My Grandmother, My Grief & Me

My Grandmother, My Grief & Me || TERRAGOES.COM

My grandmother died a year ago today but there are still six voicemails from her on my phone, some from as far back as 2014. I haven’t listened to any of them, can’t listen to them, not now, but I can’t delete them either. She’d call and I’d be busy – at work, at play, at the gym – and I’d leave the message unheard on my phone as a reminder to call her back, to answer for sure the next time she called. And mostly I did, except for when I didn’t.

I haven’t heard her voice in more than a year, but I already know how each message starts. She’ll say, “Hi, Terra, it’s your grandma,” and then she’ll tell me why she’s calling, give me some grief for not answering maybe and ask me to call her back. I can hear it in my head, can hear the way she says my name, the way she pronounces grandma. I know the message. I just can’t listen to it.

Five of the voicemails are between 25 and 28 seconds long. The sixth, the outlier, is shorter. It’s just 17 seconds. Half are on or near a holiday – two on Thanksgiving, one on Christmas, three just because.

My grandmother was, in a real and honest sense, the entirety of my family. I have parents, sure. They exist but to call them my parents seems dishonest and they are nonentities in my life. So it was her, my grandmother. She was the only one who sent me birthday cards, who called on Christmas. She was the one looking out for me, asking me if I needed any support in the midst of my divorce. She was always there, no matter what.

She was my family. But she died.

My Grandmother, My Grief & Me || TERRAGOES.COM

I was deployed when she died and her dying while I was gone was my biggest and only fear.

I saw her for the last time in Texas, over Easter weekend last year while we were at Fort Hood getting ready for the desert. She’s from Texas and it was to Texas she went after spending a whole bunch of her life in Virginia, including the part where she became my grandmother. My uncle lives in Houston, along with his family, so she moved close to him, into a retirement community.

Moving to Texas was a thing she had talked about for years. The house she left behind, in Fairfax, Virginia, was one I’d lived in during high school, was the house she’d lived in my entire life up until that point, the only real house I could ever go back to. We moved a lot when I was a kid, usually every three years or so, but there was always Grandma’s House. It was, a lot of the time, the only source of stability I had in my life. It was always a place I could go back to, and I did, for summers and holiday weekends. I picked blackberries in the backyard, made friends with the other kids in the neighborhood, played dress-up and always went to sleep warm, unafraid and well-fed. That house was my home, even when I didn’t live there. It was the only place that persisted.

My Grandmother, My Grief & Me || TERRAGOES.COM

I flew to Texas for the funeral, first to Houston to be with my uncle and his family and then to Midland, an hour south of Loop, where we buried my grandmother the day after Thankgiving. We buried her next to her grandmother, where she could be near her parents and her siblings and their families.

At the church, she looked small and different, the way the dead always do before we bury them.

I spoke at the funeral. We all did, my uncle, his two kids. He gave her eulogy and the kids read passages from the Bible and I talked about how I was lucky, as the oldest grandchild, to have had her all to myself for a whole decade before my sister was born. I talked about how she instilled in me a desire to travel and about how she always warned me to be careful on escalators, how to stand in the middle so the escalator teeth wouldn’t grab my shoelaces or pants and destroy my leg.

My Grandmother, My Grief & Me || TERRAGOES.COM

We drove around, later, my cousins and I, exploring the vast openness of west Texas, checking out the cotton fields where she used to pick cotton, the high school that’s K-12 and smaller than anything any of us had ever attended.

I was glad to be there, glad to see the land she came from, the places she always talked about. It would of been better if she’d been there to show it to me though.

Two days later I went back to Kuwait to finish my deployment.

There is not room for grief on deployments. You’re paid by the American people to do a job and so that’s what you do. There is no privacy, no place to release the torrent of emotions biting at your insides, you are isolated from your friends and your family and everyone else around you is deployed, dealing with all the things that come with a deployment, so grief is hard to process. I cried in Texas and that was it. I didn’t allow myself any grief outside of that, just locked it away. I felt too alone to even attempt to face it, so I didn’t. I didn’t write, I didn’t process it, I just put it away.

