A Grandparent’s New Normal

I’ve always heard there are moments that divide your life into two times: before and after. The day JFK was shot. The day the Twin Towers fell.

For me, that day was September 12, 2014. The day my granddaughter died.

Everything I was, and everything that made me, was shattered that afternoon. Swept away in one moment in a small room of the ER as the doctor tilted his head, clasped his hands together, looked me in the eye, and said softly, “We did everything we could, but I’m sorry. The baby didn’t make it.”

A wail rose in the room as his words hit home for all of us. Another grandmother fell to her knees. Her aunt folded in. I sat there, my entire body numb, and heard his words shout in my head over and over again until I fell forward and pressed my face into my hands to try and block it out.

The baby didn’t make it.

He gave us the details then; that the force of the impact had slammed her head into her car seat, knocking her unconscious immediately, and breaking her neck. No, she hadn’t been in any pain. No, she didn’t suffer at all. They were airlifting her mother to Savannah because her injuries were too extensive for their hospital. No, she didn’t know that her daughter was gone. I wanted all the details, to know exactly what had happened to steal my grandbaby away from me, but I also wanted him to just shut up, to stop saying those words…to stop making it real.

I walked through the next week like a zombie, my skin cold and numb. I felt as if I had taken drugs or drank myself into a stupor, but it was just the shock of grief. I kept telling myself that it would get better once we got past the funeral, once we were able to put Paisley and her mother to rest and learn how to live without them.

Once again, I was wrong.

The day after the funeral I was filled with so much rage that I sat in the back pew at church with my hand clenched in a fist, rapping it against my thigh. I wanted to break something, to hurt somebody, to do anything to funnel off some of the rage and helplessness that was warring inside me. Sundays were the day that Paisley and her parents came over for dinner, and, instead, I couldn’t close my eyes without seeing her in the pretty white and pink casket, curled up in her mother’s arms.

After the rage died down for the moment, though it still returns even a year later, the bafflement set in. How could this be happening? People aren’t supposed to bury their grandchildren. Not when they’re 16 months old and absolutely perfect. Not when they are so small and sweet and pure. Not ever. It was so ridiculous I could almost laugh sometimes. It was like a bad movie that I couldn’t get out of. My granddaughter was gone, and I had never once contemplated living in this world without her.

People tell you that it gets better, that one day you’ll be happy again. In a way they’re right, but at the same time, they are so very wrong. It isn’t better, or easier one year down the road. It has just become my new reality that I’ve been forced to accept. I still live my life. I still work, and read, and cook, and go to church, and spend time with family. But the pain of not having Paisley is a shadow on even the brightest of days. And there are harsh reminders everywhere. Fall means the first day of school that she will never have, and Halloween costumes she will never wear. A little girl with long hair in a braid is an image she will never be. I will never get to take her for pedicures and lunches like I had planned, or spend too much money on her at Christmas. I won’t ever go to Grandparent’s Day at school and have breakfast with her, or pin her artwork to my fridge with a magnet. When a child dies, you don’t just lose the child. You lose the first wiggly tooth, and the first scored goal, and the proud graduate. You lose a piece of your family and a piece of your heart.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of Paisley. Sometimes she is the first thing I think of when I open my eyes and the last thing I think of when I close them at night. Sometimes I imagine I can hear her tiny footsteps in my hallway, or that I can feel her small body pressed into mine as we snuggle on the couch. There are days that I am able to block away most of the pain, and enjoy my day… laughing, and smiling, and making new memories. But the pain is always there, like a broken rib that nobody can see, but that I can feel with every breath.

If there is a better or an easier way, I haven’t found it yet. I have just found this new life I am forced to live in, one where my granddaughter is nothing but a treasured memory that I carry with me everywhere. I once read the phrase ‘it broke my heart into more pieces than it was made of.’ I think that sums up the pain better than anything else I have read. It crushed my heart into splinters, and even now that I’ve tried to pick up the pieces and put them back together, it is no longer what it was before. My life was forever altered on the day Paisley died, twisted into something I would have never imagined, into something I don’t like, but have to live.

There are some wounds that people carry on their souls that are too deep and raw to ever fully heal. The loss of a grandchild is one of them. Those of us who are unlucky enough to be in this club understand that. There is no judgment over angry words or days where you can barely function. There is no condemnation of ‘You should be getting over it by now’ or ‘You really need to move on.’ We are allies in this same war and know there is no getting over it or moving on.

There is just us and our new normal.




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Comments (1)

  • My new TCF friends were always there, for a hug, to just listen and let me talk about Darren, to laugh or cry. Time does heal, but it’s been the support, love and empathy from my friends at The Compassionate Friends, that got me through the first two most difficult years. It’s now been rs and I still feel loved, supported and understood by the people who unfortunately suffered like me. Knowing each other gave us strength and the courage to find a life again.

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