How Do I Cope?

I don’t know how to handle the death of someone that you weren’t really that close to. Sometimes I feel as though I don’t have the right to be sad about it. My aunt and I were never super close. From the time I was a child I always felt that her and my grandmother favored my older and younger cousin more. It made me understand the “middle child syndrome” all too well even though I’m an only child. I was/am often the one that was left out or forgotten about, but that’s all I’ve ever known. Even with all that said she never got a chance to have children and we were the next best thing. I will admit that being treated as the black sheep I harbored some resentment towards this side of my family. I didn’t feel the need to care about a group of people who I thought cared very little about me.
       During the last few months of her life we still never became too close, but I felt like I got a chance to understand her more than I had my entire life. I was shocked to find that underneath it all we had a lot more in common than I realized. The last few months of her life was spent in and out of hospitals until the week after Thanksgiving where she never got to go back home. All that time I was at the hospital almost everyday along with my mother. I saw how much our lives paralleled while being complete opposites. We both had meddling mothers who meant well, but will drive the most patient person fucking insane. Most days would be laughs because at some point my grandmother would say something completely redundant or simple and my aunt would look at me and say “You see what I deal with everyday?” All I would do is laugh, point to my mother and say “Same thing.” In between these days of laughter would come the occasion days where she’d be completely silent. For months doctors told her there wasn’t anything more they could do and some days I could tell those words probably swirled around in her head repeatedly. I’m never the optimistic person, but I always hoped something would turn for the better. Because of my mindset I never fully understood why other family members wore long faces. I reminded them that they were the ones who were religious. They should be the ones with the hope yet I felt like I was on that hope cloud alone.
         Everyday I went to the hospital I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. Even if I didn’t say much, which I never do, I couldn’t imagine not being there as some sort of support. For the last week or more that she was in the hospital her health as well as her spirit declined. She was diagnosed March of 2013 and the whole time she fought hard, but those last weeks she kept saying that she was just tired. I can only imagine. I watched as the lower half of her body swelled to almost twice her usual size. I still stayed hopeful. Soon representatives spoke of hospice and everyone was in my ear telling me that hospice meant death. Still I remained hopeful. Looking back I’m not sure if I was hopeful or just in denial. Before the talk of hospice she once mentioned that she wished she could see her home one last time. My heart broke. This was a simple wish that most people don’t even have to worry about. She was soon moved to hospice where she started off energetic and again I was hopeful she’d be home in a weeks time. That was the plan after all. After about 4 days in hospice she became unresponsive. She was breathing and would move every now and again, but couldn’t talk, and her body temp was burning hot. I was still hopeful until nurses told us that when patients usually become that hot it was because their brain was shutting down. That was a hard blow. Just days ago she was joking and walking around and now this.
        On the morning she died my mother and I went to the house my aunt shared with my grandma to grab her some clothes so she could stay by my aunt’s side. While there I made it a point to take pictures of every room in the house. When we arrived to her bedside I showed her the pictures on my phone not knowing if she could see them or not. I told her “I know you said you wanted to see home one last time and I’m sorry that this is only as close as I can get you there.” Later that afternoon my younger cousin flew in from out of town. My grandma, uncle, and I drove to the airport to get her (which was pretty far from hospice). The moment we all walked back into her room my aunt took her last breath. It was like something out of a movie where we got there just in time. It was unreal to see someone who had just taken their last breath and see almost immediately their color leave their body. I didn’t know how to react. Even though this was an event we all knew was coming I never thought it would actually happen.
