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When Grief Takes Over…

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It’s the third day of fall and for the first time, it actually feels like fall weather. The windows of my car are rolled down and 94.7 Nash FM is blasting through the speakers, as the crisp, fresh air brushes through my now, dark auburn hair. 

It’s a perfect day to take a ride through Westchester and let the car take me wherever it goes. Everything in the world around me is right; I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.

Then, that one song comes on and all of a sudden, my perfect drive turned into a teary eyed memory strucken one.

With a tightening knot in my stomach, I want so badly to change the station but my hands won’t leave the steering wheel. Not because it’s the law to keep both hands on the wheel, but because it’s similar to a scary movie feeling – that feeling where you want to hear and know what’s going to happen, regardless of the outcome. 

Exactly four minutes later, I’m sitting at a red light wiping away the tears I shed and pulling myself together. The woman in the car next to me watches and perhaps wonders if I’m upset after having an argument with someone, or if I’m just plain crazy. Well, no ma’am, that’s just another moment when grief takes over and for a short four minutes of my life, I lost all control.

That’s what happens when Brad Paisley’s “When I Get Where I’m Going,” featuring Dolly Parton plays. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great song, but it has a way of making me feel empty and emotional at the same time. A big part of me wishes the song actually meant nothing to me because it brings me back to a point in my life when I first experienced death.

***

Losing a loved one takes a huge toll on a person. We don’t think it’ll ever happen to us, and most of the time, we take it for granted. That is, until death comes knocking at our doorstep.

There was a time in my life when death meant nothing to me. I didn’t quite grasp an understanding of it. I know it seems really silly, but it seemed as though when I was younger, I believed everyone was going to live forever. 

But truth be told, I was wrong. 

My junior year of high school, I knew my grandmother was sick with septic shock and all I did was wish the sickness would go away. Death was not an option, it was actually far from my mind. 

But soon after New Years, my parents were preparing my brother and I for the worst. Did I want to listen to it? Nope, not one bit. 

The morning of January 10, 2013, I was on the Staten Island Railroad, on my way to school. The entire ride and walk up the hill to school, I had Brad Paisley’s song on replay. It’s the same song I’ve heard over a million times before this day, but it never had a meaning.

“When I get where I’m going, there’ll be only happy tears.”

Yeah, when I get where I’m going, don’t cry for me down here.

Why did those two lines in the song hit me like a wrecking ball at a construction site? I wasn’t sure in the moment. 

I got home from school and planned on visiting the hospital to see my grandmother, where my mom and aunt were already. Instead, I couldn’t go. I couldn’t see my grandmother in a horrible condition, when all my sixteen years, she was this strong woman. 

My mom understood completely when I told her I wouldn’t be coming, especially since my grandmother was completely out of it due to the morphine. She had no clue my mom or aunt were even there.

The minute I got home, I remember writing a Facebook post, how I didn’t want my grandmother to suffer anymore and prayed for God to stop her suffering.

Well, he listened and answered my prayers… 

***

It was about 6:10 p.m. that night when my dad was pacing back and forth in the living room. Not a minute later, my mom called. The words my dad said next, still echo in my head to this day. 

“She’s gone?”

It was as though, once I turned to look at my dad, I was looking right into a nightmare. My insides felt like they were being ripped out, stomped on, and then just hung inside me, lifeless.

All the memories I shared with my grandmother played through my mind as though someone hit fast forward. 

I watched as we baked Italian Anisette cookies for the last time, how the two of us could always eat an entire box of jelly rings,  the Sunday dinner’s she’d have, and straight back to the bright red dress she got me when I was five.

Once it finally sank in that she was gone, I lost it. But the memory of the song I listened to earlier that day helped calm me down. 

When I get where I’m going, there’ll be only happy tears.

Yeah, when I get where I’m going, don’t cry for me down here.

My grandmother was now gone, and what was I supposed to do now? Cry? Of course that’s all I wanted to do, but I stopped. My grandmother was a strong woman the whole sixteen years I knew her and whenever she saw me cry, she’d tell me to stop, and say the only time tears were fine, were unless they were tears of joy. 

Obviously my grandmother passing wasn’t any reason to have tears of joy, but it surely calmed me down to realize she wasn’t suffering anymore. It was the hardest concept I’ve ever had to grasp, but I did.  

It didn’t stop there, though.

Later that night everyone went back to my grandparent’s. Once I walked through the front door, it was like stepping into a Nicholas Sparks movie when your favorite character is crying over something tragic. I’ve never seen my cousin Charlie cry before that day. And my grandfather, repeating over and over, “She’s in a better place now,” as he was reassuring himself to stay strong for us all.

Of the five grandchildren my grandmother had, I was the only one who hadn’t gone up to see her since New Years Eve. I felt horrible hearing everyone’s last moments with her, but I couldn’t help the tears strolling down my face like a waterfall. 

My cousin held me and told me, “Grandma wouldn’t want you to cry. She’s in a better place now.”

That’s when the song came back into my head.

When I get where I’m going, there’ll be only happy tears.

Yeah, when I get where I’m going, don’t cry for me down here.

***

Death is a dreary topic. No one ever wants to face it, but we all have to at one point or another. It’s inevitable. 

For me, it just happened to be when I was sixteen that I first experienced death close to me. 

My grandmother was supposed to watch me graduate high school, go off to college and graduate, come to my wedding, meet my future children – just be here forever. 

I can’t call my grandmother to tell her how my day is, or how I’m doing in classes. I can’t tell her how my  internship at the District Attorney’s office worked out, or how I switched my major twice. Or even call just to hear her voice.

A professor of mine once told me, “Grief is the price we pay for someone we love.” When she told me this, I didn’t completely understand it at the time until today. Maybe that’s why, as I sit in my car with the windows rolled all the way down and radio blasting “When I Get Where I’m Going,” I leave it playing. If I lose control of my emotions, that’s okay.

I’m reminded of how blessed I was to have such an amazing person in my life. My grandmother was everything a grandchild could ask for in a grandparent: strong, loving and caring. A friend and a great listener. Someone who I have many memories with, that I can cherish forever. 

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I love and miss you, grandma! 

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When Grief Takes Over…