Understanding Grief

Yesterday morning, I woke up and went downstairs to have breakfast while Tri stayed in our room to check his email. When I got back upstairs, he called me over to the computer and showed me an email from my mom saying that my grandmother died early Friday morning.

My maternal grandmother had been sick for about 3 years. She was diagnosed with cancer back when I was a Sophomore in college, and she’s been battling it ever since. At certain points, she seemed like she had really gotten rid of it, but there have been many times when we thought she would die.

Before Tri and I left for Nepal last summer, we stayed with the rest of my family at a beach house in North Carolina, something we’ve done every year for a long time. Before we moved to Nepal, I knew that my grandmother was likely to die this year, so I tried my hardest to say my goodbyes and spend time with her during that week.

Despite having tried to prepare myself for her death, I was shocked and saddened into tears when I read that email from my mom yesterday.

This is the third death this year of someone close to us. The first, as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, was Tri’s mom’s death. She passed away suddenly last April. The second death was also sudden, the death of a friend of Tri’s from his school days (I’ll call him A).

Last spring, right after Tri and I got the horrible call that his mom was in the hospital, Tri booked his flight to Nepal. He left that evening. His mom had been put on a ventilator, to keep her heart beating so that Tri could see her one last time. Once she was officially dead, he, his dad, and his brother went into the 13 day mourning period required for Nepali Hindus.

For the first few days, I had no way to contact him because he wasn’t allowed to use his computer, but then I was able to talk with him on gchat during parts of the day. About a week and a half after his mom died, while we were on gchat, Tri told me that the remains of A’s body had been found in India along the side of a cliff. This friend had gone to visit another of their friends in India, and at one point, he went hiking on his own. When he didn’t return, his family called the police. A’s family went down to India to help look for A, hoping that he had just gone off with another friend and had failed to contact them. After looking for about 10 days, they found the remains. Apparently A had been hiking and, as far as they could tell, just slipped and fell.

These three different deaths were each been different and hearbreaking in their own way. Tri’s mom’s death was sudden. It made me sick to my stomach, completely knocked the wind out of me. Although she had been sick for many years, we never expected her to die so suddenly and so soon. She was only 47.

A’s death was quite different. It was sudden, like Mamu’s, but more tragic in a way. When Tri told me about his friend’s death, I burst into tears. Some of the tears, I’m sure, were renewed grief for Mamu and some of them for A and for the way that he died. He was so young, only 25 and perfectly healthy. A’s death helped me put Mamu’s death into perspective. Although she was young too, she lived a full life, had an incredibly loving husband, and raised two sons to adulthood. A had barely made it to adulthood.

Now, as I start mourning for my grandmother, although I am sad, I don’t feel as bad as I might. Partly because I knew her death was coming, but also because Mamu and A’s death have put my grandmother’s death into perspective. It’s still really painful. I can’t go home and mourn with my family, and I can’t support my mom, aunts and grandfather as they mourn the loss of their mother and wife. But I know that my grandmother lived a long, full life and had a large supportive family that really loved and still loves her.

Living in Nepal has also given me some perspective on death. People die here all the time and very suddenly. Just last night I heard of a bus that crashed in far Western Nepal, killing at least 16 people. At least once a month, I hear about someone being hit and killed by a motorcycle, car, or bus. We hear about incidents like that all the time, plane crashes, bus accidents. People here also die of dysentery and other, often treatable diseases, that don’t kill in the West. Of course people die in the US too, but I think their deaths are often less sudden or maybe less tragic; there seem to be fewer death caused by accident and fewer early deaths from disease. Being around all this death in Nepal hasn’t helped me to understand the phenomenon any better but has helped me to accept death as a fact of life.

A few weeks ago, I tried to start reading a book called The Year of Magical Thinking, written by Joan Didion, a woman whose husband died suddenly while her daughter was sick in the hospital. Her daughter then died a year later. The book was way too sad for me to continue, so I put it down after a few pages. But one thing I got out of the part I did read was that grief comes in waves.

And this really rang true to me. As I’ve been grieving for Tri’s mom these past 8 months, I’ll have a span of days where I won’t think about her death at all. Everything will seem normal and okay, but then I’ll miss her suddenly, all at once. These times of intense grief come when I see her picture or cook Nepali chiya (tea), something she taught me how to do, or when I see Tri’s dad looking teary-eyed and know that he’s thinking about her. But these waves of grief have lessened in frequency and intensity with time.

I’m still waiting for a greater understanding of death grief to come. People say that when faced with diffficult situations, you’re supposed to gain wisdom and understanding, but somehow I just feel like a deer caught in the headlights, still in shock and unbelieving of what’s happened.

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13 thoughts on “Understanding Grief

  1. May God give you the strength to battle with mourning period of so many loved ones, lost. May you grandma rest in peace. The post really brought tears to my eyes. You really are strong to gather yourself and write about it. I would have been all over the place. Hang in there Zoe.

  2. Thre is no death in the sense that it is some kind of definite ending. Death is a transition for the living. The spirit of the “dead” loved one comes alive in our memories and own spirits. This isn’t a religious belief but my own experience of death. My parents (your paternal grandparents) live inside me every day. They guide me. They talk to me. It Is feint sometimes and strong at other times. It is one way in which we grow up and become mature and wise. Strange to say it is even fun. I find myself laughing about my parents sometimes. Their foibles, their energy, their journey in life, their wisdom that came from places I can only imagine. They are anything but dead.

  3. I’m sorry for your loss. Hope being with your husband has helped you to be stronger in this sad time. I lost my paternal grandmother while I was here as well. I didn’t get to say goodbye as I had no idea that it was going to be my last conversation with her. So I know how you are feeling.

    I really like what your dad wrote…

  4. I’m so sorry to hear about your grandmother. It’s good to know that she lived a long and full life, but every death brings with it some sadness. It makes it tougher when you are so far from home, and that the death occurs right before the holidays. My thoughts are with you.

      • Hey C, where are you lost these days? No offense to anyone, but the only reason I found this blog was you stopped writing on your blog and I started roaming around.

        @Nepalijiwan, I am sorry about your grandmothers death. May her soul rest in peace.

  5. Me too, Im so sorry. To lose a lovely peoples is allways so painfull. I m lost my dad before 5 years ago, the pain is there in my heart till now and there is gone not one day at the I m think for him. One day you will accept you will learn to handle with the situation. Never you will forget, but you can life with that.
    Now my thinking is near by you.

  6. My sincere condolences to you and your family!

    I know all deaths are very painful to the close ones. But for me, the worst kind of death is when someone (a lot of times Nepalese students) gets shot in a gas station or dies in a car accident in United States.

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