Monday, March 19, 2012

Descanse en paz, Granny Faye

The following is more personal than my travel blog normally is, but it is in some ways related to being in Spain (while not actually being about Spain itself). It's important to me and I think that being in Spain has made this situation even more complicated than it would have otherwise been.

Last week, I found out that my grandmother had passed away. I had known for a long time that this had been a possibility because of her poor health and complications. But even so, it came as a shock. It's the first time in quite a while that I've lost anyone that close to me in the family and experiencing it now, as a supposedly wiser and more mature twenty-three year old, I assumed it would be different somehow. I figured I'd be more prepared for a loss of this magnitude and be able to reason my way out of taking it too harshly. How arrogant I can be at times.

It's difficult to know how to react to something like this, even if you think you're wiser and more prepared for these types of things. But really this is just another learning experience. I think, on some level, the expectation is that all those years
of schooling will teach you something about life. That you'll be prepared to face all of the stuff that comes your way. But when it comes down to it, none of it really prepares you for the pain and humiliation and frustration that comes with each of your screw-ups and losses in life. And for that, you feel like you ultimately wasted a lot of time preparing for something that is by its nature so unpredictable.

On a theoretical level, I know that death is a fact of life. It's unfortunate, but I knew it was coming from the beginning, so there's no need to be so disappointed or upset by it. I should be thankful that I had the chance to share so many beautiful experiences with my grandmother and cherish those experiences even after she's gone. And besides, she had been suffering so much in the past few years that it would be unfair of me to want her to stick around longer in such a state. And while I'm still aware of that theoretical understanding, that near-objective reflection on the nature of death and suffering, it comes second to the emotional slap in the face that is the reality of a situation so personal and deep that I just can't reason my way around it. You can't prepare for how you react to that. It's pure, unadulterated emotion. It's manic.

On top of all of that, I'm 4,500 miles away from all of it. At first, I didn't think that mattered. Me being closer in physical proximity wouldn't give me any closure with the deceased. And that's probably true. When mom offered to fly me home for the funeral, I considered the expensive plane ticket and the emotional and physical toll the travel would have on me. The reunion would have been bittersweet, considering that I've been away for so long and yet the circumstances of our reunion would be less than ideal. All of that led me to turn down the offer. I didn't have the same familiar support that I would have otherwise had, but I did receive some supportive gestures from friends here in Spain. And I think I've dealt with it personally as best as I could be expected to.

I think the biggest drawback about not coming home for the funeral is that it still cannot be entirely real for me. It's not that I don't actually believe it hasn't happened, but I don't know that it will become a reality until I see the evidence for myself. The physical distance between me and my family and this entire situation has made it difficult to accept it in the same way that I could have if I had been there. I had to learn about her death through an email. And while I don't want to downplay the impressiveness and convenience of communication in our digital age, it is so impersonal and sterile at times. Mom and Beth have told me about the visitation and the funeral and everything, but until I see the grave and the flowers for myself, until I don't see her sitting in her chair at her house, watching HGTV with my aunt Marjorie and with my grandpa asleep in his chair, I'm not sure I'll be convinced of the finality of it all on a deeper level. I'm still going to be bracing for the moment when I come home and realize that it's not just a sick joke or a bad dream. I think not rushing home on a flight was the better choice in many ways, but I think it may have helped to have had that experience and realized that it's real and that my reality is now going to change accordingly and what that will mean for me.

The impact that my grandmother has had on my development, the love and compassion that she had for me and all of her grandchildren, has been almost unrivaled by any other figure in my life. Her face would absolutely light up every time I walked into her house, just because I was there. And though I may not have always appreciated it as much as I should have, she made me feel like I was the the most special thing in her life when I visited. 

These reflections don't really serve as a proper eulogy, but I hope that in writing it all down I can get some of that closure that I want. Living in Spain has in many ways been such a great way to grow and develop on my own as a person. But it's situations like these that make you realize that as dangerous and adventurous as you consider yourself, as willing and ready as you are to run out and take on the world, you depend so much on the relationships and connections that you have with those you love. Without them, you're just not the person you have the potential to be. Losing my grandmother means that I've lost an important part of that support. But having her there for all of those years has left me better off as a person, and for that I am grateful. 

Thanks to all of my friends who have sent me messages of support, even those that didn't realize they may have been helping me deal with this situation in particular. Your words have helped me more than you could know.

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