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April 24, 2013

My wits are slow, and while I would love to produce a dazzling essay that would make my grandmother as vivid and wonderful to you as she was to me, I can’t do it yet. I do find it enormously comforting to hear that other people have been so sad when grandparents die, and I’m so grateful to those of you who have written to tell me that you felt the same way. Until you did, I almost felt as if I didn’t have the right to be so upset. She was old, and her death was not unexpected. And a grandparent is not a child, nor a parent, nor a sibling. She was almost fifty when I was born. What did I think, that she would live forever?

And yet she was my kindred spirit and my champion and my devoted lifelong friend. I have no trouble keeping her memory alive, as people always say. I know that I can think of her and remember her and read her letters (she wrote me thousands of letters–a letter at least every week for nearly my entire life) and talk about her and so forth. I know that I can still love her even though she is dead.

But she loved me in a way no one else ever has. Is this what we miss, when people die? It’s not that we don’t love them, but rather that they do not love us any more. That’s what’s gone–that’s why it feels selfish and terrible of me to mourn, why I am vaguely ashamed of it. I’m not just lamenting the loss of my grandmother, I’m indulging some kind of primal, childish anguish that the person who loved me best is gone.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. April 24, 2013 12:10 pm

    My grandfather passed away last Wednesday. He was 96. I held him in my arms as he took his last breath. It was so sad and yet so profound. I am really sad and almost feel embarassed to tell people about it. Yes, he was old. Yes, he lived a long good life, but I’m still so sad. I don’t think loss can be ranked or prioritized. It just sucks and can feel awful in whatever stage in life it occurs. I’m really sorry for your loss.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      April 24, 2013 12:56 pm

      Oh, Peg, I am so sorry to hear this…thank you so much for writing. I’m so so sorry.

  2. SarahB permalink
    April 24, 2013 1:25 pm

    Again, I am so sorry. And you are right, right, right about that special love, that indulgence a loving grandparent has for you that the rest of the world just doesn’t. That love is a soft place to land, and it is right to feel its loss keenly.

  3. Ellen permalink
    April 24, 2013 2:40 pm

    Oh, thank you for this. My grandmother has been gone for three years, and I still find myself caught by moment of grief. I miss her so. Yes, yes, I miss the way she loved me.

  4. Marcia permalink
    April 24, 2013 3:52 pm

    Thank you so much for this … I have battled with this feeling for the past 4 years.. And you have put it into words for me – missing the way that particular person loved you!! Simply said … Wow – thank you

  5. April 24, 2013 5:35 pm

    Nobody ever listened to me as well as my grandmother did. I definitely miss that in a completely selfish way. I think that’s okay. Better than okay! When I die, I want everyone bereft, and sad, and wanting things that only I could offer. I want to have made a mark and to have mattered to someone. Your grandmother mattered. Your grief is clear testament to that. You were lucky to have her, and I am so sad you no longer do.

  6. April 24, 2013 7:20 pm

    Yes, that is exactly why I miss my grandmother so. No one else will ever love me that deeply and thoroughly, every molecule of my being from the moment I was born. Even my mother never loved me like that! I could ALWAYS count on my grandmother to be there for me and just love me completely.

    That phase of my life is gone. It’s her death, but also the death of my childhood, and of so many memories that now only live inside me and can’t be reminisced about with anyone. Now it’s my job to love others in that unconditional way, but no one will ever love ME like that again.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      April 25, 2013 10:58 am

      Yes, that’s really it. The childhood thing, too. All of it.

  7. Celeste permalink
    April 24, 2013 7:42 pm

    I’m so very sorry. It hurts to lose a relationship. No one else will ever call you granddaughter and it just plain smarts.

  8. April 24, 2013 10:44 pm

    You stated it so well! I’m really sorry for your loss. It’s a different kind of sadness losing grandparents. I hope, in time, your heart will be lighter and you will catch yourself smiling at some sweet memory of your grandmother.

  9. April 25, 2013 6:33 am

    I never thought of mourning in that way: that it’s about the mourned person’s love for oneself. I had a difficult relationship with one of my grandmothers. I was told by my father to pay her a visit because “she thinks you don’t love her.” This was when I was a college student and had gotten pregnant by my boyfriend. I was probably 4-5 months along and had kept the pregnancy a secret. So, I visited my grandmother, who was healthy and active, and we had a stilted conversation. At the end of the visit, she put her hand on my shoulder and I KNEW that she had figured out that I was pregnant. Nothing was said. We are not a communicative family. Very soon after that she had a sudden heart attack and died. That visit was the last time I saw her.

  10. Jenny permalink
    April 25, 2013 1:24 pm

    My grandmother died almost eight years ago, just before my daughter came home from China. I’ve never known another person like her: so laughing and stubborn in loving, so able to see the human being in every human being. I miss her so much. I grieve her actively and still wish, selfishly, she hadn’t gone and died. Grief doesn’t have to fit the measuring stick of what you believe seems appropriate. It should fit the loss.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      April 25, 2013 1:28 pm

      That’s absolutely lovely. Thank you.

  11. April 25, 2013 3:50 pm

    That selfish side of grief – the grief that isn’t compassion for the dead but is kind of a childish foot-stamping that the thing I liked is gone – FEELS awful, and selfish, but really, think about the alternative. “I’m sorry for you that you’re gone but actually my life is much better now!” Hmm. That sounded kind of flip. What I meant was that the selfish part of grief is a sign that you had a real bond.

    (And this foot stamping fury is what I first felt when my mom was diagnosed with cancer – she CAN’T be dying because she is important to ME! And I imagine it’s what my kids would feel if they lost me, far more than any distress over what my dying meant to me. It’s just part of it, right? And I think it’s okay.)

  12. bill permalink
    April 26, 2013 10:49 pm

    Thank you for so vividly describing the loss of a relationship that I never had a chance to experience. Your description helps me to envision a role model that I do not have first hand. I can only try to approach the grand parent that your grandmother was for you.
    Your palpable relationship as described in few words conjures up so much to fill a void in my life. Thank you.

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