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When I was three years old, my paternal grandfather died. My father was so devastated by his passing that he completely stopped speaking his first language – Spanish – because it reminded him too much of his father. It was nearly five years before I heard him speak his native tongue again, and only then because it was necessary.
We were walking down the street when an elderly woman, who spoke no English and was clearly lost and in obvious distress, approached him. He broke his resolve in order to assist her, but I remember that it nearly brought him to tears.
I was only eight years old, but I wished I’d had the words to tell my father how I felt in that moment. I wanted to reassure him that it was okay to look back. It was okay to feel sad when you remember, but it’s okay to be happy, too. I wanted to tell him that when I thought about Granpapa I thought about how he used to carry me on his shoulders, and how from up there I felt like the tallest person in the whole world. I wanted to tell him that remembering made me smile, so that maybe it could make him smile, too.
We all handle grief differently. Some are comforted by the notion that their loved one is in a “better place”. Me, I am comforted by the memories of the time we shared together in this place. When grief threatens to overcome me, I am uplifted by the simple act of closing my eyes and hearing his laugh; remembering her smile, recalling their embrace… Feeling sorrow at the thought of being without them, but recalling the joy of having had them in my life. The heart connection never dies, and because of this, mourning a loss can give way to celebration of a life.
Celebrating the lives of those we have lost, and the heart connection we will eternally share, honors the loving spirit that is the essence of who they were. Rather than allowing grief to consume us, we can be emboldened by the depth of that joy. We can allow it to translate as gratitude for our own lives, and renewal of our own playful, loving spirit.