My honest advice is; Don’t. If at all possible, find your support system and cling on to them in moments of despair. Find your curated family and surround yourself with them. But if you must, here’s some insight on how I’ve navigated two family deaths while being nearly 3,000 miles away from loved ones and day ones.
I was at work, December 18th, 2018 when I got a call from my brother. My grandmother who had been very ill, with a breathing tube in her neck, barely able to mouth the words I love you, had just passed. It was not even a week before I got back from NY to LA from visiting family, and seeing her for what I knew was the last time. Abuela took care of me for the first few years of life. My mother was always in the picture, and I eventually went to live with her permanently, but to keep things cordial between my father and mother I stayed with my dad, and my brother went with my mom. I think this is why I have such a deep connection and yearning to my Dominican side regardless of growing up with pupusas y frijoles con tortillas for any and every meal.
When I initially got the call I quickly went to the boardroom waiting to hear what family drama my brother was going to fill me in now, instead, a heavy stream of tears ran down my cheeks like an ever-flowing fountain. I stayed in my boss’s office until my coworker grabbed her out of a meeting to speak to me because of an emergency. She found me, tissues balled up, and my coworker sitting beside me in silence. After some consoling, she asked if I wanted to go home. I quickly said no, and as the wonderful woman she is, she asked again, making sure that I knew I had the option to leave at my own will if I wanted to. I thanked her and mentioned that I had no one to go home to, so I’d much rather be in a place where I could escape for a bit. After a moment to catch my breath and dry my eyes, I went back to my office where I shared it with other coworkers and executives, and silently went back to work.
I got home that day, and though my memory does not serve me well after the news, I’m sure I went to my room, not having mentioned a single thing that happened to my roommates, and went about my night. That’s how I mourned 12/18/18.
The second time around, I’m on the road, on the way to a tattoo appointment I was quite eager to go to, having waited months to get a new little piece of art added to me. After having what felt like the longest shoot week of my career, I remember that my mom and I haven’t spoken, which is an at minimum weekly ritual, so I give her a call on the way there. She sounds quiet, which usually means repetitive family issues. It’s a routine, moppy mom says everything’s fine, I ask are you sure, she says yes. I ask one more time, and then the floodgates are open to every little thing that was bothering her, and I suddenly become a Moleskin to my mother’s grievances. I’m used to it, for the most part. So when I cue up to ask her the second time, I get an unexpected “No te dado cuenta que tu Tia Lilian muero? Have you not realized you Aunt Lilian died?” Winded, I answer, “how would’ve I known?”.
She passed away that Thursday, July 23rd, it was Saturday, July 25th when I was speaking to my mother. I let my mother know that I’m sorry, and I’m sorry I can’t be there with her. We say our goodbyes, then she hangs up. As I drive on Melrose, my vision blurs while tears begin to pool. I contemplate canceling my appointment, but somehow convince myself that I’ve made it too far and it would just be rude (isn’t that something). My appointment comes and goes, and I eventually make my way home later that night. Working out seems like a good stress reliever so I put on some dance cardio and half-assedly learned that week’s new choreo. Forty minutes are gone and I get down to stretch and maybe 5 minutes in, I am uncontrollably crying. Sobbing, I grab a pillow and lay on my living room floor, accepting defeat.
For the next three days, I find myself having crying spells. Unprompted, heavy, crying spells, and every time I find myself doing one particular thing to soothe the pain. I wrap my arms around myself and squeeze. A pandemic is hard enough without the death of a close family member, especially when you feel like you’re on an episode of Black Mirror and you see all the mini fires surrounding you. I tweet “I just want a fucking hug, man” the third day. It goes under the radar as wanting a hug because of this pandemic, but in reality, I want to be held because for years, it feels like I’ve been holding myself. I ask my brother when my Tia passed why they waited so long to tell me and his response is “you have so much going on already, I didn’t want you in a bad place.” I ask my mother and her response is “imaginate, tu estas sola alla…well imagine, you’re all alone over there.”
Both of these moments I was in L.A, and most of all my family lives in NY or their native countries. Both times I was unable to hop on a plane to go to the funeral or be there in a moment where my family needed me, better yet, when I desperately needed them. My mother and brother were right, I had so much going on both times, and at both moments, I felt incredibly alone. I didn’t lie when someone asked me how I was doing. I made sure certain people knew what happened. I wrote like I am currently writing. I spoke to my therapist and cried uncontrollably for most of the session. I watched Tiktoks, and ate when I could. I don’t know what the correct answer is to dealing with loss when you feel empty and as if your screams are only echoing in the forest. All I know is I had to feel it, which I am terrible at. When I lost my grandmother I continued to work that day and the rest of that week. When my aunt passed away, I allowed myself more than just an hour to sulk. I let those crying outbursts happen, even if the weeping was silent. To go through death alone is a crippling feeling, but as I am still very much learning myself, you don’t have to. There are shoulders waiting for you to lean on, you just have to allow yourself to.
Nancy Azcona is a 25 year old Salvadorian/Dominican New Yorker living out in Los Angeles since 2017. Queer and first-gen American, the intersections are truly endless. She has been working in the entertainment industry since 2016 and is currently a Production Coordinator at the digital company SMOSH. Her articles have been featured on Funknvibe’s previous blog platform and her spoken word has been performed at their live events. In her spare time she enjoys taking care of too many plants, working on her imperfect ceramic pieces, watching any and all reality TV shows, and using her voice to tear down systematic oppression.