my heart is home, but heavy…

I’ve been (not so mysteriously) absent. If you follow A Little Bit Brave, you know that I have a tendency to do this. I get busy and am gone for a while. Then I come back and promise to do better. And don’t. It’s a cycle.

This time, I’m not promising any specific comebacks. You see, something happened.

It almost pains me to write this to you, Reader, because it makes it that much more real. But though I’ve tried to avoid it, I can’t. My grandmother passed away over the weekend.

It wasn’t sudden in the sense that it was a surprise, but her decline seemed sudden. I just saw her and sat around her kitchen table with my (somewhat) estranged cousins this summer for the first time in well over 13 years.

That afternoon was so special… I felt like I had repaired some of the broken and strained places in my family tree. My father passed away nearly 20 years ago and since his passing, things haven’t been “normal.” Sides seemed to be chosen and the side that was chosen for me seemed to be out of my control. I wasn’t even aware that it was happening. And for a long time, I couldn’t go back to where he was, where my family was. My heart couldn’t handle it.

But you know what? My grandparents never stopped loving me (or my sister, for that matter). My grandmother never shamed me for not coming home to see them. Never made me feel like I was turning my back on my family, though arguably, that’s exactly what I was doing in some ways.

No. She was generous. Kind. Full of love and acceptance. Never judged. Was always supportive. She was everything I ever hope to be.

I thought we would have more time. We all did. My cousins and I have been in contact more often since we saw her together this summer and every time something new happened – another trip to the doctor, moving “temporarily” into the nursing home, tests revealing bad results – we each kept repeating how it seemed like it was happening so fast. We’d just seen her and she seemed perfectly healthy. Her memory wasn’t what it had been, but she’s in her late 80s. Isn’t that to be expected?

And then they found the cancer. Raging through her back and threatening to move elsewhere. At her age and at the stage of the cancer, there wasn’t much to do but wait. And so, she moved to hospice. We all waited, but it seemed like she was going to be with us for a while longer. And then, suddenly, one day, it didn’t.

I tried calling her a couple of times in the last couple of months. I never caught her on a good day or at a good time. She was always in so much pain and I only spoke with her for a minute to say I loved her and I’d try again. But I didn’t want to try again. I didn’t want to catch her at another bad moment. So I didn’t call.

Instead, my cousin suggested we start writing letters. So I wrote to her. I told her about my trip to the DMZ. I told her about the Flat Stanley project I’d accepted from a little girl in Maine, USA. I told her everything I could think to tell her.

The week we learned we didn’t have much longer, I wrote one more letter. It was the last one and I knew it. I told her how much I loved her and how special she was. I told her that it was okay; when she was ready to go we were ready, too. I sent it to one aunt, unsure of whether it would make it in time or not.

And then I learned I could try to call just minutes after I’d written the letter. So I called. Just one more time. And I cried. She didn’t sound like the woman I remembered. But I spoke to her just one more time. I knew it would be the last time.

And then we waited. All of us. I checked my phone like crazy and made plans at school to be gone. I decided that I didn’t care what it would cost me, I would go home when it happened. Late Saturday night in Korea, I got the call from my sister. We both cried a bit and within 30 minutes of that call, I had booked a flight back to the Americas. It was 1:00 in the morning and I was catching a train to the airport at 9.

I talked on the phone with my BFF, JW, for an hour while I packed a suitcase and I kept saying, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” (That was very true; I’ve got no clue what I put in that bag or why. Worst packing job I’ve ever done.) I made it to the airport more than 4 hours early, so I sat and worked.

When I got to my gate, I nearly cried when they told me they had bumped me to business class for free. And so, I began my journey across the ocean. I met JW in Dallas for the night and he took me back to the airport in the morning to continue north to Iowa. My cousin picked me up and I’ve been here since.

The wake is today. It’s been pretty easy to this point to divert my attention and keep from crying. I’ve avoided writing this for the same reasons. But I will see all of my family today, not just my dad’s sister and her clan.

I have worried what this will mean for my place in this group. Now that the final grand string has broken, when should I come to visit? How will the family do holidays? Should I come to visit in the summers like I have? How will our relationships change again? Only time will tell.

I write this today, Reader, without proofreading or checking to make sure any of it makes sense. My heart is heavy and soon, I’ll be back to make better sense of things. But what I want you to know is this:

In this time of family and love and warmth, hold tight to the ones you care about. Tell them you love them. Call your grandparents or your parents. Facebook your cousins. Text your siblings. Love the ones you care about most because one day, you won’t have them around to love anymore. Whomever “family” is to you, don’t forget about them. 

Merry Christmas, Reader. Happy New Year. I’ll see you on the other side of 2016.

8 Comments

  1. Dan Antion says:

    I am very sorry for you and your family at the news of this loss. I hope that you have safe and uncomplicated travels and I’d like you to know that we will keep you in our thoughts and prayers.

    • Thanks so much for your thoughts and prayers, Dan. It was hard to say goodbye, but we all know she lived a long, fruitful life. It was great to be gathered with my entire family for the first time in nearly 2 decades!

      I hope you and your family have a very merry Christmas. :)

  2. Ty says:

    So sorry to hear this and that you’re down. I no longer have either set of Grandparents. Didn’t really know my Dad’s parents, but spent each summer vacationing at my Mom’s parents in PA. I miss them too…

    • Thanks for your kind words, Ty. I wasn’t close to my grandfather and wasn’t able to leave Korea for his funeral in March 2014. I’m glad I made it home to celebrate my grandmother’s incredible legacy. She will be missed by many! I feel lucky to have had her in my life.

  3. samatwitch says:

    My sympathy to you and your family at this time. I’m glad you got to tell her what you needed to. That seems to make the pain a bit easier to bear. I hope all the good memories you have of her love sustain you through the dark times.

  4. CS says:

    Dear Krissi,
    Sorry to hear that.
    Actually my memory back to 10 years ago about my grandma is so vivid.
    Even now, I feel like she is with me smiling and talking to me.
    I can’t believe she is not in this world.
    But we don’t cry too much about it.
    It’s just a beautiful memory in our life! Cheers!!!

    • CS, thank you for your kind words! She will be very missed; so many people loved her so much! I was able to have some time remembering her with my cousin in Bali this week and we both cried and laughed. It was a wonderful time of remembering.

      I miss teaching your class! I hope you are still attending of you have the time. :)

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