Before I went away for college in 2013, the most time I’d spent away from my grandpa was probably a week. And between 2013 and 2018, maybe it had been a few months at a time. This year, I kept planning a trip home but for reasons outside of my control, those plans fell through over and over again, until finally I went back almost against my will. I had bottomed out and felt that going home to New York, free from work, responsibility, and worry would soothe my mental and physical health in all the ways I needed. I had finally learned to accept help when it was being offered.
Those short weeks in New York would be the last time I spent with my grandpa after nearly a full year apart. I was home for three weeks, and he died three weeks after I left. The night before I drove back to Asheville, he remarked at how I was leaving so soon. I told him I’d see him at Christmas – it was only a few weeks away. And I was so incredibly sure I’d see him then. During the previous three weeks, I’d sit in my temporary room and think, “Why am I here when I could be home in Asheville?” Now I know that was why. I needed to make up for lost time with him.
Grief and I are familiar with one another. We can count on each other’s inevitable return to our lives, however much time passes between visits. This time, grief’s visit has been more of a residency. I’ve lost people before and each time been molded by their absence. But none have felt quite like this.
I’ve been transparent on this website about my struggles with my mental health and being far from home. I’ve been transparent with those close to me in saying this year has by far been the worst I have ever experienced. In the weeks since my grandfather’s passing, as grief clouds logic and sorrow feels permanent, I wonder if I jinxed myself in saying, month to month, “this year cannot get any worse” until it did.
As I wade through the beginnings of a life forever changed, I’ve been remarking on how much I learned from my grandfather. How fortunate I am to have known him and to have had that much time with him. How much I resemble him. How grief offers the ashes from which we may rise and although this newfound absence is permanent, grief may change us for the better. After a year spent spiraling, it seems I may be finally coming back up for some air.
This grief is not a positive by any means, not a welcomed celebration. But the balm on the wound is in knowing that my grandpa was at peace and ready, and that I am undoubtedly a better person for knowing him. I can honor his presence everyday by living as full a life as he did. As soon as I got off the phone with my mom that morning, I had the clarity I had been grasping for throughout the year.
The grief I’ve felt in 2019 has been consuming. Grieving for past selves. Grieving over changes. Grieving over hurt. Grieving over worry. Grieving over uncertainty. Grieving over lost dreams. Grieving over death. And many times this year I’ve thought of that grief simply: you either move forward or you don’t. This year has taught me how to ask for help, how to accept my vulnerability, and what I truly cherish in this life.
Grief centers us in this way. When we lose what is most dear to us, we mourn what is lost and appreciate all that remains.
[Image descriptions: Allison’s grandfather young in his Marine uniform. Allison is a toddler being held by their grandpa.]