Grief is an overwhelming emotion that you will encounter in one form or another in this life. It is a healthy response when facing the death of a loved one. It can come in many different forms and stages. While no one person handles death the same, I hope sharing my experience will help others heal.
The Beginning of Grief
I was in 10th grade when my grandfather passed away. I remember the day vividly. It was a balmy late Spring day. It was the kind of day where everything seemed to move at a slow pace. The breeze was light and cool sifting through the opened windows. I remember my dad walking slowly into the study with his head down. I knew before he said anything that my grandpa was gone. My dad embraced me and kept saying how sorry he was. I remember feeling nothing.
In the coming days and weeks, I went through a myriad of emotions. The first few days I didn’t have a lot of feeling. Looking back, I remember thinking it was very strange I hadn’t cried yet. There was just this blank feeling. I watched the world continue on moving around me while I mechanically went through the motions of every day life.
We knew he was going to pass away sooner than later being on hospice as long as he was. Nothing, I repeat, NOTHING, prepares you for death. Not even knowing it is going to happen. I think it may be easier to accept your own coming death than to accept that of someone you care for deeply.
Once my dad, brother, and I embarked on the journey to Wisconsin for the funeral it began to hit me. My days at the cabin being my grandpa’s shadow were over. I would never hear his hearty, if not a little mischievous, laugh again. As the 6 hour drive north progressed, memories kept flooding in more rapidly. I began to cry as it finally dawned on me he was really gone.
Seeing my mom broke down the dam I had built against my grief. It came pouring out as I saw her face and my grandmother’s. At that point in my life, I had no idea how strong emotions could be. Grief can absolutely consume you. It will swallow you up without mercy and keep you submerged in an icy pool of despair.
Harnessing Your Grief
Almost eleven years later, I still think of my grandpa often. I still get bombarded with emotion and nostalgia as I make my journey to pay homage to the cabin. Grief doesn’t ever really go away. It hides sulkily in the corner waiting to strike at any moment. However, there is something you can do with all of this grief you accumulate over a lifetime. Embrace it.
Experiencing grief is a good thing. It means you loved someone unconditionally. When it sneaks up on you, embrace it. Embrace that you are remembering that person you loved. Embrace all of the wisdom that person imparted on you before their passing. You experienced something so wonderful that it is relentlessly painful to lose.
Nostalgia ties in as a cousin to grief. You can turn grief into nostalgia by accepting the death and choosing to honor that person by sharing happy memories. Often times when I am overwhelmed by the loss I feel when thinking of my grandpa, I remember his warm embrace. I smell pine, motor oil, cigars, and brandy. I feel the soft flannel on my cheek. Most importantly, my heart tightens as I feel his strong arms around me.
Embracing grief is an extreme challenge. It may be one of the most difficult things you do in your life. If you can do it, man is it worth it. I still have strong emotions as if my grandpa passed away yesterday, but I have learned to harness them into good feelings and feel grateful.
Take It To Heart
My grandpa had battled cancer for a number of years. He died gracefully in his home on hospice. At the time, I didn’t realize what a blessing this was. Finally, the peace I feel knowing he was in his own chair, surrounded by his wife and children when he passed is insurmountable. Especially relevant, it was why I got into home health and hospice and why I am so adamant about giving the elderly this option.
A great book on grief is, “A Grief Observed”, by C.S. Lewis. C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite authors. He has a beautiful way of explaining the process of grief and acceptance. Check it out on Amazon by clicking here.