What grief is teaching me

This year, on July 4th, one of the most important people in my life passed away. My grandmother died on a rainy summer night after suffering Alzheimer’s for 7 years.

It has taken me a long time to write this post. It is not because I have not written or talked about this experience. I have. My closest friends and family know how much my grandma meant to me and they were there to support me through the first few months after her death. The main reason I was reluctant to publish anything on it is because until now I had not realise how much grief was affecting me and my everyday life.

My grandmother had always been an important figure in my life, if not essential. When my sisters and I were in primary school my mom used to work very long hours, so we stayed at my grandparents’ pretty much every day. This changed during my teenage years, but we still spent most of our free time with them. My grandma was there to clothe us, feed us, take care of us when we were sick and a long etcetera. I remember her as a hugely generous but also as a very stubborn person. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when I was around 13, and it got to a serious point about two years later after a couple of accidents. As it does with everyone else the disease transformed her completely. During those first stages she became increasingly aggressive, so much she would be angry at me or my sisters anytime we would remind her of something. In her last months, she was barely able to construct sentences, let alone remember who any of us were.

Mourning is drastically different for every person. Even within my close family, my mother and my sisters, we had our own ways to cope with it. For my mom it was to start taking care of my grandfather, keeping him company. For my sisters was to get out of the house. I was a mix of both. Until I came back to university.

Even though I had kept in touch with some of my friends in London, many of them, including my housemates, did not know what had happened. I did tell them, but I brushed away most of the time and did not actually talked about it to practically anyone. All during this term, I have been going to class, turning in my assignments in time, going out and more or less doing everything I used to do during my first year. But at the same time, I have had numerous sleepless nights, I have cried every time I stepped into a church, and worse of all I have pretended to be okay when sometimes I am not.

A couple of days ago, my mum called me and talking about Christmas she confessed to me that she was in grief. It was the first time I had heard her say that since July. I realised that I am in grief too. A part of me is still doubting whether what I feel it is legitimate or not. My mom lost her mom. My grandfather lost the love of his life. Is it okay for me to be this sad when she meant more for them?

It is not an easy process. Every day is different. There are days where I don’t remember her at all, some where I recall how she used to be when I was little. Other days I feel guilty for moving so early from my house, for not being there for her more. On my worst days I can’t stop thinking about how much pain she was in, I can’t forget my grandfather’s cries in the night and her last words to me are constantly in my mind.

Finding a way out of this has been difficult. For a long time, faith and religion really helped me. I would go to church a couple of times a week and I would pray more often than I used to. But when it came to the three month anniversary of her death I began feeling massively apprehensive about going to mass. I would go to other services where there weren’t as many people because I didn’t want anyone to see me cry. A couple of weeks ago I decided not to stop going altogether to focus on my university work. I am still praying, but losing that sense of community has made it more difficult. I try to do other things. I go for walks, I revisit old friends, I read and I write a lot. But there are moments where none of that matters. I can be in the middle of writing my assignments or watching a movie and suddenly something clicks and all I do is miss her. All I can think of is that this is my first Christmas without her.

Knowing that my family is there is what keeps me going. I know there will be days when I want to remember my grandma and that my grandpa will then tell me how they first met. I know that when I miss her like crazy I can talk to my mom and cry if I want. I know that I can have a mental breakdown in the middle of the night and my friends will check on me and support me.

My grandmother might not be here with me anymore, but if grief has taught me anything, is that plenty of people are.

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