Grief and Loss

Leading into March, I was struck with an overwhelming wave of emotions. For many people, this month has become emotionally triggering because for so many it has marked the start of this extended quarantine. However, for myself it is for a much different reason.

Mid March marks the anniversary of my grandparents passing away. I will be honest, I've forgotten which day my grandma passed and which day my grandpa passed. I considered looking up the dates for the sake of this blog post, but I decided against it. For myself, I don't want a date on the calendar to represent so much sadness and heartache. I know that they passed in mid March. I know that my grandpa passed 2 days before the one year anniversary of my grandma's passing. But beyond that, I'm happy to stay ignorant of what specific days these events happened.

From the time that I was in high school, my grandma was fairly sick. She had been diagnosed with colon cancer during my junior year of high school and by the following year was in remission. It was through her journey with colon cancer that I learned that a person isn't considered "recovered" until they have been free of cancer for a certain amount of time. And I learned why it is that someone isn't considered "recovered." I learned about how there is a certain window of time that someone is likely to fall sick with cancer again. And sure enough, in my second year of college, there were cancer cells found on my grandma's liver.

We put flamingos in her yard to celebrate her going into remission. My mom and my aunt also did a run/walk for the American Cancer Society.

Following the grueling course of treatment that my grandma went through during her first round with cancer, she wasn't nearly as strong as she had been going into her first round of cancer. Plus, there weren't many options on how to handle this type of cancer. So, the doctor did a "wait and see" approach. Thankfully, those new cancer cells didn't really seem to be doing much. It was as though they were in hibernation.

My grandpa, on the other hand, had been dealing with Type 2 diabetes for my whole life. While he had different issues pop up from time to time, it all rooted back to his diabetes. Aside from his diabetes, he was a relatively healthy individual.

From the time that I was a little girl, I had a tendency to connect more with my grandpa. I was the youngest in the family, just like him. I was always pretty shy and my grandpa provided me a sort of safety and comfort that I needed. He was always really silly and knew how to connect with kids and make them laugh. In a lot of ways, he was one big kid. For example, it wasn't out of the norm for him to sit and watch cartoons like Scooby Doo on his own. That said, he also loved a good scary movie. I remember watching bits and pieces of The Shining for the first time when he was babysitting me as a little girl.

He always took time to make sure I wasn't left out. When my sister and older cousins helped wrap the Christmas presents for the whole family, he sat me down at the table and helped me wrap the couple of items that he had gotten for my grandma. He watched out for me.

My grandma was someone that I loved so much and enjoyed spending time with, but for most of my life I only knew her as my grandma. It wasn't until I was a teenager and could drive myself that I started to get to know my grandma more as a person. My mom and dad would send me over to their house to do little tasks for them here and there and at times run errands with them. I always made sure to sit and visit awhile before driving back home and pretty soon I found myself just wanting to stop over and visit. I had fun with them. We would sit and shoot the breeze about whatever was going on. We didn't even necessarily need to sit and talk the whole time. I enjoyed just spending time with them. It was during those visits that I started to get to know my grandma more as a person. She let her guard down more and would joke around with me and my grandpa. I grew to love those visits because I found myself connecting and understanding my grandparents in a way that I hadn't been able to do before.

In a lot of ways, my grandparents became my best friends. I loved going to visit them and spending time with them. I loved hearing their stories and telling jokes with my grandpa.

One thing that I began to realize the more I spent time with them was just how in love they were. My mom shared with me the story of how they met and how my grandpa was absolutely set on dating that girl. I think he was in love from the moment he laid his eyes on her. Even as they grew to be 80 years old, that love never faded.

With the realization of how deeply they loved one another, I remember realizing that if my grandma passed before my grandpa, he would be absolutely heart broken. I said to my mom once that if grandma went first, grandpa would pass within a year of her passing.

The cancer that had been essentially hibernating eventually came to life, as we were warned it would We were told that basically it would be fine until it wasn't. And then once it wasn't fine anymore, it would go quick. That's exactly what happened. In the beginning of March in 2018, I got the phone call I knew would one day come. My grandma's cancer woke up and there wasn't anything more we could do. She would be starting comfort care.

The following day, I drove up to spend what amounted to be the better part of a week with my grandma in her hospital room. She had been too weak to go back to her assisted living home for hospice care there and instead would get comfort care there in the hospital. I made it up to see her while she was still alert and talking a bit. She and I both started crying the second we saw one another and I remember sitting by her side holding her hand for a very long time. In the days that followed, my sister and I would go up to the hospital as soon as we got up in the morning and stayed until that evening when we would go back home to sleep. My grandma was a social butterfly and loved having people near, so I knew the thing she would want is to have the people who loves her near. It didn't matter if we were cheerful or teary, she just wanted us near. And so it was important for me to stay by her side.

