The first time I ever swam in the ocean I got knocked down by a big wave. Startled, I got back onto my feet, but just as I recovered I was knocked back down again. This went on a few times, the current pulling me down and sucking me in a bit before it spit me out again and I’d be struggling to pull myself back up before the next big wave came. Grieving is a lot like this, I think. You may think you’re starting to rise from the depths when another wave takes you by surprise and you feel as though you’re drowning in an ocean of it.
Once we learned that my Grandma didn’t have much time to live, and even she had made peace with her fate, I began bargaining. In lots of ways it felt like making a deal with the devil; her suffering can end but she won’t be here anymore when it does. I wished so desperately for her agony to be over that I feel like I forgot about the finality her death would bring. The weeks had dragged on so long and so painfully. When my mom finally called that Tuesday morning and said she had bad news I felt confused for a second because I had been praying for relief for Grandma for so long. Wasn’t it good news that she wasn’t suffering anymore? My first feeling was relief, my second, guilt for feeling relieved and then slowly as the days went on the shock of what it all really meant began to sink in.
I went to visit Grandpa last month for the first time since the funeral. As I stirred chili on their stove, in a pot I’d seen Grandma use forever, I thought about how strange and sad it was to be there without her, surrounded by every knick knack she had so carefully arranged, in a house that still felt like her in every way. How deeply wrong it felt, to leave the house and visit her at the graveyard down the street instead. My aunt gave me back the thank-you card I had given Grandma after my bridal shower. In it I had thanked her for being in my life and told her that I was looking forward to visiting her more this summer. I gave her that card in May and she was dead in July. It’s terrifying how quickly things can change and the people we love can leave us forever.
The last time I visited Grandma’s house before the wedding she sent a loaf of her homemade bread with me. We ate half and I carefully froze the rest for a special treat another day, then promptly forgot about it. I found it a few weeks after she died and tearfully stared at it in my hands like it was a million dollar cheque. It’s the LAST loaf of my Grandma’s bread I’ll ever have and I felt paralyzed by what to do with it. Make a phenomenal grilled cheese sandwich or save it in my freezer forever? It’s those small, seemingly stupid things that really take you by surprise. Grief taps you on the shoulder to remind you it’s still there in case you managed to find a brief respite from it.
Recently, I was leaving a restaurant and realized on my way home that I would have to drive past the hospital where I had spent so many evenings a couple of months ago. I’ve avoided that emotional landmine in the city because sometimes my memory fails me for a split second and I will very briefly feel like I should be heading there to visit. Like my Grandma might still be in her room if I went in, like it was all a bad dream and I had just forgotten to go there for a couple of days. It was too late to change directions and so I forged ahead, feeling unprepared but having no choice but to confront reality as I drove by. I have no one to visit there anymore, no reason to park and go inside and that hurt for a minute. But then I remembered that she is at peace now and in a much better place than that hospital room. As challenging as it feels, now I’m the one who needs to find peace in that.