I've tried to sit down several times over the last week and write other blog posts. I want to push my pain down far away for a few hours and dig into something else... but I just can't. It doesn't feel right to just gloss over what I'm going through right now and post fun and fabulous pictures of the adventure I'm on. Today I'm not on an adventure. I don't feel fun and fabulous. These past weeks I'm not living a great life of travel. I'm far from my loved ones and at times feel like I'm on another planet. I need to face the ache in my heart and today that is in the form of sharing my experience.
My Mimi died on Dec 1st. She was more than my grandmother. She was my biggest cheerleader in life, she loved me fiercely, and she always made me feel better no matter the obstacles I was facing. Her absence leaves a hole in my life that will never be replaced. That's okay because that space in my heart belongs to her and to our memories together. One of my friend's this week said, "if we didn't experience this pain it would mean we never loved," It was so true and I guess in a way I'm thankful for this pain because it did mean I experienced her love and I loved her deeply in return. I'm forever thankful for her role in my life. For the good and the bad she helped shape me as a person.
As death goes her and the family were blessed with a peaceful passing. She became very ill and declined relatively quickly. It seems to have given everyone enough time to say goodbye but not too long that she suffered unnecessarily.
She died peacefully with an entourage of visitors in her final days. Her closest family and those that loved her held her hand, brushed her hair, told her they loved her, and said their goodbyes.
Everyone that is.... but me.
Death is a cruel affair. Once she became sick and was hospitalized nobody knew the future. One day she was talking and fine and the next she would hardly open her eyes. This was a cyclic roller coaster, good/bad alert/unaware, and we just didn't know what the future held. I struggled and cried and grieved as to what I should do. There were moments when it looked like she would be leaving the hospital, and I was going to be able to go home and help care for her. Then times when we thought it would just be any minute before she left us. Brent and I were and are so far away. We were in Zambia, Africa when the first sign of trouble began. Then a few weeks later, when we got off the plane in Sydney I got the news she had been moved to hospice. It felt like we couldn't have been farther away and the cost to go home last minute was steep. Once again we didn't know how long she would have. Hours? Days? Months?
So many plaguing questions what do I do?
Do I go home and wait for her to pass? What if I book my return flight and she waits until the day after I leave to go? What did I need to take care of myself? What will my family think? Will I forgive myself for not being by her side? Will I forgive myself for not being at her funeral? Will she know that I loved her and talked to her in my mind every single day from Zambia to Australia?
I don't have the answers to all of these questions but here is what I do know.
I will remember her differently
Through some miracle while we were in Zambia, just days before she went in to ICU, I had one last call with her. My sister was there visiting and Brent and I took a break from our hostel to visit a fancy hotel for the afternoon and we had decent internet. My sister and I called each other over and over until we finally connected. I was on speaker with my Mimi, stepmom, and Tami.
I hadn't talked to anyone from home in almost two months (the internet in Africa is awful to non-existent) and for me it was a whirlwind update trying to capture the good and bad of Africa. But apparently, we had been on for more than an hour and Mimi was lovingly done. She had things to do so she wrapped up that call when she was good and ready. Ha! That lady. She was always good at ending a call but making it sound like you were the one ready to get off the phone.
When she went into the hospital I wanted to call her and talk to her one more time but I was afraid to request this for many reasons. I was afraid the words wouldn't come out. I was afraid that she would know I thought she was dying. I didn't want her to hear that I wasn't ready for her to go. Selfishly, I didn't want my last words in her ears to be filled with the sounds of my sorrow.
On one hand, I am fortunate I won't remember her with a failing and weak voice or feel her hands that could not squeeze mine. However, I still weep that she could not hear my voice and I could not squeeze her hands one last time. In grief we find comfort where we can and shed tears where we must and I'm still doing both.
I have an amazingly supportive family
I really didn't know how my family would respond if I didn't come home. I know my limitations financially and the logistical nightmare of the time it takes to travel home. Once she passed there was simply no practical way I could have made it home in time. My family has been so great with this and have echoed the same chorus of words that I needed to hear. They have given me comfort and tried to help relieve any regret I may have that I could not make it home. My sister made sure that there was a group picture with me at the funeral (possibly the one at the top of this post). When she was still with us my family made sure that Mimi knew I loved her and that I was thinking of her. Nobody has burdened me with unnecessary guilt.. those messages have only come from within my own mind.
I can lean on my friends even when far away
I can't stress the importance of friendships when you travel. Family will hopefully always be there for you when you need but when they are going through the same grief, sometimes you need to reach out further than the bonds of blood. My family had to take care of practical matters like caring for Mimi and handling funeral arrangements and/or traveling between states to take care of their own family business. They simply can't be there for you all the time. My friends were able to fill the void when everyone else was busy with the difficult task of handling the decisions that needed to be made.
I am finding my own way to cope
There's no real right or wrong way to grieve. We all handle things differently and I struggled even with how I was dealing with it myself. I felt conflicted for not calling her before she passed. I wanted to call in to the funeral but then decided it would make me feel more isolated. Was that okay? Was I bad for not being present when technology would allow me to be there in some capacity? These are my own troubles and I just decided that wasn't right for me and that's okay.
