Note: This piece heavily details experiences with loss and death.
I grew up with my grandmother until I was six. Where I’m from, this is a common living arrangement for any child who was born early in their parents’ life, just to give their parents the space to get on their feet. For me, however, it wasn’t a temporary space during those first six years—it was my home. To this day, if you ask me where I grew up, I will say my grandmother’s house because for the first few years, my parents were tall strangers who would mess up the preexisting order in the house when they came to visit. I didn’t know them that well, but I knew my grandmother deeply.
That is the grandmother I expected to have to myself this winter break, but when I got home the day after Christmas, she wasn’t completely there. My grandmother had lost 60 pounds in four months, but hadn’t told anyone, so we wouldn’t worry. Here was this frail figure of my grandmother, her beautiful teeth and bone structure poking through her skin. “She’s still pretty,” I thought to myself, “How can you be dying of cancer and still look so pretty?” But she managed to do it, even as she gradually couldn’t take care of herself.
Her health decline happened quickly. On Christmas, she was on the phone telling me how much she loved me, and by the time I took her to the doctor on the following Friday, they told me there was nothing more to be done. Her cancer had spread from her lungs (even though she had never smoked a cigarette in her life) to her spine and then her brain. I broke down crying after this because my grandmother had whispered to me, “It’s okay, I’m going to get better.” But I knew in her weak voice that she wasn’t, I knew she was going to die. My family had left me in charge of her care. During my winter break, I cooked for her, I cleaned, did her laundry, made her bed, and eventually, I helped bathe and dress her.
Over winter break, I watched the woman who raised me move toward the brink of death. I was by her bedside with my rosary. I placed her medication in her mouth and some days forgot to take my own. I fell into a routine of not feeling anything. Every day, she would get worse and I would feel more and more intent on making her feel better. Days when she wouldn’t eat, I would still cook and days when she wouldn’t wake up, I would still turn the TV on to something she would have liked to see.
After the last doctor’s appointment she went to, I couldn’t take her home. I knew that if someone told me I was going to die soon, I wouldn’t want to go home. I took her on a driving tour of our city, from the big colonial houses in Summerville to the dying stores of downtown Augusta. I even stopped at Paine College, where she had gone so many years ago. That drive was predicated on all of our love, our compassion, all of our sadness.
At the funeral, I told that last story of our ride around town because I wanted everyone to know she got to spend one last time in the city she spent her entire life in. Augusta, Georgia, will never be the same, not for me. This experience changed me. My grandmother kept asking me during her sickness, “When are you going back to school?” and that was the ultimate pressure to get my ass on a flight, even if I had just watched her die in bed less than 12 hours before. So now I’m here, fresh from the funeral, lurking around my own grief.
I’m crying right now, on and off, as I write this. All of this crying tells me there’s something hiding in me, waiting for the day when it comes out and I finally, through my stubbornness, let myself really be bereaved. I’m scared of how it will affect school—if it’ll happen in class, or in line at Ferris, or at work. I’ve fallen to the floor countless times in my room, sobbing and screaming into my EC single.
But still, in true Columbia student fashion, I’m telling myself I’m too busy to feel all the sad feelings. But, there are moments where the stillness of a morning or a weekend makes me face my mourning process alone. I’m dying for affection, dying for someone to hold me while I cry, but I can’t get myself to cry in front of anyone. I keep saying I’m fine. In my frenzy to stay ahead of my grief, I’ve also started doing pruning work in my life. I cut out stressful things, people, and places. I’ve stopped calling home. It’s even hard for me to go to Mass on Sundays, but every day, I pray for clarity so that I don’t make any wrong decisions during my grieving process.
This last semester of navigation through Columbia with grief feels numb, brings uncertainty, and leaves me wondering how long I can keep up with my responsibilities before grief gets me, and I finally get the big cry that I have been chasing through my numbness. I’m working with myself and my therapist to have that big cry, whether that be alone or with others, but still I need patience in my life as I slowly find myself at peace with my loss.
Sabina Jones is a senior at Columbia College majoring in English & Hispanic studies. Her column, Transatlantic Trade, runs every other Wednesday.
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