I lost my grandfather two days before Christmas.
Three nights ago, I cried to my husband. I had this dreadful feeling from what the family group chat had been reporting on my grandfather: he stayed awake from a nightmare at 2AM; with his blood pressure at 170/90, he complained of difficulty breathing, yet refused hospital admission. I‘ve read something before on how some people behaved a certain way once they knew the end was near. My grandfather must have known the end was near.
On December 21st, my parents flew in from the Philippines for Christmas. My little sister arrived a month ago, while our eldest sister planned on riding a bus down from Canada on Christmas Eve. Our family banked on reuniting for the holidays.
Close to noon on the 23rd, as my folks and I completed checkout of some last minute gift items at Target, I received a call from my uncle—a doctor living in upstate New York who never called unless on the way to meet us. I found the call strange because he wasn’t supposed to meet us for another day; he asked to speak to my mother.
The rest of us walked steps ahead of my mom. We turned on our heels when she wailed “Hah???” and quickly wilted into hapless sobs. I knew it then; we all did. My little sister, my father, and I converged to embrace my mother. My four-year-old son knelt in a shopping cart—confused, unsmiling, somehow recognizing loss despite his innocence. At age 80, my grandfather had died peacefully in his home.
My parents scrambled to rebook their return flight to the 24th, which meant their trip would have zero overlap with my older sister’s visit to my house in New Jersey. In the meantime, I picked up a quick lunch at McDonald’s, and the drive-thru staff fudged the orders so badly I had to come back for four more sandwiches.
After stuffing my face with a Quarter Pounder and seeking comfort in my husband’s arms, in a last ditch effort to salvage some Christmas spirit, I enlisted the help of my trusty sous chefs—my husband and my toddler—and we rushed to prepare an advanced feast for Christmas Eve.
Everyone has a preferred method of grieving.
After contacting her siblings and making immediate arrangements over the phone, my mother chose to grieve by isolating herself in the guest room all afternoon.
I dealt with the news a bit differently. I wept for the first couple of hours. Then, I sprang to action: cooking, cleaning up after, distributing/opening a first round of presents. The next day, the real Christmas Eve, I woke early to write. We drove my parents to the airport and spent twelve hours in Manhattan—seeing the big tree, roaming Rockafeller Center Plaza and Fifth Avenue, eating lunch at McGee’s, visiting Central Park and the Christmas market at Columbus Circle, singing karaoke at Duet. We capped off our jam-packed day in the city fetching my big sister from Port Authority Bus Terminal. Our incomplete family shared leftovers from Christmas Eve Eve; my siblings and I watched Elf before retiring for the night. I mourned by staying in motion.
As much as possible, I will stay in motion to get out of my head and not drown in my sadness. Perhaps, distraction and avoidance are unhealthy ways of dealing. But for me, as Mando would say: “This is the way.”
Nope, I’m not burying memories of my grandpa beneath errands and festivities. I’m remembering him; I’m trying to be joyful and busy and present for the ones I love who are still here. It’s not gonna work for everybody. All I’m saying is: this is what works for me.
Without a doubt, this has got to be the saddest, most tragic Christmas of my life so far, but hey, it doesn’t have to be the worst.
Here’s to an awesome Christmas… in spite of any troubles and heartaches we may have. To all family, friends, and anyone in need: near or far, gone or living, sharing what’s left of my heart with you this Christmas!