Living Strong

In 2004, I started wearing a Livestrong bracelet every day.  I turned to the organization website after Granny was diagnosed with liver cancer.  The one piece of advice that struck me was, “allow yourself to feel.”  And I make the attempt to do that.

Not the greatest picture, but Erin and her husband leaving their wedding reception.

On March 2, I lost a friend of mine even though I did not find out until late night March 4th.  All day on the 2nd I felt as if something big happened and I missed it.  I even checked Facebook and saw nothing.  I put that feeling aside and went in to work for my closing shift.  I thought nothing of it until a mutual friend sent me the funeral information Sunday night, which was when I found out.  And that would explain that feeling I had Friday.  I was shocked, upset, and horrified at the same time.  She was 3 years younger than me.  I was friends with her husband as well.  We all worked together for a number of years.  Her husband and I worked in the same program my last year with the agency.  We spent a lot of time trash talking about football (my alma mater went to the Sugar Bowl that year).  We trash talked in the kitchen, too.  Who had better skills.  The kids we worked with were fortunate to have us both teaching them kitchen skills.  Erin and her husband would have celebrated their 4th wedding anniversary this May.

I was lucky to have had the Monday and Tuesday off after hearing about Erin’s death.  I tried working out a way to reschedule my monthly ACE treatment to drive down to Louisville for the funeral.  In the end it came down to my state of mind after a funeral.  There was no way I would be able to drive back two hours at night after spending time grieving with friends.  I stayed home and grieved on my own.  Those two days I allowed myself to feel.  Everything I had planned to do those two days other than grocery shopping, fixing dinner, and my doctor’s appointment was set aside.  Cleaning and experimenting in the kitchen could wait.  Feeling my heart and soul was more important.  I allowed myself to cry when I felt the need to cry.  I let the memories come and keep me company.  I did whatever I felt I wanted to do whether it was read, watch TV, listen to music, etc.

By the time I returned to work on Wednesday, I was feeling marginally better.  Still sad and in shock, but more able to handle what life would hand me at work. I kept allowing myself to feel and reminded myself that I needed to keep living as strong as I did after Lelang (my paternal great-grandmother), Granny, and Papa passed in 2004.  I kept hearing in my head the priest at my late sensei’s funeral saying, “This sucks” over and over again telling myself that it’s okay to think that. Because it does.  It sucks.

Yesterday, I worked the ad set so I was in super early and then got to leave at 10am.  When I got home, Chaz was still sleeping so I let him sleep while I iced my feet and watched the last episode of Game of Thrones, season 1.  Chaz calls it my new addiction since I’ve read 3 of the books so far.  When he finally got up and took a shower, we went out to lunch and then to a new Japanese market in our neighborhood.  It was perfect because I just wanted to be out doing something and enjoying the beautiful day we were having.  I was also experiencing some joy returning to me that day.  We were in the parking lot of Red Robin after lunch and I just stood there taking in the sunshine with my face upturned and eyes closed as Chaz smoked his cigarette. I was like a little kid in the market because I was finding things I had not seen in a while. Things the larger Asian supermarket down the street didn’t have.

While I was trying to show Chaz the Kikkoman gluten-free shoyu (which turns out, I picked up the wrong bottle), I heard my phone quietly ringing.  It was Auntie A. As soon as I answered, she hung up.  But she called Chaz’s phone next.  When she said, “I have some bad news” in between her own sniffles, I knew.

Grandma passed away sometime Saturday night/Sunday morning.  Like Lelang, Granny, Papa, and Grandpa, she went peacefully.

That's Grandma there in front, second from left.

I had to leave the store while talking to my auntie.  Standing in the middle of an aisle is no place to be blubbering.  The rest of the day passed in a bit of a blur.  I was exhausted from working Saturday night and going back in hella early Sunday morning.  I got about 4 hours of sleep, so I was fairly sleep deprived as well.  Chaz attempted to try to make me nap.  I knew it was futile and my brain would only keep racing.  Instead, I just allowed myself to feel again and let the memories come as they would.  I trade memories with cousins, aunties, and uncles all afternoon/night on Facebook.  We all gave each other virtual hugs wishing we could all hug each other for real.

