My Grandmother Died and I Am Broken
I published this a little over one year ago to my friends on Facebook and now I’m ready to share it with a wider audience. If you’ve ever gone through the death of someone you cherish, I hope it helps to heal you. This one was excruciating. Thank you for allowing me to share it with you.
I am terrified to write this:
Three weeks ago, my grandmother died in her sleep. She was only 65.
I didn’t really want to write about this publicly. Not yet. Maybe not ever.
I didn’t want hundreds of condolences to remind me repeatedly that she was gone. And I didn’t want to appear weak to you.
Thousands of people view me as a source of strength. I didn’t want to go “off message.”
What happens when the President cries on television?
I’m supposed to talk about business. I’m supposed to talk about hustling. And crushing it. And reaching for your goals. And being happy.
I didn’t think it would be useful for you to hear this. This is my shit. I didn’t want you to feel burdened with it, too.
But fuck it.
I was struggling this morning to write anything meaningful besides this and I’m committed to being honest with you — so here I am.
I always have to preface this conversation with how big of a deal it is that she’s gone, because most people don’t have super tight relationships with their grandparents.
But she was my rock. She was truly one of my best friends. She was my #1 advocate and support system. And I mean total, unconditional, “I’ll hide the body for you” type of support.
That’s rare. That’s once-in-a-lifetime.
Some of you who are reading this will probably remember her. We had a lot of interesting conversations on Facebook, and many of you chimed in. She loved the attention, by the way.
We spent my entire life together, from the time I was born up until a few weeks ago. When I was born, she was only 38.
Since my dad wasn’t in my life until about 19, she stepped in to help raise me. She did a damn good job, too. She’s the reason why I read and write so much — she was an attorney and voracious reader. There were literally 3,000 books in her house when my mother and I unloaded them a few weeks ago.
This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to endure.
The emotions have been overwhelmingly intense. I didn’t even know anything could ever affect me so deeply.
My body has been making sounds it’s never made before. I’ve been crying, shivering, waking up in the middle of the night with panic attacks. It’s been nuts. It’s like seeing an entirely new spectrum of colors. Really, really intense feelings that I’d prefer not to feel, but in a weird way, am still glad that I can.
This is going to affect me for years to come. This cut is going to heal “ugly.”
It’s like losing my mom, my grandmother and my best friend all at the same time with absolutely no warning. I had already booked a ticket to see her for her birthday in October and now I’m using that ticket to fly to her memorial ceremony and spread her ashes at dock behind my great grandparents house.
Can you believe that? Those are her parents, who are both still alive in their late 90's.
It’s catastrophic and is challenging and changing the way I look at the world. It’s forcing me into manhood in a way that, in all honesty, I wasn’t ready for yet. Life is knocking on the door and I have to answer.
It’s like being forged in fire. I think I’ll have to completely melt before I can become strong again.
Many people depend on my support, so I have to continue to function at a high level. And I will. But every time I’m alone, I break down into pieces.
Can you imagine having to pack up all your parents belongings from 60+ years into boxes or having to throw years of possessions on the curb because nobody wants them?
It makes you not give a shit about any of the fucking shit that you cared about before. It’s both ego-destroying, and yet since she’s not here to feel pain, the pain is masochistically ego-driven. It makes you feel an intense sensation of “me, me, me.” It really is all about you and your ego.
It’s extremely terrifying and confusing. She was only 65 and there was no apparent cause.
Just like a light switch. Last week, she was on. Now she’s off.
I didn’t even know that could happen. Did you?
We talked almost every day and I’m going to miss her immeasurably. I still struggle not to call her in the afternoon out of habit. I still read our text messages.
I kept her journals. They span decades, from the mid-80’s to now, and it’s striking how the themes are consistent over the years.
She wanted to go back to graduate school and get a Masters Degree in Creative Writing. She was proud of her career as an attorney, but had always felt that something was missing. She was incredibly intelligent and could focus her attention like a laser beam when she wanted to.
She had so many goals and ambitions — but for years she couldn’t get anything going. She was in a lot of chronic pain and had been in a wheelchair for going on 10 years. God, she fucking hated that chair.
In her writing, she talked about all the things she wished she’d done. All the places she wished she had traveled, all the food she wished she had tried. She was longing for more, but was trapped physically and mentally for a long time.
Over the last 18 months, though, she really started to turn things around. Eating better. Swimming every day. Every time I’d call her, she was either on the bus, or at the library, or the senior center making friends, or the store or sending me cute little pics from Starbucks.
She loved to collect Starbucks mugs.
My mother and I found a scholarship application for a Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Florida International University in her house, complete with the application essay attached, explaining why she thought she deserved the scholarship.
Can you imagine how heartwrenchingly sweet that was to read? Jesus Christ.
I flipped to the middle of one of her leatherbound journals and found in her familiar curly purple handwriting, a note of self-encouragement.
“I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.”
It wasn’t meant for anybody but herself.
In her way, she was trying. This makes me really happy.
I’m devastated she won’t get to see my children.
I’m devastated she won’t get to see my motherfucking book next April. I dedicated the fucking book to her and now she’s going to miss it. Barnes & Nobles was our hangout.
I’m devastated about a lot of things.
But one thing that brings me comfort is that I will get to carry on her work through my work. The same blood. The same bone. The same thoughts. I was moulded and shaped by her, so my work will always be a reflection of her.
In a way, I’m her biggest project.
And I’m still going.
I’m not far enough removed from the turbulence to extract all the deep lessons. Those will keep rolling in for years to come, I’m sure.
But her leaving has reinforced something that I think we can all benefit from: the urgency of urgency.
You don’t have time. You just, don’t.
Yes, you. Reading this.
Go after the things and people you love. There literally is nothing else to do. If you’re looking for meaning, that’s it.
As a child, I was always fascinated by what it would feel like to go to sleep and never wake up.
I guess part of the irony there is that it’s impossible to experience something that, by definition, ends experience — but I imagine it must feel a lot like waking up after having never gone to sleep.
That’s what happens when you are born, isn’t it?
So if dying and being born are really the same feeling, then I’m glad. I hope she’s already been born again and is happy. I hope she’s free.
I wonder if she remembers me. At least some part of her, wherever she is.
I know I will never forget her.
Daniel DiPiazza is the bestselling author of Rich20Something: Ditch Your Average Job, Start an Epic Business and Score the Life You Want.