        I tried to keep the sadness inside, but I completely broke. Crying is something I never do in public even though I’d label myself a very sensitive and emotional person. I hadn’t grown up around emotion. I often identify with the age old “men aren’t supposed to cry” saying because even as a woman, although it wasn’t said I felt like I had to hide my sensitivity. One of my early memories as a child was watching “The Land Before Time” with my parents and weeping when Littlefoot’s mom died. I’ll never forget my mom looking at me and in jest said “Are you really crying?” From that moment on whenever I felt emotion rush over me in public I sucked it up and tucked it down deep. That’s why the death of my aunt has me in a sort of depression. The night she passed I literally couldn’t sleep. All I saw when my eyes closed was her lifeless body. My family looked at me like I was strange when I told them. It seems as though they should’ve understood what I was feeling, but no. I can’t really cry about it. So I ask, how do you cope? How do you grieve for someone who you didn’t have a close bond with and at one point was certain didn’t care about you? I’m sure that’s all in my head, but it doesn’t make the feeling go away.
        The day of her memorial service I was certain that I would be fine. We all decided cremation was better (and cheaper since she didn’t have life insurance) so I didn’t have to stare at a box with my aunt lying in it. Halfway through the service I was okay, but one of my aunt’s close friends got up and sang a gospel song called “I Won’t Complain” which was fitting since my aunt hardly complained during her illness. The power of this woman’s voice and the words made me break slowly and once I saw my younger cousin crying I held her and just wailed. I couldn’t hold it any longer. I didn’t realize how loud I must’ve been, but I couldn’t stop. Moments later I looked up and saw my family, who were also crying, give me that weird look. Wipe my tears, suck it up, and push it down deep. Nothing needed to be said all I needed were the stares that made me feel so small and out of place.
        When the service was over the packed church went into the dining hall to eat and catch up with long lost family and friends. When most people had eaten and gone the weeks events kept replaying in my head and I felt scared, alone, and down. Another old friend/client of my aunt (my aunt was a well known hair stylist in the area), who hadn’t had a chance to catch up with me because of all the chaos, told me of a conversation she had with my aunt years ago about me. She told me of a time where my aunt was trying to do something for me but couldn’t remember what and said my aunt told her “Asia doesn’t want for anything so if this is what she wants I’m gonna make sure she gets it.” I started to remember what she was most likely talking about. When I was trying to move to Chicago in 2008 I couldn’t find an apartment because I really didn’t have any credit established nor a job (I was relocating to go to Columbia College) and everyone wanted a cosigner. I had asked her since no one else in my family was able to. I started to cry all over again. Here, I thought she favored my other cousins over me and didn’t think of me at all. Mostly I cried because she recognized that I never asked anyone for anything yet most people accuse me of being a spoiled brat. I’m someone who tries to do things for herself and doesn’t like to bug anyone for help (Hell, I lost my apartment in Chicago 2012, because I wanted to handle it on my own like an adult should. That;s how I am). She acknowledged that. I’ve waited all of my life for someone to see that and now it’s too late for me to thank her for seeing that I’m not some arrogant brat. As my eyes welled up I saw my mom just look at me. It wasn’t a look of “Are you crying again?” it was just the fact that she just looked at me then turned back around to continue her conversation with someone. So here I was alone and feeling horrible thinking that maybe I shouldn’t be this emotional. Again, we weren’t close so why would I feel this strongly about her… but I did and I felt alone in it. I still feel alone in it.
       In the weeks since her passing I’ve mentioned to my mom and grandma to seek grief counseling, although my younger cousin and I have said to them for years they need some type of therapy. I still urge so that possibly they can process these emotions openly without feeling like they have to have a guard up. Every weekend since my aunt has passed my mom and I stay with my grandma. One Sunday on the drive back home my mom broke down and said that she hated to leave my grandma alone. I didn’t know how to handle it. I never see her cry other than funerals and if I cry I’m given looks like I’m an alien so naturally when she cries I feel extremely uncomfortable. The only thing I can do is talk calmly and logically as far as comforting, that idea is foreign to me when it comes to my family. 
        I feel like I’m grieving in installments. I do it alone in my room and let you all in social media land into my feelings because I know someone out there will understand. When I enter the world I keep it tucked away. I don’t like it, but it’s what I know. No one has ever told me that crying is weak, but I have always been an observant person who doesn’t need to be told anything. I can see it all in a persons facial expressions and body language. These things and never seeing the people closest to me be emotional has told me that crying is something not done in public. You have a society out there that tells men that crying is weak, but what about women like me who have been brought up like that? I’m probably the softest person you will ever meet with the toughest exterior to get through. I’m grieving but I have a nagging feeling that tells me I shouldn’t be.

-Asia Aneka Anderson
Tumblr: AsiaWrites

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