On death, dying, and grieving behind the city desk

It’s late on a Friday night, and I’m hiding behind the city desk in the Missourian newsroom.

I’m pretty much OK with that though, because right now I’m not quite sure where else I want to be.

My grandmother died yesterday, less than a week after I got the call that she was set to start receiving hospice care.

We knew it was coming, we just didn’t think it would come this fast. I guess maybe no one ever thinks that.

It’s strange, really. I’ve known people who have died before, but it’s never really come this close. It was always the relative I met that one time at that one wedding, or the person whose death I participate in from behind the city desk as I guide reporters through life stories. It was always at arm’s length.

It’s never been this close before, and I have no schema or concept of how to deal with it.

Sometimes I’m fine. I sat on the couch in my living room this morning and churned out 40 inches of copy. Then my dad called me to tell me when the funeral was, and I sat through a class where we watched a TV-show funeral. I had to talk to another professor about T.S. Eliot, and I couldn’t even get through enough words to fill a 10-minute conversation.

They told me to leave the Missourian before too late tonight, that I could push some of the later copy off until tomorrow. But honestly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to leave. Going home means crowds of people in my house watching movies, asking questions that feel a little too cheerful or asking me how I’m doing while expecting the answer to be generic but instead pushing me to reiterate the story yet again. And once the crowds are gone, it’s just me and my thoughts and a wall to stare at and wonder, even though I’m not really sure what I’d wonder about.

At least while I’m here, there’s the low-grade white noise of scanner chatter and the sports desk to keep my mind occupied, the methodicalness of editing that forces me to focus on the moment and not on everything else.

I guess you could say I’m buying myself time.

I was blessedly chided by one of my editors today into making sure I left town for the funeral, and I’m waiting on one last email confirmation that I could get a quiz moved so I could be there.

Because I need to be there. I need the closure. I need to put my family first. I need to feel all of the emotions.

And I will. I’ll go and I’ll sit through the funeral and I’ll eat sandwiches in the church basement and I’ll watch my family scatter her ashes. I’ll feel it and let it be real and probably cry at least a little bit. Maybe a lot, I don’t know. I don’t have much experience dealing with this. I’ll come home a different person because now I get it — why the obituaries we get at the Missourian never use the word “died,” why some people want to talk our ears off when we ask about their relatives and why others don’t want to talk at all. I’ll come home and pick up and move on and know that things will be different.

But for now, I’ll let the hum of the scanner and the strangely comforting sea-foam walls of the Missourian and the chatter coming from the photo bubble keep me company. Because there will be time for all of the feeling and the heaviness and the realizing that I didn’t know what death was until yesterday. There will be time for all of that. I will walk through it.

But there is still time. And right now, grieving just needs to look like hiding in the quiet of a late-night newsroom.

And that’s OK.

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One thought on “On death, dying, and grieving behind the city desk

  1. Oh Allie, this is so lovely. I have to tell you that I had an assignment for the DM Register that was due on Wednesday. When Grandma’s health problems started to escalate, I knew I should tell my editor what was going on, but I didn’t. He was a new client, and I didn’t want to let him down. I hoped Grandma would stabilize and get better again, the way she always has.

    I finally emailed him on Wednesday afternoon, saying that I’d had an unexpected family situation, asking for a little extension on the deadline. Through those hard hours on Thursday, knowing that the assignment was waiting forced me to hold it together. Like you, I didn’t expect it all to go this fast for Grandma. None of us did — except maybe Grandma, who was resolute and funny and at peace through it all.

    I turned the piece in on Thursday night at 11. It ran today, the same day as the obit, which I also wrote.

    Journalistic writing always has always felt like a privilege to me. I never really stop feeling owned by it and a little sick to my stomach by the responsibility of it. But this week, I also understood how thoroughly it has taught me, at a cell-deep level, to focus on a deadline, even when that means tucking away emotions and taking them out later, after the deadlines have been met.

    Travel safely. I love you.

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