It’s one thing to lose a friend.  It’s another thing to lose someone who was woven into part of your being.

When you ask me about my family, my frame of reference is a bit different so my answer is going to be about my entire family.  Family is not just my nuclear family. It’s my extended family.  It took a village to raise me.  Both sets of my grandparents had as much to do with my growing up as my parents did, but without all the rights of a parent.  I learned as much from my grandparents and Lelang as I did from my mother and father  I reminded my cousins today that we were lucky to have had her in our life as much as she was since so many kids either barely get to see their grandparents growing up or never even know them at all.

When I would spend time with my grandparents on Moloka`i as a child, my aunties and uncles (not much older than I am) would inevitably treat me like the youngest sister.  When they would tease me or give me a hard time, I would always go running to Grandma.  And Grandma, ever the protector, would give them scoldings.  She always looked out for me.  She would make my youngest uncle sit with me at the table as I finished my meals, because I was always the last one to finish and she didn’t want me to be alone at the table.  In college, every time I came home to visit, she made my favorite dish of hers.  Clams boiled with onions and tomato served over rice.  She eventually taught me to make it myself.

So many memories.  I’m letting them visit and I’m feeling.  I miss her terribly and wished we would have been able to see her back in November when we were home. I’m waiting to hear about her arrangements so I can make my arrangements to go home.  With Lelang and Grandpa already gone, the house will feel empty without her presence.  Going home to Moloka`i is never going to be the same again even though I still have many family who live there.  Both of my grandparent’s homes to me were the homes I knew.  My parents moved us around a lot so always being able to go back to the same homes to see my grandparents with so many memories attached to them was a blessing.

With all this going on, I get tempted to fall into my natural role of detaching myself and plowing ahead full steam.  I also get tempted to fall into unhealthy coping skills.  The night I found out about Erin, my first instinct was to get drunk.  I knew better and didn’t.  I did allow myself a little junk food through the week and made sure not to overdo it.  I did a little retail therapy.  A few more books added to my “to read” pile and The Game of Thrones on BluRay that I watched throughout the week.  No massive purchases.

While I know I need to live strong.  Now is the time to allow the vulnerability to work.  I remember how some friends at church back in my college days commented on how strong I am.  I am strong because I allow myself to be weak.  To give in and admit I’m not strong all the time and that I need God to take control.  The best coping skill has been allowing the vulnerability and the feelings.  Allowing me to be me while I grieve and not take a detached clinical view of the process.

I will be okay.  Just not today.  Maybe not tomorrow.  But one day.

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11 comments

  1. Oh, Debi, your words on the loss of your friend had me in tears, but then reading that you lost your grandmother right after that … well, my heart goes ou to you. I’m so very sorry, dear. Sending big, big hugs to you. I know that you will be grateful to be back home with the rest of your family soon. So beautifully written, yet losses like these can never be fully expressed.

    Much love and sympathy to you, dear,
    Shirley

    • I know I said thank you in Twitter, Shirley, but thank you again. Last week all my thoughts were jumbled every time I tried to sit down to write them out. Today they just flowed out. And you’re right, even after posting, I kept thinking about things I could have added. It would have been a mile long if I had though.

    • Thank you, Renee. 😀 I think it’s an important lesson for everyone to remember when dealing with loss and going through the grieving process. Even nearly 8 years after losing my maternal grandparents and my paternal great-grandmother between May and December, I still have memories that make me cry and I let it happen. Once I’m done, I can move on. I know in time I’ll be able to do that with the recent losses.

  2. Grieving sucks, but there it is. Good on you to focus on what it was about their relationships that made you a better person. THAT is honoring their memory. hugz.

  3. Heart-wrenching yet beautiful post, Debi. I’m so sorry for your loss, but it will get better. Just keep breathing and focusing on things that make your heart soar.

  4. Pingback: The Accidental Glutening Overdose « Hunter's Lyonesse


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