October 22, 2008
By Alyssa Broin, Dell Rapids, SD

It started out just like any other morning: my alarm went off, I hit snooze a few times, and then laid there until I absolutely had to get up. There was only one thing that was different; my mom came into my room crying just as I was getting out of bed. I began to panic and wonder what was going on, but I didn’t have to wait long to find out.

“Your grandma died last night,” she said in between sobs.

A million thoughts ran through my mind. Which one? What happened? When is the funeral? It turned out she was from my dad’s side of the family, and that she and my grandpa had been on their way home from Arizona for my confirmation the upcoming weekend. Another thought entered my head as I tried to process what was going on: How is Dad holding up?

That morning was one of the toughest I’ve had in my sixteen years of life. Seeing my sister’s reaction when she found out and the confusion on my little brother’s face was not easy, but that wasn’t the worst part. What really gave me a tough time was the way my dad was acting; he was trying so hard to be strong for the rest of us that he wasn’t allowing his own feelings to show through, and I was sure there were plenty of those hidden away somewhere.

We went through with my confirmation as planned, and even had a few more family members show up than we originally intended, but all in all everything turned out to be okay. It was nice to be surrounded by loved ones in our time of need, no matter how close we were the rest of the time. Celebrating was really hard to do when everyone wanted to break down and cry (which did happen on a few occasions throughout the day), but the support of all my family and friends was incredible and helped me get through the occasion without crumbling completely.

The next day my entire family headed to Minnesota for the funeral, and although it is probably impossible to believe, everything got even harder to handle. My grandparents and I had not been on the best of terms for a while, and now I would never get the chance to tell my grandma how I felt and offer her the forgiveness I had finally decided she deserved. The evening of the wake I remembered what my pastor had told me the day he came to console our family, and I decided to do just what he had suggested. After thinking of this, I went upstairs to write her a final letter, hoping to find the closure I was searching for. I ended up letting my dad read it, and am still so glad I did. I really think it helped him realize how much pain I was feeling too, and he finally let go of the wall he had built up. This newfound sense of mutual loss brought us so much closer together, and even now, that is something I am very thankful for.

After recollecting ourselves, we all headed over to the funeral home to set up the pictures and mementos we had put together earlier in the day, and of course to see Grandma. Walking into the room where her body lay was probably one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. I had been to funerals before where I was too young to really remember any details, but now this was my own grandma. As my family and I neared the casket, my breath caught in my throat. I expected to see her lively face staring back at me, but what I saw was not what I had predicted at all. The body in the casket was not the lady who went to the store just to buy my favorite kind of bread when she knew I was coming, read me bedtime stories as a little girl, or taught me my first song on the piano. She was gone; this was just what she had left behind for us. Knowing it wasn’t her made the situation a little easier to cope with, but nothing at that point could erase the pain I was feeling.

The funeral took place the following day at the church where she had spent much of her life. Before leaving, I went upstairs to seal the letter in an envelope addressed to “Grandma” and carefully tucked it away in my purse for safekeeping. Dressed in our black attire, we proceeded to the cathedral basement to make small talk and accept all of the mourners’ condolences. After speaking with my uncle, my mom came over to tell my siblings and me that it was time to say goodbye to Grandma. The moment I had been dreading was finally here; they were going to close the casket and I would finally have to accept the fact that she was really gone.

Walking up those stairs, my feet felt heavy and my eyes welled with tears. Once the room came into site, I froze, unable to make a move. When I could finally bring myself to the place where she was laying, I gently took the letter out of my bag, and, with a final kiss, tucked it delicately under her arm. As I took a step back, two men came and closed the lid for the last time, sealing it up tight. It was time to say goodbye for real.

The service was the most difficult one I had ever attended, but also one of the most remarkable, even though I didn’t realize it at the time. My family came together in a way that I would have never expected before, and still kind of remains that way. I guess you could say my memories of that day are “bittersweet,” because, in a sense, we got something extraordinary from what started out as a terrible nightmare for all of us. I am very thankful for the closeness we have today; I just wish it could have come about a little differently.

Now things have gotten much easier, and I have finally figured out that life can still go on, even after something so dreadful. Nevertheless, I find myself thinking about her every now and then and remembering all of the good times we shared while she was alive. Even though my grandma is no longer here on Earth, she will always live on in my heart, and one day we will find each other again.

The author's comments:
This was honestly one of the toughest times I have ever experienced in my life. I had to go through with my confirmation, attend the funeral of a loved one, hear that my uncle from my mom's side of the family had suffered through a stroke, and still put on a happy face for prom the following weekend, all in one week. I had a lot thrown at me at the time and didn't know what to do with myself, but now I have realized that the hard times only make a person stronger. I really want whoever reads this to see that too.

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