But grief found me, of course. It found me when I came home and it’s found me now, on this day, the day I’ve been dreading all year, knowing that the hurt I locked away this time last year would claw its way back out again. And of course it has. That’s how grief works. It will not be banished, it will not be silenced. It will be heard, will push and pull its way out of whatever contraption you’ve managed to stuff it into. It will come out when you see grandmothers sitting alone at the airport, when you sit down to dinner with someone else’s grandmother, when you come even close to the city she used to live in, when you least and most expect it, there it is, your grief.

The thing about my grandmother is that she loved me more than anyone else ever did. More than my parents, more than my friends, more than any of the men who loved me, she loved me more and life without her hurts.  The holidays hurt, birthdays hurt, milestones hurt, all of it just fucking hurts because I miss her and I wish I’d been to see her more and I wish I could have been there for more of the last year of her life and I wish, more than anything, that she wasn’t gone.

My Grandmother, My Grief & Me || TERRAGOES.COM

20 thoughts on “My Grandmother, My Grief & Me

  1. <3 <3 <3 Sending you as much love and joy as possible. I wish she were here too and it absolutely sucks that she isn't. I'm thankful she was your family.

  2. Terra, I’m sorry. I’m sending you love right now, but i know that it doesn’t mean much and doesn’t fill any void. Just know that I’m thinking of you this holiday season and i am so, so sorry that you’re hurting right now. 🙁

  3. Oh girl. Sending you much, much, much love. I know how special my grandma is to me, and I have some of those messages stockpiled up, I think, in the hopes that I will always be able to listen to them. I keep thinking that next time I need to come home and record some of her stories, because she has some amazing ones. Your grandma sounds like she had some pretty special stories and that you two had places in your heart for each other. Not everyone has room, so we’ve gotta love the people who make room in their hearts for us.

    1. Yes! Definitely record the stories because those will be invaluable. I’ve got my grandmother’s journals, from before I was born, and reading them has been a fascinating look into her life. They’re probably one of my most cherished items.

  4. I am glad you are at least now able to grieve a bit. You are a strong woman. I have always seen it in you. Without even knowing her, I’m very certain your grandmother was proud of you.

    Get some good grieving in, lady. <3

  5. Such a beautiful post Terra. Sometimes I feel like if I keep my eyes closed and wish hard enough I can go back to being young when my Grandparents were still here. They say that it will get easier with time but I don’t know if that’s true. Hold on to your memories and smile through the tears when you can.

    1. Thanks, Courtney. I don’t know if ever gets easier, really, but I know it does change. It’s just a different sort of hurt, I think.

  6. I have one of my grandma’s journals that’s been sitting in my apartment for a year and a half. I can’t bring myself to open it. I want to, but I can’t. Your grandma was a big part of your life, as was mine, and it’s just so hard to believe we can’t talk to them anymore. I miss that the most – just talking to my grandma. It hurts and I’m sorry you’re grieving. <3 Hugs and love.

  7. Oh Terra. I want to give you a big, long 8-second hug (or was it 8-minutes)? It’s so hard to lose someone, even more so when it’s someone you felt so close to, who felt like your only family. I also know about the difficulty of spending more time and talking more often when grandparents are around, because we only realize how much we miss talking to them, when they’re gone. Many hugs, my friend.

  8. My granddad died five years ago next week, and I will never ever delete his voicemails from my phone. I still can’t believe he’s gone (he lived with my family for so long) as he was spunky up until his last breath (fell overnight and got pneumonia at 91). At least we have all those memories to keep the people we love alive in some small way!

    1. The voicemails are so, so precious. I listened to one on Thanksgiving and I was afraid it would make me sad, but it made me really, really happy to hear her voice and to get a message from her even though she’s gone.

  9. aww man. your grandmother sounds like she was so wonderful. i never had a grandma because most of my family died during genocide, and the other died in old age but i never had the chance to meet her. it sounds like your grandmother was the epitome of grandmothers, how she loved you and cared for you so much. i can sense the raw sense of your grief here, you describe it so well. thank you for sharing a piece of her with us, this is such a sweet, tender tribute.

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