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“You’re my girl, my one and only.” Those are the last words I remember from my great-grandmother before she passed away in front of my eyes in her home on Feb. 8, 2007. That day is a day that has been etched into my mind for all eternity. I will never forget the fear behind her eyes and the desperation in her voice before she embarked onto her spiritual journey. A day which would also mark the beginning of my own journey. A journey of grief, a test of faith and of self-discovery.

My great-grandmother was a woman of stories. She loved to tell stories about her life and the way the world was as she grew up. She was wise and full of love and life. I grew up with my great-grandmother. My parents were young and did not have the means to support themselves when I was born so my great grandmother allowed them to live in the upstairs area of her home. While my parents worked, my great-grandmother was my caregiver. She changed my diapers, fed me, clothed me, bathed me, and did all the things a mother would do. She loved me like no other. She was so gentle, caring and understanding. She was love. She is the definition of love.

My parents and I resided with her until I was 8 years old. With the help of my great-grandmother and my grandmother, my parents were able to purchase a home down the hill from my great-grandmother’s house. Luckily for me, I was still able to see my great-grandmother every day. I would walk back and forth between my parent’s house and my great-grandmother’s house, spending most of my time with great-grandma.

Her home was a home. Not a house, but a home. Like a warm embrace, I felt safe there. Even though my parents had moved out, I still had my own room there. The walls were pink, Walt Disney pictures hung above my queen-sized bed which was positioned between two modern wicker dressers. There was a plastic TV tray in my room that my great grandma would set up in front of my TV and would bring me sweets and fruit covered in sugar to snack on. We would sit in the living room in two green swivel chairs and talk about anything and everything. She would tell me about the rations she would receive in the great depression, riding on trolley cars, and how hard working my late great-grandfather was. She was a strong-willed woman who had experienced so much and was sharing these experiences with me to shape me. Guide me and give me direction about the important things in life.

Her name was Lyda and Lyda was unlike any other woman. She never showed fear, at least not to me. Not until her last day. That day will always be yesterday. Yesterday, I was heading home from college and was driving down the street to my parent’s house when something told me to go to her. Something inside me told me that today was going to be different. I pulled up to her house and went inside to see my grandmother sitting in one of those green swivel chairs. My great-grandmother was lying in her bed. I went in to speak with her when I heard my grandmother answer the phone and say, “I stayed home today. Mom isn’t doing well.” I was 21-years-old and still invincible. My family was invincible, and death was inconceivable. She was OK. She was going to be OK.

I went to her and she was just lying there. She did not look abnormal in anyway. She told me she needed to use the restroom and she did not get around well, so I brought in her wheelchair and positioned it next to her bed. I helped her sit up on the side of the bed. I had my hand against her soft purple flower pajamas on her back and moved my hand to better reposition the wheelchair. When I moved my hand, she fell backwards onto the bed. In the moment, I did not realize what was happening and thought to myself, “OK. She’s just a little weak right now,” and chuckled a bit. I helped her to sit back up, positioned my leg in between her knees and transferred her into her wheelchair. I wheeled her into the bathroom which was right beside her bedroom and sat her on the toilet. She sat there a minute before telling me she was done. I transferred her back into the wheelchair and proceeded back to her bedroom but before we were able to make it back, she began to experience what was ultimately her end.

This was no tragedy. Lyda was an 89-year-old woman who had been diagnosed with heart failure some years before. But in my mind’s eye, this was a glimpse into death and grief. This was a beginning to what I once thought was my end. This was my awakening of death, of mourning and self-awareness.

Lyda had always reassured me as I was growing up that she was not afraid of death and that she looked forward to joining her one and only love, my great grandfather, in the afterlife. She always told me not to cry for her, not to put flowers on her grave and that life moves forward. She told me to never look back. I never feared death before this. I never feared the unknown prior to this experience, however, I had never experienced such a whirlwind of emotions. I did not know what to feel, how to feel or what to do. This was my test. The switch had been flipped in a matter of seconds. In a blink of an eye, I was a whole new being. I was now a victim of grief.

