A Year Without My Grandmother: A Personal Journey Through Grief

I lost my grandmother –Emamaye– in January 2022. It was the first time I’ve experienced a loss so close to my heart and the news gutted me in ways I can’t even begin to explain. My grandmother was Everything to me!

I admired all things encompassing her character – She was fearless and unapologetically herself. Her energy lights up any room she walks in and she’d leave everyone in tears – with laughter – She was quite the comedian. To me , She was Love personified, and I undoubtedly knew with every fibre of my being that she loved me so deeply –  As do I.

The Heartbreaking News

I remember getting that dreadful phone call from 7, 500 miles away, and feeling so broken and numb; My world has just turned upside down.  My grandmother was a strong woman and although she was hospitalized for a couple of days prior to her passing, her death was very sudden and a shock to myself and the rest of the family. I rejected the news  and couldn’t come to terms with accepting this new reality. Doing so felt like a betrayal to the love I feel for her. Accepting her departure meant – making peace with the idea of not having to hear her voice ever again, not being able to hold her and tell her how much I love her. I needed her love, her jokes, her cooking, her light hearted nature – I need it all. I NEED HER!

In the days that followed I found myself struggling to process my emotions. Everything reminded me of her and all the things I no longer get to do with her. I felt confused, lost, and out of balance.The weight of no longer having my grandmother around was too heavy to carry. It didn’t take long before guilt was added to the list of emotions – I felt guilty for not having been there during her last moments, for not having spent more time with her (I could have said more / could have done more) the overwhelm of “could and should haves” was unbearable. I was angry at myself for not having done more!

Most of the days following my grandmother’s passing, I operated mainly on autopilot. I remember getting on a 23 hour flight from Vancouver – Toronto – Ethiopia and not being able to recall much of the journey. I was weak and trying to muster the strength not to collapse. A lot of my days were spent this way. However, I tried to remain strong for everyone else around me, especially my Mother.

Traveling to Ethiopia – Finding Comfort in Mourning

Arriving in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia was bitter sweet. I instantly felt closer to my grandmother, and at the same time the reality of her absence became too real.The journey from the airport to my grandmother’s place was agonizing. All I was thinking about was her face as she normally would stand by the door with open arms – usually with a spatula of sort in one hand – and part of me thought this could still be the case. Arriving at her place, I longed to smell the aroma of her cooking coming from the kitchen and her voice echoing from the coridors. Instead I was greeted with outbursts of loud cries from all corners of the house. I stood by the door feeling so empty without her. I hesitated to enter those doors and broke down to peices as soon as I did. I remember sobbing uncontrollably as all the emotions took over my body and I was no longer in control .It hit me all at once, The realization that my Emamaye is no longer here and life as I knew it will never be the same. I knew being here would entice a whole range of emotions but I could not have anticipated the gravity of it all. It was overwhelming.

Everything felt so heavy, but being in my grandmother’s home, surrounded by family, friends and all the people that love her was comforting in some ways. For the first time I felt like I was given permission to confront the reality of her no longer being here. And  through the unbelievable pouring of love and adoration people showed to her life, my spirit was lifted and I am proud to have been blessed to have her in my life for as long as I did.

My grandmother is a big part of who I am. She played such a major role in shaping my identity as a human being and a woman – but most  importantly as an Ethiopian Woman. My connection to this land, culture and everything I love about it is in direct correlation to my grandmother and who she was as an Ethiopian Woman. I am eternally grateful to her for having laid such a strong foundation for me.

Customs and Traditions – Honouring the Life that Was

In the Ethiopian tradition, Vigils are held over several days, months and every year following death. However the mourning process is ongoing, to give everyone an opportunity to mourn as they hear the news or as much as they desire. It’s normal for people to show up at the crack of dawn wailing loudly, singing melodies, and calling out names of the deceased. The culture has such unique and elaborate ways of honoring those that have passed on and respecting the timing and process of grief for the living. Although I am aware of these rituals, having to experience it first hand was quite a culture shock.. Having moved to Canada at a young age, I have become accustomed to the ways of the west. Grief is often dealt with behind closed doors and people are expected to bounce back very quickly and get on with their lives. Additionally, not much can be said as far as community support is concerned.

As a result, the consistent outpouring of emotions from others and unexpected visits from loved ones at odd hours of the day felt uncomfortable and quite overwhelming. However, it didn’t take long for me to adopt to this new way of being. The shared expression of grief felt liberating and I found so much comfort knowing that I am not alone in my sorrow.I was struck by the beauty and harmony of the cultural and religious customs and rituals associated with mourning. These elaborate expressions of deep grief helped me to understand that death is a natural part of life, and that the living must find ways to release the hold that death can have on us.

The rituals were not just about honoring the deceased, but also about cleansing the soul of the bitter and unpleasant tyrannies of grief.I am grateful for this experience, as it has helped me find a new path of honoring my grandmother’s life. It has allowed me to see that grief can be an opportunity for growth and healing, if we are open to the process. The act of mourning with others and embracing the customs and rituals of my culture has been a liberating and transformative experience, and I will always cherish the memories of my grandmother and the lessons I learned through these rituals.

Healing is an Ongoing Journey

Returning to my reality in Canada, and as time passes, I’ve come to realize that grief will continue to take on different shapes and forms and is here to stay for a while. The healing process takes time and it’s important to give ourselves the time and space we need to feel our emotions. I have come to terms with understand that sometimes I am just going to be sad, feel lost and won’t have all the answers. I am learning to be patient and find the balance I need to move forward. I am finding my balance and glimpses of Joy in continuing to honour my grandmother in some small ways.

My grandmother had a huge personality and a great sense of humour. In some ways it gives me comfort knowing she has blessed me with a bit of her comical nature. I recount her sayings, her jokes and some of her unique expressions often. Humor is what connects us and the very thing I love about her. I know she’s smiling at some of the silly jokes I share with her – I also love sharing stories of her with family members and friends, and I adore hearing the stories about the different roles she has played in their lives. This, along with reflecting on some of the lessons she’s taught me and the memories we’ve shared has helped me feel less lonely as I navigate the physical world without her.

Spiritually Connected

Since my grandmothers passing I often felt a sense of emptiness and longing. I knew she is with me in spirit but I wanted to feel her. Exactly a year after her passing and many prayers later, I have been granted my wish. God has blessed me with her warm presence in such a vivid way for the first time. I felt her radiant energy and I was fully embraced by her love once again. This spiritual connection ( knowing my grandmother is still with me in spirit) has brought me so much peace and given me the power to continue to seek the joys of life – I needed this gift-!

Aberash is her name  — in Amharic it translates as “The one that gives Light”. Thank you for giving me unconditional love in life, and I take great comfort in knowing that you will continue to be my guiding light from beyond.

– I Love You Emamaye –

You’re not Alone

It may not seem like it at the beginning, but better days are ahead. I am grateful for the support of family and friends as I navigated this difficult year in my life ; and If you are currently dealing with the loss of a loved one and grief is weighing heavily on your heart, please know that you’re not alone! I hope you find some comfort from this post as you navigate through your own journey to healing. May God keep you in his embrace and ease the pain in your heart.