It’s been nearly a year since I lost my Grandmother. She was my best friend and one of the greatest human beings I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I had a hard childhood, growing up in a deeply religious cult environment, with very little contact with the world outside of the religious group. My grandmother acted as one of the only buffers between me and the hostile queer experience. Her house became my safe haven. As soon as I could drive I would come up with any excuse to be there, and before long I was showing up there three or four days a week. I stayed with her over more than one college break when I had nowhere else to go. She always had an open door and a soda waiting. She listened, which was probably more important than anything else.
I could be me with her, even if I didn’t understand or have words for what being me meant yet. After I came out to my mother and was disowned, I will never forget the first phone call with my grandmother. I wasn’t sure how she would react, but the first thing out of her mouth when I answer the phone was, “So I hear I have another grandson now.” She never brought it up again, but she always got my pronouns correct and a few months later when opening Christmas gifts from her I found a pride ornament. She loved me no matter what. Something my mother will probably never do.
After the loss of my grandmother, I noticed my grief was different as an adult. This was the first huge loss of someone I loved beyond measure since I was nineteen when I lost my sister and father only a few months apart. It’s fourteen years and it’s an entirely different experience. I dealt with death too early, and after my sister killed herself I don’t remember feeling anything but profound loss. I didn’t bargain, or get angry. Well, I might have, but I was too far into deep spiraling depression to notice where my emotions were. Nothing mattered, and it’s the only time in my life that even my memory is a blur. Days and weeks blend together and I can remember almost nothing from that time.
With my grandmother, I’ve been mourning in stages. I know this is a thing the seven stages of grief and all but I don’t think I noticed it in myself until recently. I have been on a cycle throughout the last year and there are times I think I’m dealing with it well, and then other times I still reach for the phone to call her. I can’t cope with the loss some days and it’s debilitating. Most of the time my brain just doesn’t want to accept it. I think with this loss I spent more time in disbelieving shock than anything else. Like maybe, just maybe, if I didn’t focus on it, it wouldn’t be true. So I’ve put off the grief and put it off.
And here I am, days away from the year mark and I still just want to pick up the phone and call her. Maybe it’s harder because she was the last person in my family, my blood that I had a connection with, and the loss of that connection is bigger than just my grandmother. We are taught from a young age that blood is thicker than water, and your family always has your back, so many queer people, me included, have experienced the complete opposite. Our families reject us and do more damage than our enemies, leaving us with lasting scars. We have to create our own families and communities. I hear these stories time and time again and have bonded with so many people over our shared experiences of being cast out by our blood.
I’ve come to terms with what my mother believes me to be, but maybe that’s why my grandmother’s death is so much more, it’s like the death of my mother figure and my best friend rolled into one. I had not only unconditional love and acceptance from her, but profound wisdom that was seemingly overflowing and bottomless. I still have it. I carry the kindness my grandmother taught me every day. She made me a better person. A stronger person. I miss her constantly and I’m not sure it will ever wane.
J.R. Gray writes own voice books and other things about queer people that can be found here.