I’ve Said Goodbye

I’ve been a bibliophile since the first time my ma sat down and read to me. Before I could string words together into sentences, I loved the way my ma’s words would spin worlds beyond mine, and the way my daddy’s would make me feel connected to all my family that came before. As I got older, I began to read to myself and  discover what existed outside of the black and white house, outside of family, outside of the boundaries of self. I experienced love, I experienced happiness, and pain. I found all of these through the pages of books, whose impact has outlived the names of the titles within my mind. Out of all I experienced within the marriage of ink and paper, I wasn’t ready for the experience of loss, and the accompanying emotions that tore themselves through my world.

On January 13, my grandmother passed. I was not prepared; I don’t think there is ever a correct way to prepare for the death of someone you love. So, you end up running phrases around and around, “She was old,” or “She had dementia,” or even, “She’s in a better place now”. In my case, it was “She didn’t wait for me to come back and bake with her.” She had not waited for me to come back and bake biscuits with her, she had not waited for me to come back and listen to her ask the same sentence five times, she had not waited for me to come back home. So, I was angry. I was angry at her for dying, myself for not being there, and my family for acting as if everything would be ok and that she would be at peace now. I was angry because I had not had enough time. Upset, sad, grieving, and tired. I was everything, all while she was nothing.

Thursday, I went home. Soon, I found myself at my grandma’s house. It’s a strange thing being in someone’s home when they're no longer there. It looked the same on the outside, it smelled the same on the inside, and everyone was there as always. But, her rocking chair was gone to make room for people coming to pay their condolences. The kitchen where she'd taught me how to bake biscuits was the same, the oven was as it had always been. But, she wasn't there to encourage me, or let me know how good a job I’d done. The chair would come back once all the people left; my grandma never would. Yes, it’s a strange thing being in someone’s home.The oven, the kitchen, those were the same;She wasn’t.

Over the next three days, I found strength in my family, and I began to feel a shift in myself as I watched us come together and remember grandma. Watching my dad’s smile as he talked of her, or the fact that even in death she had brought us all together from around the country. I watched and I changed. I was no longer angry at her, and even more important, I was not angry at myself or my family. I began to feel at peace with her death, the kind of peace that I hope it brought her. And so, on Sunday when her funeral came, I drew strength in the fact that it would be a celebration of her and all she had contributed, and continues to contribute, to our family. It would be a homegoing, and not a dreadful occasion. It ran smoothly and was just as grandma would have loved. Her choir sang, her pastor preached, her children spoke of her. At the end, passing by her open casket, I stole one final look at my grandma. I needed to say something. So, I said goodbye.

Sometimes, saying goodbye is the greatest form of self-love. Goodbye to emotions, to people, to events that are holding you down. Grief is natural, but so is the word “goodbye”. It is the weight lifted that finally allows you to breathe again, and the greatest gift you can give yourself and someone you truly love. On the day of my grandma’s funeral, I discovered this. I realized that loving my grandma meant loving myself, and loving myself meant letting go.


Kerstan Nealy