COVID Grief: Grieving Sudden Death

On Wednesday night I got news over text. The paternal grandmother of my oldest girls (my ex-MIL) passed away from COVID.

The group text sent me on a tailspin. At first I was confused reading her name, no reference to her relationship to me. I first thought it was someone else and then realized, no, no, it’s her.

Reading those words in a group text made me feel naked, blindsided. It felt callous. Cold. Cruel. Sad.

I couldn’t process her death. I barely got it out when I told my daughters that this woman who was their grandmother, but with whom they had not had a relationship with in 13 years, since they were 2 years old, had died suddenly. They looked at me in a mix of blankness and confusion. I understood and yet I felt even more at a loss for what I should be feeling.

I tried to talk about it with my partner but couldn’t get more than a few words out before wanting to shut down again and not think. I avoided thinking about it by working as soon as I woke and cooking and cleaning when done with work.

Then not until four days later in the privacy of a Saturday was I no longer able to hide from her. Every time I closed my eyes I saw her face. Looking grim, her image floating right above me.

I allowed myself to think of her and slowly was able to separate thoughts of her from the trauma her son caused me.

I thought about how she’d welcomed me into her home when I married her son. Her willingness to embrace me, to make me feel like a daughter. To make me feel what no one else had, like I belonged. Thinking of her brought back aromas of Baja style fish tacos, crema, salsa, and homemade tortillas. Everything lovingly made from scratch over chisme in the kitchen. The grim face was replaced by an open mouth, head tilted back, deep throated and free laugh as I joked with her in the kitchen cooking side by side. Her face was plaintive as she spoke to me about how she was doing and managing her pain. Her face smiling lightly as I told her how about my all day sickness during pregnancy. Her face alight holding her grand daughters, showing me the dresses she made for them. The beautiful rag dolls she made and I helped her sell at work. Her face angry when I left her son. Her face in hard judgement asking why I couldn’t make it work? Her face embarrassed and apologetic when she realized all he’d done.

I started walking into the memories and with each face, a cry would come. A shy cry at first, afraid to release the emotion. Then tumbling over each other, grasping for space and breath. And then full force sobbing for what felt like hours. I cried until my face felt sore from throbbing and shaking. I cried until I couldn’t see through my swollen eyes. I cried until I could see her face and feel peace.

Yesterday, I woke up still puffy but also full of purpose and hope. She was at peace. Her voice that had been with me, imploring, judgmental, and kind – was released. I opened all the windows and door and lit Palo Santo – breathing in the sweet aroma and exhaling the fumes of a strong llanto. I gave the house a deep clean, buffing out my remaining tears, sweeping out all dust and remnants of fear.

I won’t be able to go to her funeral. She died in Tijuana, MX where she lived. It’s not safe to travel and it’s not safe for me to see her son. This is the grieving I am able to do.

This is the grieving that I can allow myself to do for now.

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