My grandfather passed away this past month. It was a loss I knew was coming, but the feelings were not.
I’ve been fortunate enough to only have lost one other family member in my life. It was my grandmother when I was 9 years old. I don’t really remember it – I’ve always had a terrible memory – but I do remember that the grief didn’t really hit me until I was standing in front of her friends and family at her funeral.
But this time…this time was different. Perhaps it was because I knew my grandfather better than I did my grandmother. Perhaps it’s because I’m older and I understand grief and death and pain a lot better than I did 11 years ago. Perhaps it’s just because I allow myself to feel my emotions now instead of stuffing them down inside myself and never telling anyone about them.
No matter the reason, it hurts. It’s an actual physical ache in my chest. I know that sounds cliché, and the grief does come and go in waves, but when the water has hit the shore again, my chest hurts. I have no appetite, my insomnia is back, I’ve questioned my life choices. For some reason, this grief has consumed me.
You could say it’s my depression acting up. It probably is. You could say I’m not handling my grief properly. I’d disagree. I’ve never let a grief feel the way this feels. I think this is healthy. I’m not denying my sadness, my numbness. I’m not denying the fact that I feel his loss, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen his ghost. I’m letting myself feel and that’s important.
It took me awhile to be able to write about this. To be able to put down into words what my grief feels like and how I’m coping. I’m still not sure that I’m getting it right.
My grandfather and I were never exceptionally close. We didn’t talk every day, or write emails to each other. We saw each other maybe twice or three times a year.
But, god, did I love him.
He was the smartest person I’ve ever met (sorry Dad). He corrected grammar (even on restaurant menus) and spoke with eloquence even in his daily life. For goodness sake, he did crossword puzzles in ink. Did he ever need to erase an answer? Hell no! My grandfather was a lawyer – and from what I’ve heard, a great one. And he had a wonderful sense of humor. He always welcomed my questions about life and law.
And though he was a little deaf – okay, a lot deaf – he was always ready to listen.
This grief pushing on my chest may be different from grief I’ve felt before, but it takes up just as much space in my heart. Grief is not static – it is ever-changing and shifting. This grief may feel like this now. But tomorrow, it might feel different. Tomorrow, I might feel enlightened – knowing my grandfather is actually in a better place: pain-free and smiling again. Tomorrow, I might feel worse – as though the ground has dropped from under me.
No matter how I feel: this is life. Life twists and turns and makes us feel things we do not want to feel. And we have to experience it.
It helps us to grow and improve and be better. It helps us to view the world differently and understand others. Does grief hurt? Hell yes. Does it suck? Um, yeah.
Does grief make us think? Absolutely.
I’m not trying to make death into a life lesson. Because for some, it just passes. We don’t get to choose how we feel. That’s chemistry and emotions and brain neurons firing. But we can wake up and decide that, today, this ache is going to help us.
It’s going to push us to be better. It’s going to help us feel sad, and then help us to move on. It’s going to help us learn about life and love and maybe even teach us how to do the crossword puzzles in ink.