My Grandmother, “Mamima” passed away two weeks ago just short of her 90th birthday. Over the past 10 years our relationship had changed due to distance, her condition and many other factors. Visiting her at the nursing home was not a pleasant experience and our visits became shorter. When her health deteriorated over the years, deep down I knew she was READY to die and meet “El Senor.” Mamima was a devout Christian who prayed daily, both morning and night. Nothing to her was more important than her relationship with God, her children, Grandchildren and Great-grandchildren.
Knowing of her willingness to leave her body behind and meet God, I felt prepared that when she did pass away I would have some sadness but mostly celebrate her death as her being “in a better place” and “not suffering.” I was dead (no pun intended) wrong.
My first recognition of the reality of grief happened as soon as the nurse told me to get down to Florida as soon as possible. I couldn’t speak. I choked up with tears. My nose became runny. As a friend noted to me later, this would be the “ugly cry” where snot reigns supreme and there’s no end in sight. When I finally got down to Florida, she had passed. I chanted “Om Namah Shivaya” and couldn’t make it through. She was gone. The woman who told me that she prayed for me every day and asked for God to take care of me was dead. Mamima loved me as a son. She raised me, along with my mother and Grandfather. She was a deep part of my life for the first 16 years, and still a big part for the next 12. She cooked special food for me when I visited, and reminded me of how important a love of God and family were. I had forgotten. She took care of people in her corner apartment in the Bronx with food, an ear, healing hands and prayer.
The grieving took many turns. “Sweet” cries came with a sound, or a thought of something connected with her, a few tears down the face. The ugly cries came in waves, often out of nowhere. I grieve as I write this Blog.
I will never try and make someone feel better when they’re grieving. A simple hand hold, hug, or hand on the back in silence is plenty. Please stop saying things like “they’re in a better place” (Yes, they are) or “it happens for a reason” (never understood that) or my personal favorite “time heals all pain.” It doesn’t. Instead of trying to make me feel better, help me to feel. Grief has no agenda, you shouldn’t either. It is uncomfortable for me to be honest when I know that your discomfort with pain and discomfort is going to lead you to try and fix it. Just stop. Hold the space. It does pass. I am grateful every time I cry, but not while I am crying. Everyone has their method. This is mine.
Grief is not rational. It’s not convenient. It has no boundaries. It comes, it goes. It is deep and it hurts. Let it, even if it has been days, months or years. It is a wonderful teacher, and transformational.
A client gave me this beautiful poem:
A Native American Poem
Don’t stand by my grave and weep,
for I am not there
I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow
I’m the diamond’s glint on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
Don’t stand by my grave and cry.
I am not there.
I did not die.