How did you deal with your grandfather's death from abroad?

I was afraid this would be a little too long for the formspring.

I remember reading awhile back that your grandfather died while you were in Korea. My grandmother recently died, and it has been so hard to be here. There's nobody for 7,000 miles who has any knowledge of her life, much less someone to share memories with. I try to talk to my family, but they simply don't understand how it could be harder to process grief simply because I'm living in a foreign country. How were you able to process through some of your grief when you were so far away?



I just want to tell you first of all that I'm really sorry to hear that. Obviously you know that I know what it's like to go through something like that. And I think what was actually the hardest for me was not being so far away from my grandfather when he passed (let's face it -- that would've been fucking difficult from two feet away), but actually being so far away from my family when it happened.

My family has been through a lot of atrocious things. I'm not a whiner, so I'm not going to get into all (or any) of it, but we've been through things that were a lot harder in some ways than losing someone is. But the thing about those times, when I look back on them, is that I don't remember work or school or friends or absolutely anything outside of my family. All I remember is going through my daily life in a daze, just hanging on until I could get back home to the safety of the little trenches we had constructed for ourselves there. We would often end up even all sleeping in one bed, or one room. We didn't talk a lot. We just stayed close by each other's sides. And that was how we always got through everything.

When my grandfather was passing, and after he passed, I went through my daily life in the same daze. I didn't want to talk to anyone about it, or much of anything else -- especially not anyone who didn't even know who he was or what he meant to me. But in the evenings, instead of returning to the safety of my family, I got to go home to an empty, quiet apartment.

Something about me that I've mentioned a few times, but not in great detail, is that I've suffered from a pretty severe social anxiety disorder in the past. One aspect of that is that I have a tendency to completely withdraw when I feel out of control or incapable of handling things in my life. I don't talk to anyone, I don't answer my phone, I don't go out in public -- I drop pretty much all social interaction of every kind. I also sometimes stop eating.

I mention this to say that the way I found myself getting through my grief is probably a bit particular to my own way of grieving, which is to say that what I had to do in the end was realize that, right -- this is life. This is what has happened, and it's not going to change. He's not coming back. You didn't get to say goodbye. There is nothing that will ever make that better or less painful than it is. So you have to face it. And you have to start facing your life where that is a reality.

I remember clearly the Saturday morning of the evening my grandfather was to be buried. Because I had spent the entire night before basically trying to make myself stop sobbing, or do anything other than just lay in bed in a comatose state, not even sleeping. I had tried to make myself pick up the phone to any number of friends who were calling to make sure I was alright. I had tried to make myself take in anything other than more coffee and cigarettes. And I had decided that that was enough. I was finished. I was going to go to sleep, and when I opened my eyes in the morning, I would accept the fact that this had happened, and go out and face what life looked like, having acknowledged that.

I started small, with morning coffee by myself on an empty patio at a cafe in Myeongdong, before any people at all had started to crowd the streets and shops. Then, I faced the shops. Then, I called a friend for a late lunch. Then, I called more friends for a few drinks in the evening.

I ended up having to cut the evening short because just as we were planning to move from one place to another, I looked up at the time and realized that my grandfather's funeral was starting. And I started to lose it. And I knew I needed to make it home before that happened. And probably not consume any more alcohol than I already had.

But that first step was the most important one for me. After that, it was just a matter of not trying to make myself feel better, but facing the unchangability of the situation. The fact that it wasn't like a lot of other things I've faced down before, where eventually I can hope that I'm going to get out of this situation, or I'm going to find a way to make it okay. It just is. And the only thing you can do is get on with life in the best way you know how. To realize that you're learning an important lesson about the things you cannot change, and that having lost someone doesn't change the fact that you once had them, either.

In the end, in some ways, I'm almost glad that I faced that alone. Having my family with me during that time would have meant the world, obviously, and made it a hell of a lot easier in some ways. But there were moments when I felt closer to my grandfather in a way precisely because there was no one else around who knew him. I had time to remember him and honor him in my heart and my mind for exactly what he was to me, and me alone. I didn't have to remember him as father and brother and husband -- I could remember him just as grandfather. As my grandfather. In all of the ways that he was what he was only to me. And that was valuable, too.

The funny thing is, this week was the one year anniversary of his death. My family and I don't go out of our way not to mention him these days, but we're all still smarting a bit and there's a noticable shift in tone when he does come up -- a half a second's pause before someone has the courage to go ahead and speak his name, trying to pretend like it's normal and that there's no pain left there. The other night, I called to wish my mother a happy birthday -- last year, her birthday was two days after his funeral. She was asking me about Busan. She said he sounded a bit like my brother. I said there were parts of him that were quite similar, but who he really reminds me of sometimes is my grandfather. She started to cry a bit. She said it was because there is this person who is obviously becoming very important to me who she doesn't have the chance to know. And I'm sure that was true. But I don't think it was the only reason.

Anyway. I hope you can find a way to have that same experience of somehow finding peace. I'm going to try not to get too sentimental and horrible here, but I really do believe that, whether in spirit or in the form of the part of me that was influenced and shaped by him in his lifetime, my grandfather was right there with me during that time. In the way that he's still with me now, in the form of the lessons that he taught me, and the funny strange little things he always said that I still remember sometimes, and the way that he taught me that although good men may not always look exactly the way you imagine them to, they do exist.


FromNoonaWithLove said...

So. This very nearly made me cry at my desk.

Unknown said...

just saying thank you cant begin to tell you how grateful i am to have read this bit.