Yesterday marked one year since my Grandmom died. I can cry just writing that sentence, but I won’t since I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Ocean City. Ocean City, where I have so many memories of Grandmom, like her last trip to my parents’ house, where she and I shared the room with the single beds, as we had in so many places over the years. By then, she was an octogenarian widow, and I was a married woman, but for that night, we were two single girls again.
I still miss her so much it physically hurts me. Not all the time. Not all day every day, but it can still hit me with a force that steals my breath, bends me over, clutching the kitchen counter, tears springing forth, bursting out. It’s worse at night. If a wave hits me at night, I can cry and feel like there’s no stopping it—nothing other than exhaustion or dehydration. Sometimes I’ll get into bed, still sniffling, and just hope to fall asleep, which eventually I do.
One of the worst days I’ve had in recent months was the day I changed my hair color. The day after Grandmom died I woke up with a visceral need to change my hair. I walked into a salon in my town and asked them to make me a blond. The change was so dramatic that my husband literally did not recognize me at first. I needed that change, I needed an outward sign that life would never be the same.
As her anniversary approached, I found myself needing to change it again. Needing that year of mourning to be over, an outward sign that the worst had passed. Another change. Another loss.
I didn’t want to be too dark, but I wanted darker. My hairdresser, who prefers brunettes, was only too happy to comply. But when she finished I almost burst into tears. Because Grandmom was really gone. And that time when it was so raw, so present, that’s gone too. Which is good. Life has to go on. But losing the intense grief, somehow that feels like a loss too. Because that was the thing that made me know she was real, she was here, she loved me. And without that, what will I have? Her things. My memories. Ocean City. Her recipes.
Now I am crying in the coffee shop. Embarrassing. But the reason I wanted to write about this is that I don’t think people talk about grief enough. People are ashamed to cry in public, to show sadness. I’m trying to change that about myself. I heard someone say the other day that she grieved her father’s death for decades. That helped me. Because there’s part of me that thinks I should be over it. That Grandmom was 92 years old, lived a full and happy life, died a year ago, that it shouldn’t still hurt.
And it is better. It doesn’t hurt as much or as frequently. But how could you ever stop missing someone you really loved? Someone who made you feel so good with just one look, one squeeze of the hand? Somehow, just being with Grandmom made me know that I was going to be okay, that whatever I was struggling with would work out, and that I would survive it. Her faith in me was so strong that she didn’t even have to say anything, though she often did. I miss laughing with her, I miss confiding in her, having her confide in me. I miss having coffee with her and her friends, feeling so special and cherished. How many people in life actually cherish you? If you’re lucky enough to have one, and you lose them, doesn’t it make sense to feel that loss?
So I just wanted to say, I’m still grieving. I think in some sense, I will always grieve this loss. But I know, I still know, how blessed I am to have a loss like this to grieve. Alice Walker said in a poem that “grief/emotionally speaking/is the same/as gold.” I think I’m beginning to understand what she means.