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Dealing with loss from a distance

I spent the past few days fumbling for an idea for my column, Good Morning Miami, and completely blanked. I wasn't in a social commentary mood, and I wasn't in a happy, advice-giving mood either. I wanted to just pick a random topic and write. But, as a journalist, I didn't think that would be fair.

I shouldn't ignore my personal circumstances and pen a piece about student life or politics when, really, those are the last things on my mind.

So, this week, I removed "GMM" from the title out of respect for the topic, and chose to write about something personal that I'm still working through.

It was Tuesday, April 9, but I couldn't tell you what the weather was like.

That day is a blur, and one I still haven't processed. I declined a phone call from my dad at 9:24 a.m., one minute before my psychology research methods class ended. Then, I received a text message from my mom at 9:25 a.m. asking me to call her.

It was during that phone call, five hours away from my family, that I learned my grandfather had passed away.

I knew he'd been sick for a while, but I wasn't expecting him to go so soon. After hanging up the phone, I wandered around campus for a while, grateful for the hat that hid the tears dripping from my eyes.

I went to class because I didn't know where else to go.

I spoke about seven words during the 90 minute class, but the familiarity of the classroom comforted me. Sitting with my classmates and listening to them talk silenced the countless thoughts racing through my mind.

I've studied grief and loss in my psychology classes, but reading definitions on a textbook page does not prepare you for the unpredictability and instability of your emotions. I spent Tuesday afternoon writing a tribute to my grandpa, but I couldn't get myself to finish it.

I told a few close friends at first, all of whom offered condolences and were willing to help me in any way possible. I'm very grateful to all of them, because they made being alone in Oxford bearable.

One of my best friends offered to get dinner with me Tuesday evening, and we spent three hours talking and laughing. We talked about my grandpa a little bit, but she said she knew talking about it too much would make me more upset, so we settled on Midwestern jokes and our Italian families.

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In the past couple weeks, as I've attempted to deal with loss, I've learned that distractions are invaluable. For a few days, I channeled nearly all my mental energy into not thinking about the situation because I didn't want to confront it alone.

But driving home for the services on Thursday afternoon, after holding it at arm's length for a few days, hit me. I could hardly drive as tears blurred the cars ahead of me.

I could not, and still cannot, imagine life without my grandpa, or as my siblings and I called him, "Papa." He was one of the most supportive people I've ever known, and he believed that I could do anything. I don't know where it came from, but since I was five years old, he'd tell me that I could be president.

He was so incredibly proud that I went to Miami. He'd affectionately call me "The Emerson Kid," a play on my name and the dorm I lived in first year.

I know I'm not alone in losing a relative or a friend while away at school, and I also know that it's impossible to face something like this alone. Surrounding myself with family and friends allowed me to take the steps to start working through this sadness and keep going.

The last time I talked to my grandpa, we FaceTimed and he got to see my dorm room for the first time. Later in the conversation he smiled and told me, "Oh, I'm always proud of you, Emily." I think about that conversation now with tears in my eyes because I'm going to miss his positive spirit, his generosity and his love more than anything.

And Papa, I just wanted to say I miss you and thank you, for everything.