A missed call from Dad. That’s weird. He never calls in the middle of the day.
That was my initial reaction before returning my father’s call only to learn that my maternal Great-Grandmother had died. I felt nothing, and continued reviewing my notecards for my exam the next day. Later in the night, I teared up for a minute before my roommate came home. The following morning, I took my exam and moved forward… or so I believed. I had successfully buried the event in the back of my mind to not focus on the circumstances: I would not be in El Paso for a final goodbye. Spring semester then came to a close and I found myself back in Texas. In the summer, I was finally able to stand at my Great-Grandma’s grave and unleash the emotions I had somehow managed to bar. After leaving the cemetery, I couldn’t help but wonder: did I cry enough? Was that enough? Is there more? Then sophomore year swept in and I forgot about these internal reflections until they paid me a visit again.
I sat at a desk in Willard Straight Hall and traced the design of my notebook cover with my fingers as my mother explained the passing of my beloved Aunt on the other end of the phone. “She is no longer suffering”, I thought to myself. She is free. And I carried on until I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen her face. It was as if there was a brick wall sealing away my nostalgia. Maybe I closed myself off from the memories because my brain was preoccupied with my school and work assignments. I decided to separate myself for a bit. The attempts were unfruitful. Sitting in a library didn’t do the trick. Neither did walking around the Arts Quad. And sitting in my bed only made me feel anxious. But in the middle of eating sushi at Café Jennie, came a rush of tears. To the world, I was trying to sob in a café discreetly while eating my spicy crab roll. But in reality, the smell of freshly baked cake and sweet frosting, and of tamales being made, and the aroma of roses overwhelmed me. I was back at my Aunt’s house, eating leftover cake, helping to soak corn husks, playing in the garden of her front yard, and singing to her little bird. Although it once again pained me to not be able to attend a loved one’s services in Texas, the comfort which followed my very public breakthrough was enough to keep me encouraged and hopeful for a while. Before I knew it, my endless responsibilities as a student left very little room for me to sit with my grief any longer.
Now, I wrestle with the fact that my paternal Great-Grandmother is gone as well. No more greats left, only grands. While washing dishes, my father interrupted my chores with a word that sent my legs trembling and broke my heart instantly. Immediately, I emailed my instructors and announced I would be taking personal time to grieve, a promise so bold that I was astonished by my effort to place my loss ahead of my studies for a change. This time, I will mourn with my family. This time, I will be able to say a final goodbye for once and I’m eager to know what type of healing comes after such farewell. Grieving while in college is terrible, unfair, and stressful to coordinate when the world is telling you to write your essay and finish your problem sets. Truth is, there’s always another task to complete and a chance that we may lose something or someone valuable to us every day. But that doesn’t mean we stop living. Nor does that mean we are capable of bottling things deep inside. So give yourself time. It’s ok to close your textbook and your laptop and cry. And don’t be afraid to write that final message and have someone else read it at the funeral on your behalf. Grief is a difficult obstacle to overcome. We don’t have much time on this earth, so it’s best to slow things down.