Processing Grief From 3,000 Miles Away

Louis Herman
October 20, 2018

I was playing a video game when the text came in. I’d always expected it to be bigger, somehow; I was raised in a superstitious family, where we believed in energy and in stregas and in knowing when something important was about to happen. But I guess that was wrong, because I was in bed playing Borderlands 2 for probably the tenth time when I got the notification. My mom had sent me a simple message; it just read “Hi Lou, please call me when you can.”

We’d known about my grandma’s cancer for almost four years before this morning. She went to a doctor in, I guess, November of 2014 and came home with advanced liver cancer. They said that if they hadn’t caught it, she probably would’ve been dead inside four months. Since that day, there’d been bad times, but also good ones; it was hard to believe that my grandma, the dynamic woman who used to walk six miles every morning, was dying.

But she was.

She started to get really bad this past summer, around my birthday. She had to be transferred to the hospital; my sisters and I visited her there most days after work. We’d tell her about our days, about the terrible customers we had and the latest workplace drama. We’d give her updates about our lives, about the people we were dating, about my one sister’s book and how close it was to being published. She would listen and joke around with us, but also ask us real questions: how my visa process was going, what I was researching, when I left for Ecuador. She was really present every time I talked to her. And she was getting better: she left the hospital only a few days after entering and went back to her life, planning out big family meals every Friday and enjoying the time she got to spend with us.

I never quite realized that there was a time when she wouldn’t get better, when it would really be the end. When I called my mom this morning, I had a joke ready. Don’t text me like that, I was going to say, I thought someone had died! But, well, someone had.


Until today, I’d led something of a charmed life. I’d never lost someone I was close to; I’d never had to process the fact that someone I loved, someone who helped make me who I am, was gone. But now, someone is. And any eulogy that I write would be incomplete, especially here; I can’t convey through text the way my grandmother’s smile could light up a room, or how funny she could be at the dinner table. Anything I could say would be incomplete because no words I could ever use would be enough. I can’t even give testimony to the life she lived; I never knew her except as a grandmother. All I’m trying to do here is say how I feel in the hopes that the act of writing will help me to process the fact that I’ll never talk to my grandmother again.

And I guess, if that’s the only reason I’m writing, then there’s no reason to censor myself. And in the interest of honesty, I should say that my main emotion, since I found out, has been annoyance. To be clear, I’m not annoyed she passed—I’m not out here resenting my grandma for having the audacity to die— but rather I’m annoyed that every other aspect of my life hasn’t ground to a halt. I’m annoyed that I need to be productive, that I can’t spend the week until the funeral crying and screaming at the sky or the ocean or anyone in my life who tries to make a demand on my time. I’m annoyed that I need to read articles about “possible links” between colonial chronicles and maps of Spanish America, that I need to write emails to my professors explaining in academic, professional language, that I’m missing class this Thursday because the most important woman they’ll never know is gone forever, and that it's all I can do not to break down in public. I’m annoyed that I have to put in that effort, that I can’t just break down in public.

That’s the thing about death that no one really told me: it’s inconvenient. It’s inconvenient to go about your life acting for the most part as if nothing’s wrong, only telling people what’s going on if you can work up the energy to have that conversation. It’s inconvenient to have to slow down and explain why you’ve been walking around in a haze all day. That’s really the root of what I’m feeling right now: I’m annoyed that everyone in the world didn’t make the same phone call I did, that everyone in the world wasn’t in tears on the phone with their mom and their sister this morning, that everyone in the world doesn’t immediately and implicitly understand what I’m dealing with without my having to say a word.

I’m annoyed that my grandmother is dead, and I have to do anything other than mourn.


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Louis Herman

<p>Hi! I'm a current junior at the University of Rochester studying the history of early modern globalization, with a specific focus on links between Asia and Latin America. When I'm not busy writing papers, you can probably find me lying down on the beach, soaking in the sunlight, and reading sci-fi.</p>

2018 Fall
Home University:
University of Rochester
Rocky Point, NY
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