When I imagined college, I didn’t think of death. I looked forward to my classes, making new friends and exploring a new city, but I never imagined grief as a part of the best four years of my life.
Growing up, death wasn’t a stranger. At two years-old, my father passed away, but I don’t remember him. His death left my mother a single parent with three kids and no one to fill the father role besides her own father—my grandpa.
My grandpa did everything in his power to take care of my siblings and me. He worked hard and he didn’t stop until undergoing heart surgery. For all the years my grandparents lived with us, my grandpa never hesitated to drive my brother and me to school when my mom was unable to. Not a day passed without him saying, “Stay away from the boys.”
I always left him with a grin and replied,“Okay, Grandpa.”
Nothing made Grandpa happier than making his family happy. Once, while in the front yard with my friend, he asked me if I needed anything from Publix. I jokingly said, “Yeah, I want a cake with a cherry on top.” Sure enough, he returned with a miniature cake topped with a cherry clutched in his tan, leathery hands. He always looked out for his family, but suddenly that comfort vanished.
I last spoke to him over the phone before he went into surgery. He told me that after the operation, he’d come back a new man. I believed him then, and I wish it were true now.
When I found out his heart didn’t recover from treatment, I was in New York City on a school trip. I called my mom from the Metropolitan Museum gift shop to discuss gift options for my grandparents. When my mom answered, I immediately knew something was wrong, and it sounded like I wouldn’t need to send my grandpa a postcard.
I didn’t speak to my classmates about his death. I went to the Met steps and released my tears. For the remainder of the trip, I did everything in my power to keep my grandpa’s passing out of my thoughts. I bottled up my emotions, avoiding the situation.
When I arrived back in Tallahassee, I painfully croaked the news to my roommates and best friends. With most of my family living in the Northeast and in South Florida, I struggled to find consolation from others during my time of anguish.
In the midst of my schoolwork, properly mourning seemed impossible. I struggled to focus on my studies and my health slipped. I stopped exercising, consumed unhealthy food and found comfort at the bar. Before my grandpa passed, my daily routine involved coming home from class, eating a balanced lunch and running. After the tragedy, I would go home, snack and go to sleep. I also replaced my avid studying with drinking. My damaging mourning followed no method—it was just madness.
I cut my grieving time short because I told myself to move on, but this only led to further emotional destruction. Grieving takes time, and I thought I didn’t have enough of it.
Instead of finding healthy outlets to manage my melancholy, I practiced all the wrong methods. I knew deep down my grandpa disapproved of my new lifestyle, because he always wanted the best for me. He put his foot down to help me stay out of trouble, get good grades and develop a good character. After slipping deeper than I’d noticed, I finally realized that I needed to shape up to live a life he would want for me.
College may not seem the ideal setting to mourn a loved one. However, grieving in college gave me the opportunity to reflect on how I confront difficult situations. Instead of finding comfort in friends and family, I pushed the situation away. I know that death will always be present in my life, but now I’m more aware of how the devastation should be handled.
I heal a little more each day and find solace in remembrance of my grandpa. Looking back, I wish I had more time to mourn the best man I have ever met instead of rushing the process. The sadness of my grandpa’s death will never disappear; all I can do is continue to try to make him proud and continue to be the person he once knew.