By Olivia Langenberg
Features and Lists Editor
I was eight years old when my grandparents died. My grandmother passed first. I have vague memories of sitting in a hospital waiting room, fidgeting around on the uncomfortable chairs, wondering when I could go home. My family didn’t talk much. But then again what is there to say in times like that? This was my life’s first dance with death, and it was certainly something I had no concept of at the time. I knew my grandmother was ill, but people get better when they’re sick. Don’t they?
Fast forward a few weeks and there I was in a small town church staring at my grandmother’s casket. What the hell was happening? I’d never been to a funeral before, let alone seen a real life dead person. There was so much pain in the air. I still find myself haunted by the sounds of my grandfather crying in the front of the church. He’d lost a part of himself that he would never get back. That’s dark stuff in itself, but especially for a kid. My grandmother was one of my favorite people in the world. She had the sweetest demeanor and she seemed to bring the best parts out of everyone. I wish I would’ve had more time with her.
My grandfather was absolutely miserable up until the day he died. Every time I visited him, I heard those cries again and I saw the emptiness in his eyes. My grandfather had said he wouldn’t spend a Christmas without my grandmother. And he didn’t. He was a World War II veteran and actually passed away on December 7th, the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. I refused to accept this death. Not enough time had passed between the losses and I wasn’t physically capable of handling it. I didn’t attend my grandfather’s funeral and I regret that a lot. But at the time, I just couldn’t bring myself to look at my grandfather in a casket. It was too much to take in.
No one really teaches you how to deal with grief. Everyone experiences the emotion differently. Lots of people, myself included, are very open with their feelings. I’m talking about the waterworks here-I sob like a baby when I lose someone. On the other hand, people like my father don’t cry at all. They go silent. It’s hard to conceptualize the idea that you’ll never see someone again. There will be no more trips to my grandparents house and my grandfather will never finish teaching me how to play cards. My grandparents won’t see me grow up. What are you supposed to do with all that?
I lost a few more key individuals in my life over the following years, and let’s just say that I didn’t get any better at dealing with loss. I still wailed during the funerals…and any time I thought about the person dying. I used to replay the last thing I remember the person saying to me in my head. I tried so hard not to forget what each person I lost sounded like. But sure enough, I have now. I don’t think I could pinpoint any time when I actually got over someone’s death. Time goes on and I guess you wake up one day not feeling quite so awful anymore. Memories are so persistent, though. I could be having the time of my life and one little thing can send me spiraling back into a puddle of grief. Then it starts all over again. How did I ever get over this before?
“Everyone experiences the emotion differently.”
I’m twenty now. It has been a long time since someone in my life died. But I hopped right back on the grief train a month and a half ago. My father’s brother passed away suddenly from a heart attack. It’s definitely worse when you don’t know it’s coming. I immediately felt horrible that I was so far from home. I feel the distance from my family every now and then, but it burned then. I wanted nothing more than to envelope my father in a giant bear hug and let it all sink in together. But instead, I was out here in NYC by myself. Yes, yes, I have wonderful friends. But I needed to be with my family. This is one of the problems I have since I’m not from the tri-state area. I can’t just snap my fingers and be home in an hour. And flights are expensive.
For weeks, I felt like an empty shell of a person. I dragged myself through my routines, but I was so sluggish. I zoned out during classes, I lost my appetite, and I wasn’t finding joy in the things that usually make me happy. Oh and doing my homework? Forget about it. And there was nothing to talk about. My uncle died. That’s about it. Grieving is a difficult process, especially when you’re experiencing it alone. I called home a lot during these weeks. I’d ask my dad how he was doing every day, but sure enough he ended up being the one worrying. I was supposed to be the one taking care of him this time! But instead, grief hit me like a four-wheeler and I couldn’t do anything. It’s numbing, really.
I played a lot of mind games with myself over the past few months. In some ways, I still am. I wondered why I was so unnaturally beat up about this and I genuinely convinced myself that I was overreacting. I almost felt like I was a child again, crying uncontrollably in that small town church over the loss of my grandmother. One morning, my therapist looked me in the eye and told me, “Olivia, you are grieving. You’ve lost someone. It’s normal.” She’s right. You can’t get mad at yourself for the way you react to something. If we could control our emotions, we’d all be a lot happier. Nonetheless, all we can rely on is the fact that life keeps going. Lean into grief-it’s absolutely nasty, but it’s necessary.
And I’m okay now. It just takes time.