This past weekend, I learned that my estranged grandmother died. It had been a few years since I had spoken to her, and while I knew this day would come, I never exactly knew how I’d feel when the day actually arrived. Honestly, the moment I heard the news, I felt a bit of shock and didn’t know how to feel in that moment.
Was I allowed to feel sadness or pain given that I had chosen to remove this family from my life? I felt so overwhelmed, I ended up googling “how to grieve the death of an estranged family member” but nothing came up that suited what was going on inside me. I felt consumed by all the memories shooting out into my brain. Most of them, almost all of them, were not happy ones either. I realized after my mother passed away a few years ago that there isn’t a rule book on how to grieve and this was just another example of that.
I felt sadness. Sadness for what was and what I wish could have been.
I felt guilt. Was I a bad person for keeping to myself knowing this news? For not reaching out to my paternal family to express my condolences?
I felt anger that this is the situation they all put me in in the first place, that I even have to question myself about this. They were the ones who harmed me, why did I have to second guess myself at all?
I felt wonder. How did she die? Did she feel pain, was she surrounded by love of any kind?
I felt peace. The door had closed. It was a closure of some sort that a traumatic part of my childhood was moving on to another journey.
I felt hope. All I ever wished for her was that the anger and pain she carried could leave her, and I hope this transition brought her just that.
There were so many big and difficult feelings, but I guess what I realized is that I just needed to feel them. Express them. Say them out loud and release them.
I think the difference between this and all the other articles I read about grieving estranged family members is that I had been grieving this loss for many many years.
I went through the stages of grief after I let them go from my life, almost as if it were already a death. I felt all the feelings I’m feeling now, but honestly, it felt 50 times more intense, because I had to make a choice. When someone dies, the choice is made for you.
I realize what I was searching for when looking this up on the internet was someone to tell me it was okay. It’s okay to feel whatever I felt even if I was removed from that person’s life, for however long it was. Whatever way I needed to grieve was 100 percent appropriate for me and that’s it.
I can be sad or angry. I could feel nothing at all. None of that makes me a bad person, it makes me a human. Death is the end of something, and sometimes the end of something that just never lived up to what you needed it to be. What you wished it could have been.
I guess the intent of this is to remind anyone else reading this that you didn’t do anything wrong by making the choices or decisions you made to save yourself or your family. I constantly have to remind myself of this because of the shame I felt for so long, knowing other people only knew one side of my story. It doesn’t matter what they know. All that matters is what you know. What you feel. What you need. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.
So here I am, grieving the loss of someone who was a major part of my childhood, who hurt me in so many ways, but who was still a part of me. All I can do now is feel that sadness for her and allow myself to feel anything else that comes with it because I can. Because that’s what I need at this moment, right now. Because I deserve that safe space. And that’s all that really matters.