It is with a heavy heart that I begin this process. For me, my way of coping with anything, good or bad, is to write. With the recent loss of my grandmother, my strength wavered and I put pen to paper. That is all I know how to do.
Some part of me never imagined this day would come. And no one imagined it would come this quickly. When I got the call that we needed to go see Grandma, my thought was simple, “She’ll pull through. She always does”. That day was different. She was ready. God was ready. And so was my grandpa… waiting with all the others that have gone before her. They were all ready. We were not.
But that’s the thing… it’s not about us. It’s about her. She always made sure others were taken care of before she would begin to think of herself. This day, the day she finally went home, she was finally first. Her life touched so many that I cannot even fathom how many years will go by with people still talking about her. I hope it’s forever. I pray for her memory to stay alive in all of us as we begin the process of our humanness coexisting with her spirit.
I was lucky enough to learn something from Grandma every time I saw her. It didn’t matter what it was… something as simple as a new song or as delicate as how to carry on without her… she’s still teaching me. And hopefully, all of us. These past few days have not been easy. It never is. We have to readjust to a new normal. People say, “Time heals all wounds”. People lie. Time doesn’t heal the wound. Time allows us to learn to cope in new ways as we grieve, and continue to do so for the rest of our days.
As we continue to move forward, Grandma is here… But like I said, this process is hard. I’ve lost loved ones before, but never while in this sort of recovery. And never her. So what have I learned? I’ve learned that no matter what, I never once thought about picking up a drink or drug to escape reality. It did not cross my mind that there was an easier, softer way to cope, or that I could drink or use to forget. I picked up a pack of cigarettes, after months of not smoking, and I smoked them all. And then I picked up more. And I will continue to do so for the next few days as the stress decreases and I reconnect with reality. There is no shame in how we cope. I don’t care if you kick, scream, drink, smoke, cry, or any combination of them all. We all do it differently.
And doing things differently is okay. I write (and apparently chain smoke). I cry. I get really, really angry. And then I feel guilt… that twinge of guilt sinks in when I’ve been particularly stuck in my own reality and selfishness, pushing away the truth of her new world. She is pain free. She can remember. She knows the secret… It doesn’t make it hurt any less, but I am forever grateful that she is home. But, we get to be angry, happy, and sad. We get to go through this process because she taught us love.
What else do I know today? I have families in more than the biological sense. As we left Pipestone Friday night, I called my girls. They picked me up as I fell apart. They didn’t judge me for walking into a room and collapsing into their arms as I lost my shit. They helped me make ribbons (because apparently I need to stay busy too) and reminded me to eat. They called to check in and didn’t get angry when I forgot to call back, or ask about their day. They are just as much my family as anyone else, no matter what happens.
With these lessons I have learned how important ALL of my family is to me… how we need to make the time for each other. The anxiety that had riddled me for days left as my sister walked out of the airport. Just knowing she was here helped my heart slow down and allowed me to catch my breath. She stayed at my house on a night that I couldn’t be alone, but didn’t want noise. She slept in the chair next to the couch as we left the bed sit empty in the other room. She was my rock as I read a poem at the funeral. I couldn’t have done that without her.
My brothers were pillars of strength for all of us, while trying to grieve in their own way. They allowed us to laugh, cry and just sit without judging. I scolded the kids when they were just doing what kids do, and I didn’t get dirty looks or get scolded myself. They just took a breath. And they made sure we knew they were there, to protect us all like they did as little kids… but still willing to set us straight if we got out of line. And my wonderful sister in law… I have no words for the strength, guidance and love that she built around our family. Picking up pieces here and there, allowing us to process, while grieving herself.
Then there are my parents… it’s an intense feeling knowing I cannot fix the pain for them. It hurts to see them hurt. Grandma has reminded me to say, “I love you” and “Thank you” more. I, again, don’t have the words. As much as I want to leave South Dakota most days, my heart aches knowing that if I ever do, I will miss them more than I will know how to deal with.
It’s been years since I have seen some cousins, even longer for other relatives. It always breaks me a bit when these are the reasons we get together… it’s no one’s fault. It just happens. We grow… we move… we’re a BIG family. So, we’ll try to make it a point to get together more. To appreciate each other in new ways and just try to find the balance in this thing called life.
Balance is the tricky one… especially now. Every time I feel like I’ve pulled it together, I lose my shit all over again. I keep asking my girls, “Am I crazy? Is this normal? And someone remind me what I’m doing here…”. I can’t keep my thoughts straight and I find myself in fits of anger or an overwhelming sadness when someone simply says hello. I feel like I’ve lost my damn mind. They all assure me it’s okay and that’s a part of the process. So, we carry on.
All these lessons, this family… it’s all because of her. It’s all about her. She made this happen (well, and a few other people). I hope to never forget the day she looked at me and said, “I’m not sure how, but I know that I made all of this”, as she marveled at her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren sitting in my mom’s house, celebrating Thanksgiving. We long to hear her voice again and I know we will hear it when we’re supposed to. I wish I could hold her hand one more time, and sing along terribly to Johnny Cash radio.
One of the last songs we listened to together was “Living in the Promised Land” by Willie Nelson. I know that’s where she is today… in the Promised Land with everyone who held her close.
(Poem) How Do We Say Goodbye?
The words are not easy, as we try to go on,
But here’s to our grandmother, and most importantly mom.
Your love is bigger than us, for it filled every room,
Your laughter lifted our lives, like flowers in bloom.
You always were there, attending programs and games,
Beaming with pride, as they announced our names.
Playing cards with the girls, drinking coffee too late,
Making fresh cookies, never making us wait.
Working harder than anyone else that I know,
But making time for fun, to BINGO you’d go.
Happiness flowed, from your soul through your eyes,
So we struggle right now, how do we say our goodbyes?
We know you’re with Johnny, whistling a tune,
And we love you always, always, from here to the moon.