Good Grief, Leah Royster: A Reflection of my Grieving Process and Journey Part 1

Phase 1: Anticipation and Denial

My Gorgeous Grandmother, Montie Neblett

**If anyone has a prayer request or is grieving and could use an outlet to share their healing process you can email me at godlyandgaptoothed@gmail.com . Peace and blessings!

“She won’t take her medicine, eat and she’s been fighting the hospital staff” I said in an exasperated tone to my therapist on a chilly, gray January afternoon. 

My therapist paused and said, “What does that suggest to you, Leah?” 

“I’m not sure”. I said quietly, even though I knew exactly where my therapist was headed and I was determined to try to stop the freight train sized words that were to come next. 

“It suggests that she’s done. If she’s not fighting to live, then she’s fighting for the right to die, to move on”. My therapist continued, “ You have to make sure you do everything you can to make peace with your grandmother’s transition. Think about what you need to have closure”. 

Let’s rewind. 

My grandmother, Montie Neblett, passed away February 7th of this year. Rewind further; on December 29th, 2021, my grandmother called my mother’s house number; lately she refused to get out of bed, wouldn’t eat or drink, and weighed 82 pounds. I happened to answer the phone and was glad to hear her voice. Looking back, she sounded weak and fragile; I asked her how she was doing; the conversation was brief and the last thing she said to me was : “I’m going to get up because I have to poop”.  I told her to be careful going to the bathroom. I’m not sure if I told her I loved her.  

Part of me wonders if I should have called my aunt Emma, whom my grandmother was living with before she passed, to make sure grandma was ok going to the bathroom.  

Later that evening, around 9 PM, Aunt Emma called. “Grandma had a fall, we’re at the hospital right now”. 

The 6 and half weeks between grandma’s fall and her passing were the cliche blur everyone talks about after a traumatic, life changing experience. Grandma ended up breaking her hip, requiring surgery, survived the surgery, but declined shortly after she started physical therapy at the nursing home. 

After the conversation with my therapist (the first Monday in January), I retreated into the “denial” phase of letting go of a loved one. I didn’t call to check in about grandma. I didn’t pick up the phone when my mom called because I anticipated the news that wasn’t too far off. I thought to myself, “Mom would text me to call her immediately if something was wrong”. 

Perhaps I unconsciously let go of my grandmother during that period between December 29th, 2021 until February 7th. Maybe I was upset with her for letting herself decline so quickly, refusing to eat, or fight for her life. I expected her to be around forever or at least to 100. Then I’d be ready to let her go. 

Phase 2 : Grieving and Guilt

The day after Grandma passed, I went to work. The whole day I waded through reality and an awkward dream-like state. I taught, smiled and laughed with students, and went to staff meetings. The first day of the grieving process is numb; you understand the person is gone, but not all of you has processed the implications, the loss, the void in your life. 

The second day was the hardest. The night before I sent an email to my co-teachers, principal and other support staff explaining the situation. The email was matter of fact, to the point.  Next day, I received multiple condolences from the colleagues that knew. I cried a few times in the back of my classroom, but immediately painted on  a huge smile once students started filing into the room. I didn’t tell them my grandmother died and as far as they knew, the day was a regular instructional day. 

Another blurry sequence of events followed before, during and after the funeral. The flight to Greensboro, North Carolina (God blessed me with a cheap price. 183.00 round trip to NC!). Seeing my grandma’s sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles and of course my mother. I hate the idea of funerals and witnessing grief up close. Crying and emotion triggers major discomfort for a multitude of reasons, which is why I avoided funerals in the past. 

The most tense moment happened during the funeral procession. Last time I saw grandma, she appeared chipper and eager to visit her house in Florida. My chest constricted the closer I approached her casket. She looked like one of those wax figures from Madame Tussaud’s. Artificial. In some ways seeing her so unlike how she looked made her transition easier. That wasn’t grandma Montie. I pictured her lounging in one of her long, silky,  nightgowns watching the news. 

