an ambiguous type of grief

Hello! I hope everyone’s had a great start to their Monday; today I actually just wanted to talk about something that’s been on my mind throughout the weekend. Just a heads up – it gets a little personal.

This past Friday, my dad’s dad passed away. He was 96 and died in his sleep, peacefully and without pain, from what my parents told me. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

I found out while I was working out at the gym after class. I was just talking to my mom about plans for her and my dad visiting me over the weekend, when she broke the news that they wouldn’t be able to because of my dad’s loss. I was cycling on the elliptical and just kind of stopped. What? Wait – woah. How do I even feel about this?

Grief is such a weird thing. I’ve ever really lost someone close to me when I was five years old, my mom’s mom, and even then, I didn’t really know her. I have no living memory of spending time with her, really. All of my grandparents live(d) outside of the US, and I haven’t seen them in about 15 years. I remember crying my eyes out at my grandma’s funeral 15 years ago, but why? But that’s just it – she was family. Blood. Knowing this though, I can’t help thinking that I grieved as a five-year-old because I saw how sad my mother and her siblings were, not because I truly grieved for my grandmother that I never really knew.

Let’s come back to present-day: my grandfather. I actually have a faint memory of spending time with him 15 years ago on the same trip for my grandma’s funeral, but recently when my dad was Skyping him, he didn’t remember who I was. He had Alzheimer’s so I don’t blame him at all, but it just left me feeling… empty? Like what was the point? There has always been a physical and cultural distance between me and my grandparents, and Skype calls are usually pretty awkward.

“Hi Jen! How are you? You’ve grown up so much!” (all of this, of course, in Mandarin).

“Yes, hi Grandma! I’m good! Are you staying healthy? What’s the weather like there?” and so on.

I hate that I never got to know 2 out of my 4 grandparents who are now gone. This just makes me think: will I get the chance to really know my other two still-living grandparents? Or will these opportunities be wasted away? All I can see in my head is an hourglass, time running out…

The death of my grandfather also reminded me of a movie I watched really recently – Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (I’ve read the book too, but the movie was much more recent), and it just made me reflect on this one point they brought up. It was that even after someone’s death, you can learn so much about them. In fact, it seems like it’s after their death when you learn the most. While I was watching the movie and reflecting on it, I was like, woah, this is profound. But thinking about it now, all I feel is guilt. Guilt for not wanting to find out earlier. It’s so true, when they say humanity only wants what they can’t have. 100% touché.

Where does this leave me? I talked to my twin sister who’s also in the same boat as me in the sense that she wasn’t extremely close to our grandparents either, but she said, “What can you do about it?” She seemed passive, almost. Like to just move on with life. How? She brushed it off – or so I think – but I have these warring emotions. I know how I’m supposed to feel. But do I feel that way? It’s more, again, that I feel grief for my father for losing his dad. It almost doesn’t feel like I personally lost anything, except I know I have.

As of right now, I don’t know what my next step should be. It feels like I’m drifting, drifting towards an answer that’s blank. I’m not attending the funeral, and neither are my parents, because the funeral is happening under quick notice and none of us in the US are going to make it in time. So what happens next?

What I want to do is to get in contact with my remaining grandparents, and just to talk to them. Not just my grandparents, but my aunts and uncles who also reside outside the Americas.

This was pretty personal, but I do hope that it allows you to introspect about your family relationships and dynamics. I regret not getting to know my grandparents, especially now that it’s too late. Life is so, so short. It’s too short to miss out on these opportunities to build ties with family.

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2 thoughts on “an ambiguous type of grief”

  1. I’m so sorry for the loss of your grandfather, Jen. Almost two years ago I lost my grandmother, whom I’d seen a lot as a child but not as much in my teenage years. There are a number of my family members — aunts and cousins — I never really got to know who have moved on with their lives, and also passed away. Even if you don’t know some of them very well, you’re still affected when something happens to them because they are your family. Sending virtual hugs your way.

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