Fresh Perspective | Living with grief

Fresh Perspective is a biweekly blog about typical college experiences made strange by the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Julia Smeltzer, Staff Writer

Warning: This edition of Fresh Perspective contains content relating to grief and death that some readers may not be comfortable with.

I had just gotten off a plane to Mexico with my two best friends, ready for a week-long summer vacation in May 2021. With the excitement in the air and sand under our feet, I was looking forward to a week of relaxation after finishing my first year of college in the middle of a stressful and unpredictable pandemic.

And then with one phone call, my world suddenly crashed right in front of me. That morning, while I was 1,500 miles away from my family, my maternal grandfather passed away.

Flash forward to Nov. 12. I am sitting in the bedroom of my college house listening to my English professor discuss “The Hunger Games” over Zoom as my phone rings. The night before, while I was hundreds of miles away from my family, Grammy, my paternal grandmother, passed away in her home all alone.

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This year — specifically the last six months— has been a cycle of grief for me. I have been lucky enough to have never experienced the loss of a loved one before this year. Now that it has happened to me, I am not sure how to process grief, or whether you can fully process it at all.

For me, grief feels like an unfinished song and unexpressed love. As if it is something that will never get to be finished. The best way I can describe it is the moments you forget. You forget they have passed and are completely unaware they are no longer with you. And then you stumble upon a picture of them in your camera roll, or you catch a whiff of their scent or reach for your phone to call them, but you can’t, and the gut-wrenching feeling comes back to you and you remember all over again what it felt like to be told they are no longer here. To me, that is grief, except it happens over and over again.

Grief can look a lot different to every person. My family uses humor to cope, while some people may isolate themselves and others may take their loss as a sign to celebrate life. This isn’t an article to tell you how to cope with grief, because frankly I’m not sure if I know how to, and there isn’t one right or wrong way to deal with the pain of losing someone. But it is important to talk about what grieving is like because we all grieve at some point in our lives and we aren’t alone.

Many times while I was still trying to process the past six months, my grieving looked like nights where I couldn’t stop my tears from hitting the pillow. For me, I’m not only grieving for myself but for my entire family. I grieve for my parents, who had to plan funerals while trying to be strong for the rest of the family. And for my Grandmom and Pap, each who has lost the person whom they have spent their entire life with, and now have to navigate the future without them. When you lose someone, you celebrate their amazing life and the memories you shared with them, but you also reflect on the lost time and the memories you’ll never get to create. My Grandfather and Grammy won’t see me or my siblings get married, watch my brothers graduate from college and high school, or live our lives that they have made such an impact on.

But as my dad always says, this is life. We lose the ones we love the most, but also create new memories and celebrate the life we are given. Grief is a very weird thing to experience because it isn’t linear and there is no final destination. There are days where you sit around a table and laugh at all the unforgettable moments you’ve shared with them and there are days where you can’t stop thinking about the pain you feel with their absence and that they should still be here right next to you.

I will never get my Grandpa or Grammy back. I won’t get to create new memories with them and, as time goes on, I’ll have lived a life where their absence will be longer than their presence. But as I continue living with grief, I know I am not doing it alone. My friends and family have been my backbone and support system, and I would not be able to process everything without them right by my side. And if grief taught me anything, it is to never take anything for granted again and to love a little harder before time runs out.

Julia Smeltzer writes primarily about mental health and college experiences. You can reach her at [email protected]