Before I made the 7-hour drive from my hometown of Tucson to my LA apartment, I knew it was the last time I'd probably see you.
Despite the doctors advice and the pleas of my aunts and uncles, my grandma made the decision to move you from the hospice facility to your home of 60 years.
The reason? You told her you wanted to die at home.
Though the hospice sent a nurse to check on you every few days, my grandma did most of the heavy lifting; feeding you, helping you shower, singing to you, and even napping with you on that single sized medical bed, head to feet. The strength of that woman continues to inspire me every day.
Before making the long haul back to LA I lingered a bit longer in your room, the same room I had played hide and seek in years before. Though it looked more like a hospital room now, it still had a familiar scent, a mixture between White Diamonds (my grandma’s favorite perfume), cedar, and an old library.
I grabbed your hand and made a joke about how dapper your hair looked. Even when you were in the hospital you insisted that my grandma combed your silver hair regularly. Though my dad's hairline had already waved goodbye years ago, you never managed to lose your beautiful locks.
Humor. That's What I'm Good At.
If someone asked, “what does that Nicole bring to the table?” I imagine the reply would be something like, “The ability to make light of any situation. Comic relief, duh.”
I admit, sometimes this clownish-trait gets me in trouble with sensitive family members, friends, or partners, but I can't help it. Smiling, laughing, joking--this is how I not only express my happiness but also my pain. This is how I make sense of the tragic world around me.
As I held your hand I could tell you weren’t there with me 100%. Physically yes, but mentally, it felt like you were elsewhere. Where exactly, I’m not sure. I don't think you understood what I was saying which made me feel frustrated and scared. But you knew I was there. You smiled.
More time passed and I knew I should be getting on the road. My boyfriend and dog were already in the car. I kissed your forehead and whispered "I love you grandpa.”
It wasn't until I got in the car to drive home that I broke down. "What's the matter?” my boyfriend asked concernedly. "It's probably the last time I'll ever see my grandpa," I managed to spit out in between heaving sobs. He rubbed my shoulders and tried to comfort me, but somehow it wasn't enough. I felt so alone.
- I felt silly for grieving someone who was still alive.
- I felt sad for my grandma and how hard this must be for her.
- I felt exhausted.
Honestly, I don't remember the drive back. Probably because it was the same as it had always been, switching between podcasts, stand up comedy bits, and shitty radio stations when we couldn't get a signal on our cellphones.
The Phone Call
Though I knew it was coming, nothing, absolutely nothing, could have prepared me for that phone call. It was a lazy Sunday morning and I was still in bed. My cell rang. “Weird,” I thought, “my dad doesn't usually call me this early.”
That’s when I knew. I knew before I even knew.
His voice cracked, "grandpa passed away." It's funny, when someone passes away you don't feel bad for that person, at least not right away. You feel bad for everyone he touched in his lifetime - all the people he influenced - all the people who would miss him every day.
I somehow managed to keep it together on the phone. As a perpetual joker, even I knew this wasn't a time for jokes. Instead, without shedding a single tear, I filled the silence with question after question.
- “How is grandma doing?”
- “When is the funeral?”
- “Is there anything I can do?”
Perhaps the shakiness in my dad’s voice urged me to stay stronger a little longer. Just because I'd never seen him actually cry didn’t mean I couldn’t hear his floodgates rattling. Before we hung up, I told him I loved him and not to worry, that I would call my sister and tell her the news.
After I hung up the phone I cried. Why was I so sad? I asked myself. I knew this was coming. I curled up in a fetal position and cried, quiet, yet heavy sobs. My boyfriend came in shortly after and wrapped his body around me, but it didn't help. Nothing helped.
I was angry. Angry at my boyfriend for not comforting me in the way I needed -- but hell, not even I knew what that meant. I wanted him to feel the pain of loss like I did. The heavy sinking feeling in the base of my guts. But he'd never lost anyone close to him, so there was no possible way he could understand what I was going through. And that also made me angry.
Bringing Light During Times of Darkness
The funeral was hell. I've never been so sad in all my life. My eyes were like leaky faucets. Even when I thought I had it together, wet tears continuously dripped down my cheeks. One of the hardest things I’ve ever witnessed were my male relatives, a family of pranksters and jokesters, all in tears. Thank god I had my sister beside me. Though I think her presence inevitably made me cry more, I knew I could squeeze her hand when the pain became too much. I needed to cry, I needed to let this out.
At the funeral I gave a speech. I'm not sure why I thought this was a good idea at the time, but once again, I felt like it was my duty to bring light to a dark situation. Sadness is just so sad. Heavy. Final. I didn't want to just sit around crying; my grandpa was a silly man. Whenever I'd get back from a trip he'd ask me "are your arms tired from the flight?" Anytime we would go out to eat he'd ask if he could borrow the waiter’s credit card to pay for our bill. He was the king of silly one liners; 'grandpa jokes', we called them.
I only had a few days to prepare for my speech but I found this to be the most cathartic process. First and foremost, I was a writer. Writing not only helped me deal with this unfortunate tragedy, but it was my way of helping others focus on the lightness my grandpa brought to the world. I wanted his funeral to also be a celebration of his life, not just a depressing memorial.
I managed to choke out my humor-laced speech in-between tears and a few nose-blowing breaks. As hard as it was to deliver those words, it was all worth it when I heard a collective laugh come from the audience. It was then I realized how incredible the human spirit actually is. Even during times of ultimate darkness, we can still find strength to laugh together.
No Two People Have the Same Grief Relief
It's been three years since he passed. While it's true, time helps heal wounds, I suppose the grief part never completely goes away. Some days I don't think about my grandpa at all, and other days I'm overcome by unfathomable sadness. While writing, humor, and family support, continue to help me deal with my own grief, your formula might be something entirely different, and that’s completely ok.
Music to Grieve toListening to sad music after losing a loved one, being diagnosed with a terminal illness, or finalizing a divorce might seem counterintuitive, but this somber sounding activity has been proven to help.
Nothing can prepare you for grief, nor is there a right or wrong way to deal with it, but sad music is an easily accessible and highly effective tool that can help you begin to heal.Learn How Sad Music Can Help You