Updated: Mar 18, 2020
March 3, 2018
As I drove the 360 miles from North Hollywood, CA to Oakland, CA all I could do was smile. I was going to surprise my Nana for my birthday. She had been sick for a while and had been recently admitted to a convalescent home. That was the one thing she never wanted, so I knew I had to put a smile on her face.
I was a bit hesitant to see her, not sure of the state she would be in because the last I saw her she was in the hospital. I walked into the convalescent home and the energy felt very dismal. The walls were bland and the entryway felt cold. I could hear groans and coughs, and encountered a very distinct smell that reminded me of cough drops and Lysol. I made my way down the hall to her room, and as soon as she saw me, her smile lit up the room. The energy I felt walking into that facility was completely altered by her glow. I could tell she was a bit weak, but despite it, she sat up in bed to greet me saying, “Hey baby! Happy Birthday.”
While sitting with my Nana, we had a few good laughs, spoke about my birthday plans, and most importantly how she was feeling. She hadn’t been eating, and I was determined to try to have her eat something she really wanted. She specifically asked for hot wings and fries. Unfortunately, I had to see with my own eyes how weak she had become. She couldn’t even keep her favorite meal down. That broke my heart, but I wasn’t going to let her see me break. Before I left, the last thing she requested of me was to make sure I didn’t let her house burn down to the ground. I promised her that I wouldn’t.
I was definitely going to be back to surprise her for Mother’s Day.
May 11, 2018
Mother’s Day was 2 days away and I was upset that I couldn’t afford to drive back up to Oakland, though I was determined to find a way. Perhaps I could buy a bus ticket? My dad called to let me know he had just left from seeing my Nana and she wasn’t doing so well. In my head, I’m thinking, “All she needs is a splash of joy. I can give her that!” But I could tell from the sound of my dad’s voice that she may not bounce back. She expressed she was ready to leave this Earth and be with her mom. She didn’t want to be sick anymore. She didn’t want to be waited on. She didn’t want to be a burden. She just wanted to be at peace.
My dad placed me hold for a moment. When he clicked back over, there was a moment of silence before I heard my dad’s voice crack… my heart slowly began to shatter. “She’s gone,” echoed in my mind and all I felt were my knees give out from beneath me. My world went dark. I was supposed to be there to see her one last time. Why did she have to leave now? Why couldn't I be there to say goodbye?
May 11, 2019
Fast forward to a year later; I was crying more about her being gone than the day she passed away. To add insult to injury, I was also laid off from my job and depression kicked in extremely hard. I felt as if the world was against me and all I wanted to do was stay inside. I wanted to talk to my Nana. I needed to hear her voice telling me everything will be fine, but all I could hear was my own cries. Oftentimes, people invited me out, though I’d decline because I preferred to stay in bed. I didn’t want to have to force myself to smile. I even received phone calls from family and friends checking on me. I would lie to them saying everything was fine with me. In reality, I felt as if I was sabotaging my life and I needed to find the light at the end of my tunnel.
My first breakthrough, which helped me to get out of bed, was going to therapy. Therapy gave me an opportunity to speak honestly about feelings and understand how to properly deal with this loss I couldn’t seem to shake. Initially, it was awkward for me because I didn’t believe talking to someone I didn’t know would actually make a difference, but it surprisingly became an open door to express myself without fear of judgment. It also taught me how to incorporate different ways to help me cope.
My second breakthrough was taking walks outside. Even though I may have been sad, it was important for me to continue to find ways to get out of bed. Initially, it started as short 10 min. walks, then 30 mins, and eventually, I started running. Not only did this exercise remind me of the beauty around me, but I discovered a passion that I never knew I would have: taking pictures of flowers. Taking these photos brought a significant amount of joy into my life. Every time I would look at them, I was reminded that dark spaces are no place to stay. Almost a year later, I still stop and embrace every moment to acknowledge the beauty of a flower, understanding that I am just as delicate and can’t grow without light.
March 3, 2020
Although my birthday will always be a reminder of the last day I saw my Nana, this year was different. Instead of crying, I chose to smile. I smiled knowing that’s exactly what she would want me to do. I still cry at times when I think of her but in those moments, I speak to her out loud. I can feel her with me more than ever before. I swear I heard her say, “Hey Baby. Happy Birthday.”
This process of losing my Nana and understanding how to deal with it has been a very rocky journey that I know I’ll be riding for the rest of my life. For those that have lost someone and struggling to get through it, what helped me most was welcoming my grief as opposed to trying to act as if it doesn’t exist. I had to accept how I felt and learn to allow my tears to help me grow. I would never tell anyone to get over someone they’ve lost because I know that wouldn’t be the best solution. The more I recognized my emotions, the more I was able to properly channel a way to handle them. Whether it’s through listening to music, going for a run, taking pictures of flowers, or writing, I give myself permission to not hide how I feel. I promised my Nana that I would make her proud and the only way I can do that is by continuing to push forward. And when I feel my grief trying to take over my life, I’ll say, “Hello, Grief. Let’s talk.”