and asking for a glass of water so I pulled my face together and turned to answer her with a bright smile, swallowing the sadness that I was so obviously feeling.
This is what grief has been like for me.
I sat by my dying grandfather's bedside for days. I held his hand, I grimaced when he called out or reached for me in quick moments of clarity. I made increasingly frantic and angst-ridden calls to my parents in Mexico, trying to soften the sourest of information. People would gently remark to me that they didn’t know how I was doing it, how I was holding it together. This statement, while it was meant to be complimentary, prickled at me. Was I cheapening the anguish that I felt by continuing to move forward? They couldn’t know that I was making private deals with myself. Make it through one more hour. Make it until lunch. Swallow the food that’s placed in front of you, even if it feels like sandpaper, grating against the roof of your mouth, so the people around you won't worry. Make it until you can go home to shower, and then you can fall apart.
Except I never truly did. It took him four days to die. On that Monday morning, I went home and waited. I waited to feel. I waited for the hurt to spread across my body, to engulf me. I had time now. I could give myself over to the sadness I’d been stifling. It was over.
Except it wasn’t. It’s been exactly one month now and I feel like my grief is trickling out of me, deflating like a balloon with a small pinprick hole.
I forget that he’s not here anymore. I reach for my phone to call him when I’m driving home and the pain rushes in, momentarily crippling me until my brain can negotiate with my heart and catapult me back into the present. Moments like this interrupt me daily, setting off something inside of me that is totally involuntary. I try to remind myself that this is an undeniable testimony to the presence of love. That it was a gift to have cared about someone so much that their absence is felt as keenly as a presence.
Grace and I stopped at the bank for some checks earlier this week. We happened to go to a different branch location than we normally do. As we walked into the lobby, Grace cheerfully announced that this was “Papa’s bank” as she had been there with him many times. Last night I cooked dinner in “Papa’s crockpot”. I am working to get to a place where I am unashamed to temporarily define my life in this way. Part of me thinks I should be “over it”. That I should no longer feel myself bowled over by flashes of sadness. That there shouldn’t be mornings when getting out of bed feels like a task too giant to handle, when hiding away from the world seems preferable.
I sometimes forget briefly what happened, how it happened. I just recognize that I’ve never felt quite so alone. I remember him randomly and find myself so angry at time, because there is never enough of it. Angry at myself that I wished days away for selfish reasons. We forget while we wish for time to pass that it progresses not only in our own lives, but ages all parties.
It hurts to be so angry at myself, but at least it means that I'm not hollow.
Those last few days may be the hardest I’ve experienced yet in my life. But they were also a gift. I have memories of Papa teasing me while we were in the emergency room and asking Grace what the weather was like in Mexico over FaceTime. I spoke with doctors, helped my mother to make impossible decisions, and rallied around and against my family simulatenously. I made phone calls to extended family members to share terrible news when sometimes making phone calls to order take-out makes me feel anxious.
I have lost him, but not the strength he gave to me in those final moments.
He left the world on a whisper, in a quiet peaceful way. None of us even noticed at first and I honestly believe that I too stopped breathing while I waited for a nurse to come confirm what my heart knew to be true. It didn’t seem right to me that the man who could strike up a conversation with a total stranger snuck out in a way that was so noiseless.
But as I let myself define my world with memories of him, as I forgive myself for the way grief is lingering in every corner of my life…I realize he is not really gone.
When our life story is punctuated by loss, all we can do is write new beginnings interwoven with threads of memory. And that’s ok.