Photo: Free as a Bird by Kaitlyn Collins
Letters for the Grieving
When my grandmother died, people often told me how it was ‘her time to go’ and that god needed her more. I thought he was selfish for taking her from me, but I felt selfish for even questioning it.
It happened anyway.
It was a Saturday.
I was eating chocolate and watching Nickelodeon.
Mom and dad walked through my friend’s front door with grief weighing down their expressions. I didn’t want to ask if she was dead - that felt too morbid. My mom pulled me into her chest and started crying. She’s not one to express emotions, hardly ever. I couldn’t cry, because my chest felt so heavy, that if I were to unleash the flood gates now, it would destroy everything around me.
“I’m going in for surgery tomorrow.”
I inhaled sharply, because I knew this would be the last time we’d have our Sunday dates for a while. My fingers twitched with anxiety. She gripped my outstretched hand from across the table, “Don’t worry so much, it’ll be fine. You’re still my girl either way.”
It was potato soup day at Eat'n Park, her favorite soup and restaurant.
I distinctly remember the doctors reminding all of us that “under no circumstances is she supposed to eat anything within twenty-four hours of the surgery,” but I didn’t want to ruin the bit of freedom she had left. I jokingly said, “You know you’re not supposed to be eating that,” to which she responded, “You can keep a secret, can’t you?” and we both started to crack up. The doctors never brought that to our attention after her procedure, but I knew something the rest of the family didn’t, and that was comfort enough.
Gram was secretive about her stage four colon cancer for a long time. She didn’t want to burden us, but more specifically, me, with that information.
I walked through her front doors and announced, “Hey, it’s me,” before continuing through the sunroom to the kitchen, where she almost always was. Gram looked startled to see me, but not in a way I recognized. A woman that I’ve never seen in my life turned towards me and said, “Ah, you must be the granddaughter.”
I glanced at my grandmother, “Hi, who are you?”.
The lady didn’t seem offended.
T.V. static came out of her mouth after that, but the words L I V I N G W I L L punched me straight in the gut. Questions began to swim around my brain, but all I could muster the courage to say was, “Why?”. Gram interjected, probably to stop the lady from sending me into panic, and said, “Just in case.”
I realized something after walking out of the house the day mom had hugged me and said gram died; there were people walking their dogs, getting married, celebrating birthdays, falling in love. . . and now there’s one less person on the earth and none of these people knew I had just lost my best friend.
But how would they know? Time doesn’t stop for everyone all at once.
“You’re awfully quiet back there,” my dad said on our drive from my friend’s house.
Everything ached, emotionally and physically.
He dropped the conversation.
I was walking out of the bathroom when my dad stopped me in the middle of the hallway.
“Just let us know if you need to start seeing a grief counselor or something.”
My eyes grazed over every surface but his face. “Okay.”
I went to my room.
Sometimes I would lay in bed and transport myself to her house next door. It wasn’t like I couldn’t go over there if I wanted to- mentally, it could not happen. So, I dreamed of a reality where she still existed and was waiting for me to visit.
It wasn’t possible for me to leave bed most days. I felt like I was carrying her on my back everywhere I went. Mom and dad moved on with their lives and still went to work every day before the funeral.
Can’t they feel her too?
I discovered Chase shortly after being told gram had passed.
He was a little beagle that my dad kept in a pen in the back yard. He was one of those people.
“Hey, it’s your turn to take care of the animals,” he said to me while in the midst of a conversation with his brothers and my mom. I would have argued because it was too cold outside and I barely wanted to exist within the home, but I kept the melodrama to myself.
Chase's food was in the basement. Two scoops of dog chow and a can of meat would have been his meal that day.
The snow crunched under my feet. I couldn’t hear him moving around in his pen.
There were moments in my life where something hurt my feelings so bad that there was no time to react- this was one of those.
“Hey bud, I got your food,” I said while opening the pen door.
I dropped the food in the snow and screamed all the way back to the house.
Death isn’t something that people explain very well to younger children. When my uncle died, I told my cousin that he was going to sleep forever; she still didn’t understand, because that also didn’t make sense. There are people as old as my mom that still don’t understand how final it is. Everything feels permanent as a teenager, but death? It’s elusive and interesting, almost like an adventure. I didn’t want gram to go on her adventure yet, at least, not without me.
My mom rested her hand on my shoulder, “You don’t have to go if it’s too uncomfortable.”
“I have to. I didn’t get to say goodbye.”
I felt cold.
Gram was a school bus driver for the high school I went to long before I started attending there. There were buses parked at the front of the funeral home. The floodgates unleashed and I began sobbing immediately. There’s something about the innocence of a school bus that set my emotions ablaze.
