Our theme for the month of October is “This Day in History.”
The few mornings immediately after something terrible has happened almost feel worse than the actual event. You wake up first thing in the morning (if you were lucky enough to sleep), and the first moments of consciousness find you blissfully unaware that anything is wrong. That everything is wrong. You might notice the birds chirping, how comfortable your blanket is, the sun peeking through your blackout curtains.
And then your stomach drops, and reality comes crashing down. That breakup really did happen, you really did lose your job, that person you loved really is gone.
On October 13, 2016, I woke up in a peaceful quiet in my college house. It didn’t take long for me to remember the phone conversation I’d had with my parents the night before. I could still hear the break in my dad’s voice when he told me the news, and the gut punch it delivered to me 500 miles away. Even though it was a beautiful fall day in Michigan, all I wanted was to be home.
My grandfather passed away on October 12, 2016 from pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer is a quick-moving illness, so we didn’t have much time after he was diagnosed. He wasted no time selling their house, downsizing and remodeling a condominium for my grandma, ensuring she wouldn’t have to handle any of that transition on her own. He kept going until he was physically unable, working to make sure his family would be okay. He spent precious final days with us.
I still feel the pain of missing him each Christmas, every time I write a piece I think he would enjoy, and whenever we visit Sanibel Island—a place I always remember him being at peace.
A few years later in October, I said goodbye to my childhood dog who was also dying of cancer. Sixteen years of Scout’s baby bark (he never quite grew out of his puppy voice), his demand for popcorn and chicken, and his insistence on sleeping on my bed.
Two of my most favorite beings, lost in the same season, on almost the same day. Autumn is always inherently nostalgic for me, but these losses make it even more so. The changing leaves are a reminder that nothing is permanently with us, unfortunately including the people and animals we love so dearly. Change can be beautiful, but the cutting wind of crisp fall mornings reminds me it can also be painful and chilling.
One of my favorite songs about grief is called Glitter by Patrick Droney. He sings, “Grief is just like glitter, it’s hard to brush away. Bright light and it still shimmers, like it was yesterday.” The problem is, you never know when the light will hit you again—it’s impossible to predict when the next wave of grief will crash.
But in the bridge of the song Patrick sings, “But no one really dies if the love remains, ‘Cause nothing that dies really goes away.” Every October I will remember Grandbob’s fried chicken, his sacrifice for his family and his community, him always telling me he loved me. I’ll remember Scout’s baby bark demanding to be held and the joy he brought my family—and I’ll feel the heartbreak all over again. But I’ll also feel grateful. It’s never enough time, but the time we had was so precious, and grief is holding those two realities at once.
Olivia graduated from Calvin in May 2018 with a double major in business and writing. She now works as an editor in Nashville, Tennessee and is eating her way through the restaurants of her new town. She enjoys weekend trips with friends, petting other people’s dogs, and drinking coffee like a Gilmore Girl.