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Coping with the loss of a loved one is not easy. However, these experiences can act as valuable tools for wisdom and growth.
A time to reconnect with family
I don’t usually travel for the holidays, but this Thanksgiving was an exception. My grandmother recently passed away. My parents wanted to pick a date for the memorial service when the whole family could be together in south Texas.
Although it was a sad occasion, the trip provided an opportunity to reconnect with relatives I hadn’t seen in years and to bond with my family.
As usual, I had a long to-do list planned for the trip. But I put all of them aside to spend time with my family and make the most of my time off. I even took a break from posting. Instead of using the plane ride to write a new blog post, I relaxed and caught up on reading.
I learned many valuable lessons that weekend.
You don’t have to be world famous to make an impact
I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love that my grandmother received. My parent’s table was overflowing with cards filled with long, thoughtful messages.
As my mom said, it takes effort not only to buy the card in the first place but to take the time to write something and mail it. How many times have you bought a card but not actually sent it? I know I have.
Maybe you couldn’t think of the “right” thing to say. Or maybe you couldn’t make it to the post office.
These cards came not just from relatives and close friends but also from people who had not spoken to my family in years.
Of course, they live in a small town where people know their neighbors and look out for one another. My grandmother was also very active in the community, taking leadership roles in the church, Garden Club, and library, to name a few.
But as my boyfriend pointed out, none of this would have meant anything if she hadn’t been a kind person.
Now, my grandmother was not your typical “sweet old lady.”
She had strong opinions and spoke her mind.
But she had warmth and integrity, and always put others before herself.
The cards and the memorial service were a powerful testament to just how many lives she touched in our extended family and in our community.
Death is just a passage
Now, I cannot speak for people who have lost loved ones to disease or tragedy. I imagine the grieving process is much different.
Dealing with the loss of a loved one is always sad, but at least my grandmother lived a long life (95 years) and died peacefully. We even got a chance to say goodbye. Many people do not.
During the service, though, the priest said something beautiful. He said that when you die, you leave a piece of yourself behind. All those qualities of my grandmother that I mentioned — her warmth, her conviction, her independent mind — are still with us.
This is a sentiment I will hang onto for the rest of my life, as sustenance for any lonely or difficult times I may have to endure on the road ahead.
After the funeral, we had a boat ceremony. As we spread my grandmother’s ashes into the sea, I thought about the concept of death.
Although my grandmother’s physical presence is no longer with us, I feel her spirit with me every day. Yes, I know it sounds cliche, but it’s remarkable when you actually experience it for yourself.
According to this article, the most common signs from deceased loved ones include a change in energy, a familiar scent, and hearing their voice.
Coping with loss
No matter your beliefs, it can be difficult to deal with the loss of a loved one. In the case of my grandmother, I know it is particularly challenging for my parents, who saw her nearly every day. They would play dominoes together and watch Big Bang Theory and Downton Abbey. They even had a chairlift installed in their house since she could no longer walk up the stairs.
It always comes as a shock when somebody is an integral part of your life and then suddenly they’re gone. We all have our unique ways of dealing with grief, but here are some ways you can maintain a connection with those who have passed.
Goodbye doesn’t have to be forever
- Practical: Having conversations with deceased loved ones, imagining advice they would give you, and keeping their clothes, jewelry, and photos are all ways that you can continue bonds with people you’ve lost. Now when I wear my grandmother’s beautiful necklace (which my boyfriend tells me is attuned with the throat chakra), I think of her.
- Spiritual: No matter your views concerning life after death, learning more about this transition can alleviate grief and anxiety. Although I can’t verify that these ideas are true, I found this article — What Happens After Death? — very interesting.
I like the line, “You become the whizzing, vibrating ball of energy that you always were – except now your energy is no longer contained by a physical body.” It’s a very liberating way of viewing death.
Reach out to your network
In addition to keeping our ties with the deceased, we can also lean on our relationships with friends and family to ease the pain.
Talk it out
This doesn’t necessarily mean a deep heart-to-heart with a box full of kleenexes. Even talking to casual acquaintances about your loved one can be therapeutic.
Recently the principal at the school where I teach asked me how my Thanksgiving was. I was tempted to say it was nice and leave it at that.
I’ve long avoided uncomfortable topics like death, though I have gotten better about this since reading Living Like You Mean It.
Unexpectedly, I found myself talking about my grandmother’s funeral and what her life was like.
Conversations like this provide a chance for you to bond on a deeper level. Not only do they help you to process your emotions, but undoubtably the other person has also experienced loss. So both of you benefit.
Spend time with loved ones
They provide an invaluable support system.
Also, each time we confront death, it’s a valuable reminder that we must make the most of our time here on Earth.
I enjoyed many spontaneous moments with my family, like an evening walk to the beach with my cousins and their children that turned into a game of tag. Or a midnight trip to Whataburger with my boyfriend.
What’s your legacy?
My grandmother’s obituary describes her contributions both to her community and her family. How she provided a safe environment for her children while also encouraging them to follow their dreams. How she traveled to Morocco and Peru with my grandfather, Buzz.
Erika Sauter suggests that writing your own obituary gives you the chance to “leave a time stamp with words.” I’d add that it also allows you to think of how you’d like to be remembered.
If it sounds lame, now’s your chance to rewrite your life story.
Tell me: How have you coped with the loss of a loved one? What have you learned from their life story?