I could feel her on my back while walking into the funeral home. As I caught sight of her in the casket, my knees buckled, and I fell to the ground.
I think fondly of that memory now because nobody told me I was overreacting.
I could finally set her down and let her rest for a while.
Mom and dad knew that it was time for me to see somebody. My depression and eating disorder had grown into an uncontrollable monster that I could no longer battle on my own.
I sat in the passenger seat while mom drove us to the counseling office. “I hear they’re really great at this place. Their wait list is a million miles long,” mom said in confidence- maybe to comfort me, but it sounded like she was trying to convince herself.
“Where is this place?”
“It’s the next town over.”
We drove the rest of the way in silence.
The office smelled like incense and had electronic waterfalls located on every side table. Yeah, it seems great.
A short lady with mousy brown hair and soft features walked into the waiting area from her office, “Hi! You’re my new client, right?” she asked, gripping my fingers into a handshake. “That’s me unfortunately.” I glanced at mom. She smiled.
“So, what brings you in today?”
“I just need someone to talk to. I’m can’t cope with life.”
My guidance counselor hugged me as I walked into the room.
“Are you excited for graduation?”
“Oh god, you have no idea.”
My kind eyed guidance counselor smiled, “You have no idea how happy I am to see you doing so well.”
I looked around her office. She had cute little knick-knacks on her desk and posters of celebrities I never knew existed until then.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Well, that’s what I’m here for.”
I stared at her desk for a moment, “Have you ever been really excited about something, but it also makes you really sad?”
She knew what I was referring to.
“She’ll be there too.”
My mom woke me up from a nap to tell me the surgery went well. Relief flowed through my body.
“Well, when is she coming home?”
“They said this weekend.”
The day she was due for release, the doctors gave us alarming news. Although the surgery went well, complications followed shortly after, and she had developed a nosocomial blood infection- meaning that someone or something had infected her in the hospital. When mom told me this, I immediately felt bile surface in back of my throat.
“She’s not going to make it.”
But I knew that.
Maybe she wasn’t meant to come home with us.
It still stung.
I loved dressing up for church on Sundays. Gram loved when I did too. She’d give me a new necklace and earrings every chance she had.
My hand clasped around a silver box, “What’s this for?”
She chuckled. “Open it.”
I opened it.
Inside of the box was a silver cross necklace. I couldn’t help but glance at the price tag on the back- and she noticed.
“My girl is worth every penny.”
She took the necklace from my possession to help me put it on.
I placed my hand over the necklace after mom told me she wasn’t coming home.
It felt wrong to wear jewelry after that.
My mom and dad weren’t the greatest during my adolescent years, or anytime after that really. The neighbors listened to how dad talked about my mom, how they hid food from me, and how scared my sister and I were to come home from hanging out with my friends- but nobody did anything.
Gram’s house became my safe space.
She fed me when I was hungry and sheltered me when the screaming wouldn’t stop until three a.m.- because the school bus still came at seven fifteen, regardless of us having an adequate amount of sleep, or food in our bellies.
I never called or texted before walking through her sunroom.
There’s something profound in the way people enter someone else’s home.
She never felt burdened with my visits, but I could read the annoyance in her body language when I’d tell her something her son had done.
“I don’t know how he got like this. I really don’t. He’s turned into a real piece of shit. I hope you know it’s not your fault and that you’ll always have me.”
The will went missing after the death of my grandmother. Mom and dad had theories that her oldest son had stolen it from the house and destroyed it. The only reason everyone was panicking about the will’s displacement was because gram's house was left to somebody- but nobody knew who it actually belonged to.
“I never would have lived next door and taken care of her for so long if I knew that fucking house was going to my brother when she died,” my dad said once.
Grief makes people say and do awful things sometimes, but I knew he meant it; I sobbed in the shower when everyone went to bed.
The oldest son ended up with the house. He claimed there was a “verbal contract.”
. . .
The day of her burial was rainy and cold.
My mom, dad, sister, and I trudged solemnly back to the truck soaking wet. I thought the worst part of the funeral would be the death that spurred the service, but it wasn’t.
Dad’s brother went back to gram’s house immediately after the service to pick through her belongings.
She wasn’t even cold in the ground yet.
I’d like to believe my grandmother is in the great beyond somewhere and that my questionable choices still make her shake her head and laugh- but I don’t know. She died my sophomore year of high school- a very vulnerable age and time in my life.
And It wasn’t her fault.
I no longer blame the doctors (even though she died in their care), or my parents (even though they had nothing to do with her death), or god (whoever that may be)- I’m sure the sky person needed her more; but I still get sad over the events that transpired during and after her death.
Despite all of this- I hope I still make her proud.