Dealing with the death of a loved one is hard. Really hard. But one year later, I'm here to tell you that it is possible to heal

On July 14th, 2017, I lost someone who meant the world to me. The anniversary of her death recently passed. This means I have gone through each holiday and her birthday without her. But that’s not how I’m looking at this. At least, I’m trying to not look at it this way.

The Initial Shock

The initial shock of a loved one’s death isn’t something you can prepare for. It isn’t something you can expect. And it isn’t something that you will ever feel outside of that experience– that’s the good news, if you can call any part of this good.

For a while, all you can think about is talking to them. All you can say is This isn’t fair. And sometimes, all you can do is cry.

To all of you who know the pain I’m talking about, I feel for you. I am sorry you ever had to go through this.

To all of you who, like me, went through this because of cancer, I feel for you most.

People say, “We all die someday,” either to try and comfort someone in a twisted way or they say it right before doing something stupid. Yes, we all die someday, but someday feels like it comes sooner than it should. Someday shouldn’t come at 69, when it came for my Grammie.

The Holidays

Christmas was bittersweet for me, being my first Christmas with my boyfriend but also the first Christmas without her. During that season, I wrote a lot. And I cried a lot too. I cried on Thanksgiving and after every Christmas party I went to. I couldn’t control that wave of sadness that swept over me.

Christmas Eve was the hardest. My boyfriend and I were having dinner at his parents’ house, and I tried to keep my composure through the meal. But I still excused myself from the table to escape to his room and cry. I felt pathetic, I won’t lie, but “crying is cleansing.” I’m still working on believing that.

But I made it through. Not on my own, though. My boyfriend was my support, and so were his grandparents, not that they knew. If there was anything I learned from going through this death, it was to surround myself with people I love and who love me. It wasn’t to fill the void I felt after Grammie passed but rather to remind myself that my heart is still full.

The Wedding?

In this last year, I am happy to say that I’ve been given a second grandmother. She is not a replacement, but a delightful addition. Earlier this year, my Grampie married a woman who I am glad to call family. Just like my Grammie, she loves to shop. We’ve already gone on a shopping trip together. Better yet, it was in my town.

She convinced my Grampie to fly out to Georgia for the first time in years, and he finally got to meet the man I’ve been sharing my life with. Words cannot say how important that was to me.

Should I feel weird that the wedding happened so soon? Maybe. Some of my friends thought that way. But for the most part, I’m happy. I’m happy that my Grampie was able to find someone who made him happy. Someone who understood his pain and could help him through it.

Though sometimes it does feel weird. In the moments that I deeply miss my Grammie, it feels weird to think that if I call the house number, someone else could answer it. It’s not that I feel uncomfortable about talking to the both of them about the grief I still feel on occasion but it’s a different dynamic I’m still getting used to.

The Birthday

The last major day to go through after my Grammie’s death was her birthday. Born on July 1st, died on July 14th. But the thing about July 1st is that it’s also my other grandma’s birthday, my niece’s birthday, and my boyfriend’s birthday. Needless to say, it’s a busy day.

This year, my boyfriend turned 21, and my Grammie would have been 70. In the weeks leading up to it, I prepared myself not only for the grief that would linger but also how to make my boyfriend’s birthday special. I put together a gift bag full of his favorites: Pringles, Fiji water, Runts, Dots, and candies from our childhood. I found a card that had a heart pop up when it opened and gave him a pair of socks that came in a “beer can.”  

We spent the day watching movies, went to dinner at our favorite Irish Pub, and ended the day with one more movie. I was proud of myself for holding it together, but by the end of our final movie, I was in tears. It was a sad movie to begin with, but it pushed out the feelings that I held in all day. While crying, I felt pathetic because all I could think was I’m just going to go through the same thing in two weeks.

I ended up calling my Grampie, knowing full well he would be with his wife. When they answered the phone, I froze. I called because I felt heartbroken, but then I tried to play it off like I was okay. They saw right through that and asked what was going on. All I could muster was It’s July 1st followed by more crying.

It turned out to be the healing conversation I needed. We ended up talking about bowling, which made me smile because my boyfriend and I watched The Big Lebowski that morning.

The weight of the grief lifted off of me after that, and I felt like everything was okay. It was a reminder of the good things that are still here– that life has still continued in the absence of my Grammie.

The Day

Driving home from work on the 13th, I broke down. Between hearing lyrics Lay me down, just please don’t leave me and It feels like a tear in my heart, a part of me missing, I couldn’t help it. I sat in my driveway listening to Cole Swindell’s You Should Be Here, crying until I went inside.

I woke up the next morning and couldn’t get out of bed. I felt too bad. But I had things to do, so I drank some coffee and went about my day.

The fact that the anniversary of her death didn’t hurt as much as the lead up to it surprised me. The fact that I was able to get up and go to my hair appointment and be happy for three hours surprised me. The fact that I was able to go have dinner with my boyfriend and his Oma that night and not break down surprised me.

That’s the thing about grief– it’s surprising. You don’t know when the emotions will hit you. You don’t know when they’ll go away. And you don’t know when they’ll come back. Even though this process has left me in the unknown, there’s still one thing I do know:  a year later, I still miss her but that gaping hole in my heart from hearing the news for the first time is starting close.