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The Long Way Home: Grief Deferred and Acceptance Found

While I really wish that my ring had never fallen down the toilet to be lost in sewage-y oblivion, I'm grateful that I'll finally, once and for all, be able to properly say goodbye to my beloved Nonna.
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It's 6:30 on a Saturday morning, and I'm wide awake. I'd give anything to be asleep right now, but my brain won't allow it. My eyelids are filled with tears and my heart is filled with a heavy sorrow. My brain is still in denial about the facts of what happened last night... I accidentally flushed my grandmother's ring down the toilet, and now it's gone forever. And even though she died 16 years ago, suddenly I feel like I'm back at day one, laying at her bedside, watching her take her last breaths. The despair feels overwhelming and unbearable.


But I'm actually glad it's here. It's time. For the last 16 years I've been living in a state of perpetual denial about the loss of one of the most important people in my life. She was like my mother, my rock, an endless source of unconditional love and support, and incredible friend. I spent weekdays after school and most weekends at her house, a place that felt like home. Selflessly, she dedicated herself fully to me whenever I was in her presence. She showed genuine interest in everything I was doing, playing with, or wanted to talk about. I never felt like a nuisance and certainly never felt ignored. We would hold hands walking down the street, sing and dance together, do homework together, and at night when it was time to go to sleep I would snuggle up into bed between her and my grandfather feeling so safe and cared for. In the morning a grand breakfast always awaited, a tradition she continued until she was too weak from the cancer eating away at her body to cook. She was truly special woman and I feel so grateful to have been able to call her my "nonna."

But since she died, that day in May 1998, just two weeks before my high school graduation, I've never allowed myself to fully mourn her loss. Maybe I was too young, or maybe I just didn't know how, but when it came to letting myself feel the pain of her passing I was completely shut down. I didn't want to feel. I didn't want it to be real. And in some way I thought that if I never let myself feel the sadness about her death, perhaps it wouldn't be true. That maybe, just maybe, it would all be a bad dream and I would wake up one day to find that she was still there, quietly singing opera to me.

And then in a fluke accident I watched in slow motion as her ring slipped off my finger and into the toilet bowl. And before I even had a chance to think about it, "swoosh," the automatic flusher went off and it was gone. Completely lost forever. I started crying and I couldn't stop. I howled from deep down in my belly while gasping for air and collapsing to the floor. I felt like I'd just been hit by a truck. And it went on like this for hours. I soaked my pillow in tears as I retold stories of her love and brilliance to my fiance. My body was fatigued and my heart was aching but I finally managed to fall asleep.

When I woke up this morning, unable to sleep because of the knot in my stomach, I realized this unfortunate event happened for a reason. When that ring, which I had never taken off once for 16 years, slipped off my finger her death finally became real. I finally was able to feel everything I'd been pushing aside, avoiding, and storing up for years. I'm not going to lie, it's not pleasant. I feel tremendous grief. Feels like I'm moving through the world carrying a 100-pound weight on my back and my eyes feel like faucets with no stop function.

They say you move through five stages of grief when you experience loss. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Even though I am a therapist, who knows exceptionally well the necessity of allowing ourselves to feel sadness and process our losses, I've spent pretty much every day since she died stuck in denial. I can feel the anger now rumbling inside of me like a drum... how unfair it seems that she was taken from me so early, how upset I am that she won't be there on my wedding day. Next will come the bargaining about how we could have somehow caught the cancer sooner or found a way to extend her life. And then the deep deep sadness and longing for this person who changed my life forever. And finally acceptance about the reality that she is really gone and there is nothing left to do about it.

So while I really wish that my ring had never fallen down the toilet to be lost in sewage-y oblivion, I'm grateful that I'll finally, once and for all, be able to properly say goodbye to my beloved Nonna.