When my paternal grandmother passed away a few years ago I flew home to Wisconsin.
I always knew her as loving, loud, and goofy in her dramatic bawling-at-greeting-cards and thrift-store-treasures way. What I did not truly understand until after her passing is just how strong she was. For reasons too personal to explain here, many times she found herself a single parent, raising multiple children, on a waitress’ wages. She chose to leave when she had to protect her family, dealt with lose when it arrived suddenly, and then arrived again. Raised children while limiting their sense of the struggle, working for their happiness.
She was a fighter in a way I am sad to say I only better understood while sitting at my parent’s dining room table, with a small box of photos open on the blue table cloth. Holding one of grandma, a now-yellowed black and white, of her in her senior year of high school. Curly-haired, flowered-dressed, sitting on a short fieldstone wall and smiling like the world was hers to take.
When I got home the day before, to Wisconsin, we all hugged and held and cried. The stroke a year or so earlier left her a fighter in a different way.
The pastor from my parent’s church came for a home visit in preparation for the funeral. We gathered in my parent’s family room, arranged on the big beige couches, with boxes of Kleenex (we call it by it’s proper name).
My quiet father cried. We shut up and let him, and cried silently, too.
Then she began, “I want to give you some advice I have learned: Everyone grieves differently after a death. Some will rage, some will cry, some others will never cry and not understand why they can’t make the tears come. Some may even laugh. Others may go about things as if it’s all normal and fine. You may do a bunch of these, too.
“You need to be forgiving of others, right now. Their grief will not look like your grief.
“At times you may find yourself angry with them, ‘why isn’t she crying?’ ‘why doesn’t he listen, doesn’t he know what I’m going through?’ Know that they are grieving, too, even if you don’t understand it. Forgive them for not being their best selves when they are not. Forgive them for not grieving in ways that make sense to you. Forgive them and give them the space they need.
“You also need to be forgiving of yourself. You need to take the time to stop when your body says stop. Excuse yourself for not acting how you think you should. When you mess up with someone, or yourself, try to understand this is how you are grieving right now. It is okay.
“There is no one way to do this. There is no one correct way. All ways are okay. You need to know that and allow that of others.”
This, of course, did not mean we should be dismissive. Being from the midwest, we have a knack for biting sarcasm. This did not mean to think, oh how cute, you’re mad, you’ll get over it. Instead, it was a reminder that we should continue to work our hardest to empathize, or at least sympathize.
It was also a caution that fights could break out, disagreements could be had, but to recognize that whatever form took place, it showed bodies at work. Bodies grappling with shedding the skin of “let’s go visit grandma” to emerging new in “she is gone.”
Last Wednesday, early morning, waking up to the final deciding polls coming in, was a death.
For me, it was a death of a promise that we are not as damaged as a country as we probably actually are.
A loss of the innocent, privileged notion that we are just so close to being a loving and inclusive nation. Of course, that’s not true, or at least not that close. A summer of police murders of black men and women, after a year of immigrant detention centers, after years of mass incarceration, after decades of bleeding rural towns of resources, after a century of uneven education access, of course we are not close. Yet, the past years also have had streets full of activists, raising of critical conversations, Supreme Court triumphs, #WeNeedDiverseBooks, and more, all of these held the hope that even in our evils, we could reject a candidate that so openly rode on them.
That hope died Wednesday morning.
There is real danger now and ahead. It looks as if it will only get worse. People are in real danger. There is no sugar coating that fact. There is no wait and see. Gay families are rushing to adopt the children they have been parents to for years. Children are crying at school under the real threat their parents will be deported. Walls, schools, streets, and online are covered with open hate that is louder and more emboldened. We feel this in my family, in my friends, and in the news.
What I know I need is to find the strength to pick back up and start anew, fight.
But, I will be honest. My grief right now is lethargic defeat. I have not cried, yet, “the tears are right behind my eyes,” as we say in my house. Every news item touches my skin and then reverberates like a foot that has fallen asleep from leaning on it for too long. It echoes hurt against hurt. I can literally feel it pulse across my nerves.
I am not there, yet. It is privileged to not be. I recognize that and, honestly, self-hate that. But it is what it is. For now.
Grief for some is taking to the streets. For some it is breaking and burning. For others it is decrying those actions. For some it is making safety pin illustrations. For some it is challenging them as not enough. For some it is “I told you so.” For some it is “I give up.” For some it is turning off. For some it is turning on. For some it is documenting public hate. For some it is pointing out it has always been here. For some it is calling for coming together. For some, like me, it is rejecting that. Grief for me, in this moment, is writing this. It’s turning my twitter photo black and feeling how silly and pointless that is but doing it anyway because I need that right now.
For millions of others it is millions of other ways. There are as many ways to grieve as there are people, as the saying goes.
Maybe, my grandmother sat in the sun, on that day, in the flower dress, imaging a future for herself. Or maybe not, maybe she was just laughing as she often liked to do. I picture that in the times she did imagine her future it was glamorous, happy, and full of love. Hard for sure, she knew it would be, but decidedly full of promise. I picture that her imagination did not contain the traumas that arose. No one can predict those, no one would write those into their future stories.
I like to think that her vision may have included the hope of the loves she would find, the children she would raise, perhaps the thought that at some distance point she’d have grandchildren who loved her deeply and found her silly and loud.
Her life did not always go the ways she hoped or planned. It went others. Countless others, good and bad and good.
Yet, still, it went.