How Getting to Know Death Finally Allowed Me to Grieve

MuddyGirlWrites
7 min readAug 25, 2021
ID 173407265 Raman Maisei Dreamstime.com

It would be like sitting too long in a hard chair. Or trying to walk with a pebble in my shoe. A forgotten tag in a new blouse that scratched at my back. I thought that grief would be like that. A magpie funeral. Uncomfortable and painful — but temporary.

Death was still a stranger then.

It hung around the edges. Whisked away someone I knew in high school, but we hadn’t been friends. I don’t think I went to the memorial service.

I was 21 when my grandfather died. Cancer had reduced him, shriveled him up so he fit into a twin bed in the guest room off the kitchen. Sometimes I tried to forget he was wasting away behind the door. The loud hum of the air conditioner in the wall was a constant reminder. The linoleum floor stayed cool in the Miami heat, but the humid air left beads of sweat on his forehead. His square jaw was strong and whiskered, and he still had a full head of silver hair. I remember my mother sitting on the edge of the bed, stroking his face, memorizing it. She whispered that we were all going to be fine.

On the night he died, in that hour, on the very minute of his last breath, we were miles away, crowded around the table at my Aunt’s house lighting Shabbat candles. Shoulder to shoulder we were singing the Sh’ma as if he could hear it. The steamy aroma of chicken soup still hung in the air when the phone rang. My grandmother knew before anyone answered it.

I don’t remember the drive back to the house; it must have been very quiet. Or perhaps it wasn’t. There must have been crying, but it’s not my strongest memory. Back at the house, my mother spent a long time with the body, but I didn’t want to see it. That wasn’t Grandpa.

The next day, the bed was empty, and freshly crisp sheets were tucked tightly around the edges. Someone had placed a glass vase of flowers on the side table. For days afterwards there was food and laughter, even though the mirrors had been covered and we wore torn ribbons on our clothes. I listened to all the stories about him and wondered why I didn’t know him better. I cried when others did.

When I got back to Los Angeles, it was easier to pretend he was still there waiting for me to visit.

--

--

MuddyGirlWrites

Former movie popcorn server, singing telegram, celebrity publicist, marketing maven and event producer. Finally adding writer. www.muddygirlmedia.com