How I'm Dealing With Grief (For Sophia)
I started writing this blog about a week ago, but found it coincidental that yesterday was Mother's Day and I've now found the strength to complete it. A good friend and former classmate of mine, Sophia, lost her dad in March of this year, and has since been feeling unsure about such a huge loss and how to actually deal with it, and she reached out on Facebook to me and a few other friends for help. I didn't want to write a long message under her post so I decided to dedicate a blog post to this topic with the hope that it will always be here to help Sophia, myself and others who are going through a loss now or who will go through one someday.
So, just to make sure I explain and organize my thoughts and feelings properly, I will rely on the "Kübler-Ross Model", or what we more commonly refer to as the "Five Stages of Grief".
Stage One: DENIAL
When you and the deceased were really close, as was the case with me and my Grammy and Sophia and her dad, it's simply a "what the heck just happened?" moment. For me, however, I don't think I ever experienced denial. My Grammy's death was a bit unique and so was my reaction to it. The day before she actually passed away, she passed out right in my arms, which sent me running out of the house into the front yard screaming hysterically; so, by the time she actually passed away the following morning, there was no more screaming or fear left in me. Before I found out she had passed, people were already sending me their condolences which made me literally say "My Grammy is not dead", but, that wasn't denial, it was simply the fact that my mum and aunt hadn't yet broken the news to me. By the time they did, I was more in shock and almost a state of acceptance than I was in denial, and as time went on, life started to feel both meaningless and overwhelming. But, if you are experiencing denial, embrace it. Know that it's okay to be in a state of disbelief that a loved one is no longer here with you in the physical. No matter what, that person meant a lot to you and death (and the after-life) are things our brains can't comprehend. So, be in denial if you have to, but also be open to facing reality.
Stage Two: ANGER
Even though I didn't experience much denial, I surely did experience quite a bit of anger. Right away, I was angry at the people who were sending condolences and getting me and my sister worked up over news we didn't yet know was true. Then, the anger turned towards certain relatives who I thought were not allowing me the space and time to grieve the loss of the closest person to me. Then, at one point, I was even angry at my Grammy for leaving me. I've never said this out loud, but, at one tiny point throughout my grieving process, I blamed her for maybe not fighting a little harder, although, obviously, her demise was out of her control. The point is, when you're grieving and anger strikes, it manifests itself in many ways. It turns into, "How could you leave me?", "How could you do this to me?", "Why couldn't the doctors do more? Pay more attention? Save you?" and so on. And while it's natural to have these questions and experience anger in the moment, it's not healthy to remain in it.
Stage Three: BARGAINING
It's funny. This is my first time actually sitting down and going through these five stages, and they really do complement each other one after the other.
Bargaining is a term I've never heard before in relation to the grieving process, but it's synonymous to guilt, which everyone can relate to. I know I can. As many questions as we may have during the anger stage, especially to the doctors who were supposed to save our loved one or to whomever it was who we want to put the blame on, bargaining is unique in that it forces us to put the blame on ourselves and question what we could have done differently. Instead of questioning why the doctors couldn't do more, with bargaining, we now say to ourselves, "I wish I could have done this or that differently" or "I wish I would have taken notice of this or that sooner". The "What Ifs".
For me, I'm always able to connect dots after a person has passed but can somehow never see them in real time (which I guess is how life works? Or else I'd be a supernatural being). After my Grammy's brother's death (who was only one year older than her), the family put all the pieces of the puzzle together. He came by the house that Saturday morning for more than an hour and actually sat and talked. This was the biggest clue of all. My uncle NEVER sat down, ANYWHERE. He was ALWAYS in a rush and always "gatta go". But, with my Grammy, she died of a heart attack, which to us, came out of nowhere because she did not have a history of heart problems.
So, every time I think back to that moment, I always ask, "What if I had known it was a heart attack and ran to grab the bottle of aspirin and give her one, or make her cough repeatedly until an ambulance came?" Or like one of her children, ask, "What if we didn't call the ambulance after she said she felt better and she went to sleep in her bed that night? What would have happened?" As Bahamians, the answer to all these questions is almost always, "Things happen for a reason. God knows all things and he knows it was his/her time." But, does that actually make us feel better? Does that really make us accept the situation at hand?
Which leads me Stage Four: DEPRESSION
Rememeber earlier when I mentioned how life just started to feel both meaningless and overwhelming? That was also a part of feeling depressed. I spent the first twenty-five years of my life with my Grammy. We shared a bed in the Master Bedroom and I was her first grandchild. No one or nothing could get between us. I was basically her fifth child. Many nights before I went to sleep, I would tell her, "Please don't leave me soon" and she would always say, "That's up to the Master". Yet, the morning she actually left, it didn't hit me as hard as I thought it would, which, as I mentioned, was due to the fact that I did all my screaming the day before.
Yet, there was still an obvious void.
After my aunt and I left the hospital 4:00 that Thursday morning to go home, I immediately knew something was wrong. The room I shared with my Grammy was in total darkness and I was physically afraid to even walk past the door or into the room, so I ended up "sleeping" wholesale in what used to be my uncle's bed.
I stayed awake for another hour or so, drifted off, and then woke right back up around 7am and heard my mum and aunt mumbling and saw them walking back and forth past my door. I wasn't sure what was going on and the sun hadn't yet come out, but by the time they were getting into my aunt's car to leave, I knew something was wrong. I stood at the front door already crying my eyes out and just did. not. know. how. to. feel.
