Two weeks ago, my grandmother passed away. I was in my apartment making a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner when I got the call from my mom. As I hung up the phone, my appetite vanished, and I couldn’t even smell the bread toasting in the pan anymore. The only thing I could think of doing with myself at that moment was to turn off the burner, leave everything exactly where it was (even my sandwich), and go for a walk so I could think.
[bf_image id="qb3o05-83ppq8-5feake"] Within my first few steps, my thoughts were already a blur. Memories of all the afternoons I spent at my grandmother's house after school suddenly came pouring back. They felt so tangible and fresh in my mind that I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that she was gone. At the same time, these memories all took place in my home and with my family, who were presently about 1,500 miles away from me. I felt far away and completely disconnected from what my family was going through— like all this wasn’t real simply because I wasn’t home to witness it. Amongst all of these overwhelming thoughts, one kept repeating itself over and over in my head: I can’t come home to my family.
As I kept walking, I zeroed in on this thought. To travel home, I would have to quarantine for two weeks the minute I step off my plane at Miami International Airport. Plus, the risk of infecting my family (especially my immunosuppressed father) by taking a plane home was just too high. COVID-19 made going home completely unfeasible. This, above everything else that I was thinking, broke my heart the most. All I wanted was to be WITH my family and to be there FOR my family. I rounded the corner to get back into my apartment and I just felt so helpless and frustrated.
I made it to my doorstep, but something stopped me. I didn’t want to go back inside. So much had changed so quickly, and I wasn’t ready to face the reality of my apartment, where everything was right where I had left it. I needed more time to process, so I walked across the street to Marsh Chapel. My parents were in church when they called me to tell me the news, so it only made sense to go to a church myself, even if it was just to feel closer to them. The doors of Marsh Chapel were locked, but I sat on the steps and watched the train go by as I contemplated what not being able to go home meant.
Physically, I could not be there for my mom or my sister, who were probably the saddest because they were the closest to my grandmother. I also couldn’t come home for the funeral, so I would not be able to say goodbye to my grandmother and gain some closure on her passing. Lastly, my gut was telling me that the place I should be is home, sitting in the late summer warmth of my backyard, laughing about the ways my grandmother used to cause trouble at her nursing home. But then, the strangest thing happened. Sitting outside Marsh Chapel, thinking about the happy memories with my grandmother and the rest of my family, I was kind of transported home. I realized it was warm outside, just like it probably was in my backyard.
Moments later, my dad called me back and while talking to my entire family on speakerphone, I felt like I wasn’t so far away anymore. There we were, the four of us sitting on the steps of a church, holding onto each other when things got hard. Just like we always have. Something about finding a physical place that reminded me of my family brought me the emotional closeness that my gut was telling me I needed. Home was far away, but the feeling of home I got that night was only a block and phone call away from my front door.
[bf_image id="q8ug58-7x30d4-up9y6"] The next few hours unfolded much faster after that. A good friend came to check on me (from six feet away). We just sat outside my apartment and talked until one in the morning. They even laughed with me when I told them the story of the time my grandmother roasted my uncle at his wedding. Knowing that I had a support system of friends at school who were by my side to comfort me when I needed them made me feel sure about staying. They could never replace my family, but because of them, I knew I would never truly be alone when I was away from home. Finally, I faced my apartment. By that point my grilled cheese was cold, but I ate it anyway. My life had to go on, after all. I fell into my nighttime routine and the familiarity of it all was comforting. As I closed my eyes, I still felt sad, but I knew everything would be okay. I was right where I needed to be; at school, in my routine, and with friends who cared about me.
My walk that night became the model for how I coped with the grief of losing my grandmother. Not being able to say goodbye to her in person was hard, but I knew I could always walk to Marsh Chapel, call my family, or spend time with close friends to feel like I was home. Throughout it all, my routine kept me afloat and provided a productive distraction that kept me from getting too stressed about not being able to return home.
Losing a loved one without being able to return home was extremely hard. But having a support system was key for getting through it.