In the hallway, she began to grip her head. Lyda went from calm to hysterical. I had never seen her this way. Her eyes were closed and as her right hand gripped her forehead, she began to call out, “Michael! I want Michael!” Michael is her son. She also began to cry which I had also never seen. Her terror terrified me. I ran into the living room where my grandmother sat talking on the phone to my uncle, THE Michael. I then was in hysterics and told her that we needed to call 911. I was astounded when she responded that my uncle advised against it. I ran back to her frail body who sat in the wheelchair in the hallway between her bedroom and my bedroom to find her head hanging down, and she was no longing responding. No longer waling for my uncle. She had a slight amount of drool dripping from the side of her mouth onto her purple flower pajama pants. I grabbed my phone and ran out of the front door onto the porch and frantically dialed 911. I told them my grandmother was unresponsive and they needed to come NOW. Just come NOW! Please! HELP HER! HELP ME!

After they arrived, things moved very quickly. The next thing I remember was her limp body lying on the living room floor and a heavyset paramedic at her head loudly requesting her will. I was standing in front of the chaos helplessly watching as they pumped on her chest and sucked fluid out of her throat. I was leaning against the 70s console tube TV with the front door being propped open behind me by my leg just watching. Hoping and praying while at the same time realizing the situation but not realizing how my life was about to change. I remember a paramedic shouting at me to close the door because the temperature outside was quite cold. I could not feel the cold. My heart was cold.

And then the will was presented, and I watched as the plump paramedic stood up and swung his arms in a motion that suggested “stop.” And then I heard the word. And there she was. Lying on her back on the living room floor. She was there. She was right there in front of my eyes. She is still there, why are you stopping? I could not even regain my thoughts. The police officer on sight came in and leaned towards my grandmother who had remained in the green swivel chair and gently whispered, “I’m so sorry for your loss Margaret.”

My insides felt nothing. I felt nothing. My mind was unable to grasp what had just transpired. One second, she was a living, breathing, talking human being and now nothing. A lifeless body on the floor. What do I do? What do I say? How do I respond? I had no answers. I had no clue how to feel. I have never experienced this, and I do not know how to resume. I resumed my day that day. I went to my next college class that afternoon. I remember sitting in my car on a break from class and trying to eat Wheat Thin crackers and they tasted like nothing. I kept repeating to myself in my mind and out loud, “my grandma died; my grandma passed away.” I had to hear myself say it because my mind just was not ready to believe it.

Over the next few days and weeks, my emotions were void. I was emotionally numb. It was as if the portion of my brain in control of emotion was stunted. I did not cry. I could not cry. My mind would not believe what had physically taken place. Sensations began to come upon me physically and I had no idea what was happening. I started to feel every single bodily function going on inside of me. I did not cry at the funeral. I found myself staring at her throughout the four-hour visitation and even then, it was not reality. I sat through the service the next day and it was not until the limo ride to the cemetery I realized I was developing a disorder that would stick with me throughout my adult life. That death would now be something I would think about every second of every day.

From that experience, generalized anxiety disorder with panic attacks, health anxiety and death anxiety emerged. I do not view life the same. The concept of morality has set in. I have become a totally different person with a whole new perspective on this life. Life does come to an end. When will my end be? How will it end? The unknowing is what gets to me. The uncertainty has made me question everything I know about life.

It has been 14 years since that unforgiving moment. The day that changed my life forever. Complicated grief is real, and I am still mourning the loss of that divine woman. I still yearn for her and at times, think about life as if she were still present in it. Everything is a reminder. I wonder what she would think of me now. I ruminate about the good, the bad and ugly. I struggle to plant myself in firm beliefs about God, Heaven and what happens after we are gone. It remains a mystery to me that she was once here with me living and breathing and now her soul is in another dimension. Or is it?

We are not alone in this process. Grief is like no other emotion felt. It is a plethora of thoughts, feelings, memories, and emotions. It brings up questions that can and cannot be answered. It challenges our belief system to its core regardless of what you thought you believed in. Time is no healer when it comes to grief. There is no limit. Life is the hourglass and we are the sand. Cherish every moment. Cherish every person in your life no matter how big or small a role they play in it. One impression can last a lifetime so do not ignore those brief moments that seem irrelevant in that moment.

Photo credit: Egor Novikov/Getty Images

Originally published: February 21, 2021
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