Eventually, they came back home and told me the news and I shed a few tears but I really didn't have much left in me. People started coming over and I started telling a few of my friends, but it wasn't really hitting me. It wasn't until people hugged me that I broke down, but I was actually enjoying having people over at the house to talk to and share wonderful memories with. But, when those people left and you're left to your own thoughts and your own existence and can't see Grammy in her bed watching TV or reading the paper or hear her boisterous laugh, that void becomes even larger.
The type of depression people experience when in grief is a unique one. That was the first time I fully knew what it meant when people say, "I couldn't eat and I couldn't sleep" because you feel guilty for doing things that bring you some level of comfort and joy knowing that person can't join you. It even took me a long time to have a hearty laugh, ME, because you don't want to even laugh when that person isn't there to laugh with you.
Even more so, her death was an instant realization that I literally no longer had my right hand and that I felt like I no longer had anyone in the world to impress or make proud anymore. That all my efforts would now be in vain. That I didn't have anyone to take on errands anymore, to laugh with, talk to, or go to sleep next to. That I really didn't know who "Nasia" was without my Grammy. I knew it was now time for me to "grow up" and become an adult, but I didn't actually know what that meant.
What I did know, though, is that the most important person in my life was now gone and I felt completely alone in the world, lost, hopeless and like I no longer had an identity or purpose. Life comes at you hard when death strikes, but thank God for family, friends, work, school and things to keep your mind and body occupied and moving forward.
Which now leads me to Stage Five: ACCEPTANCE
Acceptance is a slippery slope because no one ever really truly "accepts" the death of a loved one, we all just learn to live without that person being around anymore. And for me, this has proven to be the most difficult stage.
My entire life was wrapped around my Grammy. When I was in school, she was my emergency contact. When she retired and I started college, I was home with her while everyone else was to work. She never learned how to drive, so I took her EVERYWHERE. When she would get sick as she sometimes did in the hot summer months, I would nurse her back to health. Yet, I was only her grandchild. Now, today, I can't drive past Solomon's without crying; or driving into Palmdale and thinking about Christmas shopping with her; or going to the bank and not seeing her on the line. It's tough. I can't be happy for too long because something always takes my mind away from where I'm at, if only for a few seconds, and places it on memories of her. Don't even get me started on listening to sad songs (sometimes on purpose) and bursting out crying throughout the entire song. These are the little things I was talking about.
Yet, despite all of these triggers and emotions, I have continued in life. Two months after the funeral, I was hired on a job that kept me occupied for nine months, but that I wish she was here to see me fulfill. I cried on the job twice, but for the most part it was a good distraction.
It's been two years for me and only two months for Sophia, but even with my head start, I still have not yet "accepted" my Grammy's death. I still ask the "what ifs" and still take myself back to that Wednesday afternoon wishing I had done things different. My heart still skips a beat and becomes heavy when I think of her. I still tear up, but I've gotten better at controlling when these things happen. I can talk about her and her last days without crying and hearing the wonderful things people say about her makes my heart smile, but I still have not "accepted" that someone as kind-hearted, gracious, intelligent, beautiful (inside and out) and resilient as her could leave just two months after celebrating her 69th birthday in tip-top shape. Seems like I'm experiencing the denial stage now and was experiencing acceptance at first. But, this is a cycle and the five stages continue to come and go.
The most important thing to remember is grief has no expiration date. You mourn the loss of your loved one for as long as you need to. No one can tell you how you should feel, should handle it, or how long that should take. I know people who say things like, "You still thinking about that?" or "How long has it been? You should start to separate yourself from that", but don't pay them any mind because there is only one you and only one of that person and grieving (which is not a bad thing, but a necessary thing) is a way for people to keep their deceased loved one close. People always say one thing until it happens to them and then they change their mind.
I found this graduation card from my Grammy last week Monday when I was searching for my High School Diploma, and I just broke down in tears. I mean, loud, full-on, couldn't-catch-my-breath wailing. I hadn't seen that card, or my Grammy's handwritten note inside, since graduation day June 12, 2009. But, boy, oh boy, was I not ready to see it April 29, 2019, either, just 44 days shy of what would have made exactly 10 years.
The front of the card reads, "You put a lot of hard work into your education." and then opens to two handwritten, original inspirational quotes from her with the rest of the card that reads, "Congratulations graduate, on a job well done". Finding the perfect greeting card for any occasion and writing a personalized message inside was always a treat that my Grammy looked forward to doing for her family and friends; and this time was no different. It was small gestures like these handwritten messages that made the biggest impact and will always be small occurences that hit the hardest and bring back the biggest memories.
My condolences and continued prayers to all who have lost a loved one. It's tough, but my #1 piece of advice is to grieve. Let it out. Don't keep it bottled in because that leads to internal and external problems. But, don't only grieve the bad, grieve the good too. Think about happy memories and smile knowing that if your loved one had the nerve (LoL) to leave you, that they could only have gone to a much better place to prepare room for you for when they see you again. Don't try to live your life for them, make your own path, but always keep them tucked away in a special place in your heart. The sun may not shine the same and your laugh may not be as hearty, but just remember that life does go on and time does make life without your loved one more tolerable.