The loss of my grandma hit me hard. I had lost other loved ones, but when I was a child. This was the first that, as an adult, I was losing someone I loved. Despite having experienced loss in my past, I didn't know how to handle this one. It was very hard for me. I found myself essentially becoming numb. I didn't want to feel sad or hurt anymore, and so I shut all of my emotions out. It took me awhile before I realized that this wasn't okay and I needed to find a better way of balancing things again.

The other big change after the loss of my grandma was the spark that left my grandpa. The twinkle in his eye was gone. The jokes he told were gone. He stopped playing cards every Sunday as he had been doing for years. As I knew it would, his heart absolutely broke. Along with that, parts of his health declined. He had an infection in his foot that had been making him sick. It was decided that in order to handle this, they would need to amputate his leg at the knee.

Working in a hospital, working in the surgical department, being surrounded by surgeries that include amputations, I didn't expect this bit of information to hit me as hard as it did. But for my grandma, no matter how much his health declined, he still prided himself on having the independence to stand up and move from one seat to the next. He hadn't been able to walk, but he could stand up on his own. And now that was also being taken away from him.

It wasn't long after this surgery was done that my grandpa found himself essentially feeling like, "what's the point? What am I still fighting for?" He was ready to pass on. He had lived a long and beautiful life and he knew it was his time.

Despite knowing it was coming, that phone call hit me the hardest. My dad broke the news to me that he made the decision to stop taking all of the medications that were keeping him alive and just let nature do its thing. I found myself collapsing to the floor, which I genuinely believed was all just dramatics in TV shows until that moment. Even though I didn't want to lose him, I also knew he wasn't happy and deserved to be at peace.

That afternoon, I drove myself home and went straight to the nursing home where he was. I managed to compose myself enough to not break down during that visit. Before leaving, I made sure to tell him I loved him. It wasn't something we said often, but rather communicated to one another through our actions. But it had been important to me that I told him that I loved him. And it was clear to me that his response had the same thought in it. "I love you too. I love you all so much."

The following day, we all went to visit together again. We sat and chatted and simply enjoyed our time together. We treated it as any other visit with him, not as though it was a goodbye. I had intended on visiting him one more time before going back home, but from the night before through that morning, I was having an impossible time holding myself together.

For my grandma, I knew that she simply wanted people around. But for my grandpa, I felt it would make him uncomfortable to have me there crying and not being able to hold myself together during our visit. It would mean that we would have to address the elephant in the room. We would have to acknowledge that it was the end for him. And I had a deep gut feeling that a teary visit would not be one he would want. So I thought about the time we spent together. I thought of how I made sure to tell him right away when I got into town how much I loved him, which I knew he already knew. There really wasn't anything more to say. I felt at peace with where I left things. And so I chose to stay home.

The following week, two days before the anniversary of my grandma's passing, my grandpa passed away. As my sister put it, he couldn't bear to be away from her for a full year. And as I had anticipated many years before, if she went first, he would pass within a year.

It has been two years since my grandpa passed away and three years since my grandma passed away. During the first anniversary of my grandma's passing, we were planning the funeral for my grandpa. And last year I wound up getting horribly sick the week that would have been the anniversary of their passing. I had been nervous leading up to that week. How would my emotions be? Would I fall into a sweeping depression? Instead, I spent those days taking medicine, drinking fluids, and sleeping. And once I recovered from whatever it was I had, the world went into a lock down.

While it's been a couple years now, this year feels like the first that there isn't something else taking up my attention. I miss them every day, but some days are harder than others. Within the past week, I've found my anxiety rising and my depression creeping in. Grief is a process and something that never fully goes away. You don't "get over" losing someone. But some days are better than others. So while I've recognized the anxiety and depression, I decided to take time to simply feel this loss, cry awhile, and also remember the fun and happy memories.

I find myself noticing things that remind me of my grandma all the time. Things people say, things that I do, things I hear, etc. There haven't been as many reminders of my grandpa, which oddly enough feels very fitting. However, there was a little surprise waiting for me last weekend.

Following my grandpa's funeral, I had gone out and bought myself a violet plant. My grandpa had sung a song called "Sweet Violets" a lot. It was one we all knew. So we requested violets being a part of the flower arrangement at the funeral. Those pants went to my mom and her sisters. But my sister and I wanted to have violet plants of our own. When I bought it two years ago, it was flowering. But once it finished flowering, it didn't bloom again. The leaves continued to grow. In fact, it grew like crazy. But there weren't any blossoms. Not for two years. And then this past weekend, the morning before leaving for a family gathering with the extended family, I saw one perfect little flower. It was such a beautiful gift and the timing was perfect. Now, a week later, there is one more flower and a number of little buds waiting to bloom.

As I said before, grief is a process. And as difficult as some days may be, there are plenty of others that bring us flowers, joy, happiness, love, etc. Like I mentioned in the beginning, I don't want to sit and dwell over the specific date that my grandparents passed away. It would be putting the focus on the sadness. I prefer to remember the good and happy times. I prefer to think of the stories that inspire me. I prefer to think of the lessons I learned from them. With grief there is the sadness of the loss, but there is also the happiness that comes with the beautiful memories.

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