No one can prepare you for how hard it is to say goodbye to a loved one—even if you know the end is near. For the last two years, I’ve wrestled with anticipatory grief, which is a blessing and a curse. For those unfamiliar with the term, anticipatory grief refers to grieving someone who is still alive. In my case, I watched as my grandmother went from living independently to transitioning to a long-term care facility to eventually being unable to hold a conversation with me. For someone as close to their grandmother as I was, this was traumatic. Still, there were ways through music that we were able to continue our close relationship until the end, and for that, I’ll forever be grateful.
Last week, I held a small graveside service to pay tribute to my grandmother’s life and reunite her with her husband, who passed away 46 years earlier. Although it was a short ceremony, I was touched that the many people who played a role in our caregiving journey were able to attend and say their final goodbyes. While I’m not particularly religious, I did my best to honor my grandmother by having a priest say a prayer before laying her to rest.
Since I have limited experience with grief and mourning, I’ve leaned on others to help me through the process. Despite knowing that my grandmother lived a long life and that her final couple of years were challenging, her passing has been met with a range of emotions. As a caregiver, there’s a loss of identity. And as a granddaughter, there’s a hole in my heart that feels too big to fill right now.
Each day as I navigate the grieving process, I’m reminded (usually by friends) to give myself grace. And I’ve been doing that by not putting expectations on myself. While there is an element of closure that comes when you lay someone to rest, there’s also a new void that emerges. I’ve felt that void a lot this week. The other day, after I onboarded a new client, I was suddenly flooded with tears. For my entire adult life, I told my grandmother everything—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Even when her mind couldn’t comprehend what I was telling her, she still had an appropriate response that showed her support. After my meeting, I realized there would be no telling my grandmother anymore about new clients, the work I was doing, or what I was building. At that moment, it hit me that grief doesn’t end with a service, but rather it begins.