Grief is weird. It comes and goes in waves. Sometimes it’s a tsunami and sometimes it’s low tide. My grandmother passed away suddenly in May, and I’ve been struggling with it ever since. I live in New York City, but the rest of my family lives in Oklahoma. The full weight of adulthood never hit me until the moment my mom called me from 1000 miles away to tell me my grandmother had died.
Reality faded in and out of my mind as I flew home. I had just been there for a visit, had been helping my grandmother recover from a successful lung surgery, had told her that I would see her soon, probably when I came home for my birthday in September. So there was no way that this could be real, this is could have happened. But as I walked through the gates of the Tulsa International Airport and fell sobbing into my parents’ arms, I knew there was no going back. She was gone. Living in a big city far away from home always has its challenges, but it never really sunk in until this moment. My whole family was at the hospital in an instant that day, and I was stuck pacing in my too-small apartment in Manhattan until I could get on a flight home the next morning.
The next ten days passed in a daze. It was hard to leave Tulsa again and I found it incredibly tempting to just move back home and be with my family. It seemed like a new breed of homesickness had settled into my psyche- how could New York be the right place for me to be when it felt like I was a million years away from everyone I loved and needed the most? But on the other hand, I knew my grandmother would be angrier than anyone to see me stay in Tulsa just because she had died. I could almost see her wagging her finger at me and saying “shape up or get out!” (the catch phrase she coined in the months before her passing). So I went back, went to more auditions, and found a fresh determination to succeed for her.
But what no one tells you about loss is that the pain of it never truly leaves you, it’s just something you learn to live with, constantly ebbing and flowing.
No one tells you about the silence of it: I miss calling her to talk to her about anything. I miss getting her voicemails asking me to help her figure something out on Facebook. Most of all, I miss her mail- the little “thinking of you” cards she would send every few weeks, sometimes with a crisp twenty tucked neatly inside or a bag our favorite Lindt truffles. She had a way of making you feel so loved and remembered with the simplest of gestures.
We had a long and happy 24 years together, but because of the suddenness of her death, it will never feel like enough. She got to watch me grow up, but I only existed for a fraction of her 83 years. I regret nothing except that I didn’t cherish every second I spent with her. Why didn’t I write down every piece of advice she gave me, every funny thing she said? Why didn’t I take pictures every day I spent with her? The answer: I thought we had more time together. I thought there would be more time for a real goodbye and endless reminiscing, more laughs, more hugs, more days spent together buying “just because” presents and giggling. The unfortunate truth of loss is that you can’t picture your life without someone until they are gone and then the picture is forced upon you. You feel like your life has split in half: part 1, when the person was still with you and part 2, when they are gone and most of the time it feels like you’re wandering through pitch darkness with no flashlight.
Death is so strange in that the person who dies just leaves. Here one day, gone the next. Gone to some unknown place where we can’t speak to or see them again. The simple reality of grief for me was not the unfairness of her loss nor not the guilt of unsaid words, but that above all, I just missed her. I still do.
But recently my grandma, with her mischievous smile and infectious laughter, has shown up in here in New York in different ways. She appears in my dreams, acting out long-forgotten scenes from my childhood or showing me her new world. Most of the time she is just silent, but present: a reminder that she’s still with me. Anytime a summer shower hits the city I think of her and smile; she loved the rain. I see her in the elderly woman I give my seat in the subway to. I hear her laugh in my own. Most of all, I feel her in my own mother’s love.
One day, however, she came to me in the most obvious and bizarre way possible. I spent this year’s Easter (when my Grandmother was still alive) in New York City with my friends, something I regret now but at the time seemed like no big deal. However, I called my grandma to ask for her Breakfast Casserole recipe, a holiday favorite with my family. She insisted on mailing me a tablespoon of the secret ingredient, dry mustard. She said would would send it with my Easter package.
The package never came. Anyone who lives in New York knows how ridiculous the mail can be here. But no sign of my grandmother’s Easter package ever appeared. We chalked it up to theft and she promised to buy me another chocolate bunny the next time I came home.
However on July 20th, two months after her death, the package came.
Postmarked April 3rd, I had no idea what it was when I opened it. There, as though she had sent it last week, was the chocolate bunny (unopened and not melted), the Easter card signed with her typical “love you!”, and the dry mustard.
I don’t know how this package found its way back to me but I am so happy it did. It feels like my grandmother is saying hello; reminding me, as my brother put it, that she’s still got my back. Reminding me that I am exactly where I am supposed to be- otherwise, how could the package have found me at this most particular time? I belong in New York, just like she always said I did. J.K. Rowling describes death as a simple place “beyond the veil,” and when I received this mysterious package, it felt like my grandmother peaked out from behind that veil with a friendly wave.
My grief feels different now. The mysteries and longing that had been so heavy on my heart lately feel like they have faded away a bit. Still there, of course, but underneath a layer of peace, intertwined with the tranquility of knowing I’m on the right path. She’s still watching, and even though what I would like to do more than anything is return home to find her waiting for me with a cup of coffee at her kitchen table, I know now that she’s closer than ever. She’s still with me, even though I can’t see her.
“Just beyond the veil, remember?”
I love you, Grandma. Thanks for the package.