I have now realized more than ever that the funeral is for the living. I've heard that before but never really understood. Back at home, when I talked to my family, they all sounded pretty good on the day of the funeral, under the circumstances. I however spent most of my day crying and feeling very alone. But my dad said that everyone was doing good because they were sharing stories and memories, laughing together and finding comfort in one another. Being so far, I definitely don't have that and because of that I'm really struggling to overcome this dull ache.
I have found tools that do help me. I have been writing in my journal, especially when I can't sleep. This is a mechanism I learned long ago thanks to some good therapists and it really helps me. To actualize my thoughts and memories on paper feels like I am releasing everything bit by bit. I also picked up a coloring book (the new craze of adult coloring books is pretty awesome) and when I just can't handle my thoughts I can focus on the paper and the lines. I have made endless calls home, gone for runs, and eaten some good comfort food. Right now I just am doing whatever I need to care for me.
The world took care of me
It was interesting to me how things happened in my end of the earth. Despite the fact that I was so far away I felt really taken care of by the world, little pieces of encouragement or relief when I needed it the most, outside of my network of support back home.
The biggest one feels like it came directly from my grandmother, quite literally. When we first started our journey back in April, I quickly discovered a very special item in my pack. Mimi was unable to make it to my wedding so she mailed me me some special items. One included a beautiful old handkerchief which belonged to my great grandmother, Laura Louise, with an embroidered L. My Mimi's name was Lillian Lynette and I always thought of it has representing both my great grandmother and my Mimi. At the wedding I tucked it away on my person knowing they were both close to my heart and that they were with me on my special day.
Needless to say when I discovered this in my backpack I was so frustrated! How could I have packed such a precious item on this trip? I still don't even understand when, how, or why I put it there. I don't remember packing it.
I buried it deep in my pack for fear of losing it and did so well that I almost forgot about it entirely.
When I got word that Mimi was sick and not doing well something reminded me that I had this article with me. I tore apart my pack and found it safely stowed away. My Mimi's hands held this handkerchief. Her beautiful pure love for me was wrapped in it's fibers and by holding it I imagine that I'm holding her hands. My tears are in this cloth, maybe the tears of my grandmothers are in there too. Maybe this is their way to comfort me.
I had a thought, actually while writing this today. It's interesting to me that my grandmother made it to all of the other weddings for her grandchildren, except for mine. She just couldn't be there. I know it wasn't because she didn't love me or because she wasn't excited about my wedding, it just didn't happen. I just couldn't be there at her funeral and it wasn't because I am not heartbroken or didn't want to honor her, it just didn't happen. I'm going to view this beautiful handkerchief as our connection for times when we just couldn't be there for one another and we both know that it wasn't because the other person didn't care.
Another hug from the world came in the form of some much needed stability. We landed a house sit for three weeks. We had applied for several of these sits while we've been traveling but it's very competitive and I had low hopes as I submitted our application. But it happened! We met this great family who have entrusted us with the care of two cats, a guppy, and their home. It's wonderful. The routine is just what I needed and taking time to rest and take care of my mind, body, and soul is priceless. Three weeks of not packing or moving or dealing with people if I don't want to! Sleeping in, crying, petting fuzzy critters, watering a garden, and watching movies... I never realized how much you need these things some times. Back home chores were... well, chores! Right now they are comforting.
People I've confided in along the way have also just been so kind. I've shared family memories with others, wine, laughter, hugs, and tears with strangers and it has been good. Humans are all really the same. We all have family, we all want to be happy, and we all know how to comfort one another when we need it.
Grieving will not end for a long time
I'm realizing that by missing the funeral and not going home, some pain is going to resurface when my feet do land back in the States. I realize I will likely never step foot in my grandma's house again. The house where my dad grew up. The house I've always known. The funeral was likely the last time my whole family will gather there and I missed it. I know it's just a place but it is a very special place to me. When we were little my cousins, sister, and I held plays there for the poor adults that were around. We played records, danced, and sang in the play room. In that kitchen my Mimi made the most incredible food you've ever had in your life. We shucked peas together and watched the original Muppet Show or suffered through endless golf tournaments while my Daddy Roy muted all the commercials. As we got older we drank wine and laughed together in that kitchen for hours on end. Birthdays, Christmas, summers, it was all there. It is the most consistent place in my life. The decor hardly changed, the people who came through those doors were always the same lovely ladies and men I had known since I was little. It's hard not to be able to say goodbye to that home with everyone else.
She was the matriarch that held our family unit together. I'm not sure if there will ever be a time when my sister, aunt, brother, cousins, dad, all get together again, That glue is gone and with it, the threads it holds together dissolves as well. Also part of life but that doesn't make my heart break any less.
Death is part of life and life will move on
I know death is part of life but so is grieving and I will miss Mimi so much. Though I have moments of crying I do have comfort as well and I look for it every day.
I know that my heart heals a little every day. She wanted me to be on this adventure, she wanted me to laugh and love and create great memories, and that is what I will do. I will do this for me, I will do this for her. Her excitement for my trip was almost unexplainable. I was afraid to tell her about it because I thought she would be unhappy I was so far away but in fact, the opposite was true. She was thrilled and told everyone she knew.
As I continue my world travels I know she will be watching over me and now she will have the vantage point of seeing what I see. When I talk to her I won't need to wait for a good internet connection because I have a direct line. She is with me always in my heart.
Mimi, I love you so much. Thank you for taking care of me, for loving me, and your part in making me the person I am today. I promise to be continue to be grateful for my journey, laugh as much as I can, and love as much as possible.