I said a few words in honor of her. Listened to the sobs of my mother and my grandmother’s sisters. My cousin, who is a pastor, delivered the eulogy. We had the repasse. Went back to my Aunt Emma’s house to reminisce. I stayed in grandma’s room, the same room where she made her transition. There was a rose scented candle that had been burning for 3 straight days. I remember mom whispering “Is that you mommy?”  The superbowl was that Sunday and while my cousin watched the game, I excused myself, went to the guest room and let out a series of sobs. I think I cried more that weekend of the funeral than I cried in years. 

After I returned to New York the onslaught of guilt rushed at me like a stampede. What if I called her more? Why didn’t I visit her during her final days? I thought of every missed call from her and all the time I thought “I’ll call her back” and never did. All the times I was annoyed with her.  All the times I said things out of anger. The times I forgot to send her a birthday or Christmas gift. All the times I forgot to say “I love you”. 

Then there were random moments of grief. One afternoon in March, I went to get a slice of pizza. Instead of ordering the rectangular slice, I asked the cashier about the square slice with basil. He said “Oh, that’s our grandma’s slice”. Cue the tears. On the subway I saw an advertisement about a new food delivery app. The slogan: “Delivering soup as good a grandma’s”. During Mother’s Day season, I walked into Target and immediately saw a journal titled “Grandma tell me your story”. A commercial with a grandmother and her granddaughter solving a mystery. All blatant reminders of the permanent hole in my life. 

Then there’s the fact I moved up the ladder in my family. Grandma was my last living grandparent and now it’s mom, then me. Seeing mom grieve, settle grandma’s estate, close out her bank accounts, cancel her cell phone service, make arrangements to bring grandma’s body to be buried in Florida became a grim preview of what I’ll have to experience in the future. 

Grandma’s resting place in Florida

Phase 3: How I’m coping and what helps me cope.

My therapist stressed to grieve in a way that’s healthy. One point she made stuck with me; “Leah, your grandma passed with dignity. She decided she was ready to transition and did so on her own terms”. 

Grandma left this life at 93. Saw 5 generations of grandchildren. Transitioned in a warm bed Peacefully. 

People are right when they say grief comes in waves. Some days I am smiling, blissful and then something random will remind me of grandma and I’ll start to tear up. 

Only this time I let the tears come. I lean on the Lord. Prayer and journaling have been a tremendous support. Scriptures such as Psalm 34:18: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” and Matthew 5:6 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” solidify that God is carrying me through this grief journey. 

I watch old sitcoms my grandma used to watch. When we went to her house in Florida, I grabbed some of her nightgowns she wore most often, a picture nestled in a gold heart shaped frame of her and grandpa, and her pink slippers. Having reminders of her helps me feel her essence, a piece of her still here. 

Then I enjoy my life. I reach out to family and friends more often. Plan picnics on sunny days. Travel. Take walks in parks. Sit by a body of water and breathe in the fresh air. Celebrate every birthday, every milestone and every achievement. 

James 4: 14 tells us unabashedly (gotta love the pragamicity of the book of James)  “yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are but a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (English Standard Version). 

Somber as this sounds, I’m inspired to live the abundant life God has given me. Whether I live for another sixty years of if my time is up tomorrow, I want to know that I honored and embraced life. Loved others like Jesus loved. Gave. Supported. Comforted. 

If anyone is grieving a loss of a loved one, I am definitely praying for you! Everyone will experience loss and grieve. And there’s comfort knowing we all go through a shared experience. I’m grateful for grief; it’s a little reminder that we know how to love. One of the most profound lines about grief came from a Marvel TV series called Wandavision (Disney, 2021). One of the characters says “What is grief, but love persevering” (now I dare anyone to tell me Marvel has no substance after that brilliant line). The love I have for Grandma Montie remains. The memories. The laughs. The legacy. 

I am grateful for everything she taught me. Grateful I had her for almost 33 years of my life. Grateful she’s earned her rest. And grateful I get to continue to live to make her proud. 

I’ll always be grandma’s girl. 

With Love, 

  Leah

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