The loss of a loved one — Does it ever get easier?
In my lifetime, I’ve only lost a handful of people dear to me. My grandfather on my father’s side passed away when I was still very young. My recollections of him are of a jovial, gentle, kind man who made us laugh. He’d chase my brother around the house, play games with us, and because he was diabetic, he’d sneak sweets when our parents weren’t looking and he’d give us money to not rat him out. I remember my dad asking him if he was eating donuts and my grandfather shook his head, saying “no”, but he had a donut hidden behind his back and white icing sugar all over his face.
When I was in high school, instead of working at a store or a restaurant for my part-time job, I worked with senior citizens. After school, I used to go over to the residents’ homes and help them with whatever they needed done. After a while, I was assigned to an 82 year old lady who eventually asked me to call her “Auntie Kay”. She was a remarkable woman. Strong, independent, a world traveler, and former teacher. She never married and never had children. Her only family was her cousin and her cousin’s family.
Every day, I’d go over after school. I’d make her dinner, help her to the bathroom, help her get ready for bed, and then I’d drive home.
This lasted for a year and and a half and then her cousin decided she needed to be moved to a senior citizens’ home. Though I no longer worked for her, I continued to visit her whenever I could. Shortly after she was moved, the seniors’ home burned down, along with some of the residents living there. I remember receiving the phone call. My mom and I rushed to the building in hopes that we’d find Auntie Kay alive and well. Sadly, she died in the fire. The oddest thing was that we were told that she was found in her chair with her pink sweater draped over the back (as it always was) and her surroundings were untouched by the fire. She died peacefully, we were told. I had given her an angel figurine and it was with her, also untouched by the fire.
That was probably the first death that really had a toll on me.
In the following years, I lost my grandfather on my mom’s side, one of my uncles, and one of my aunts. Those were very difficult years for our family. I’ve found that I’ve never handled loss well. The grieving period never seems to go away or end. The last two years have been especially difficult, with the loss of my grandmother. I was very close to my grandparents and though the days, weeks, months and years go by, there’s still a piece of my heart that feels like it is missing. There’s a deep pain in my chest whenever I think of them.
I know we need to celebrate the life and make the most of our time on earth. I know my grandparents would want us to be happy, live a full life and not be sad.
My five year old daughter was looking at photos of my family and said, “Mommy, I miss great-lola!”
I do too.
Today would have been her 94th birthday.
Things we do to help keep memories alive:
- Keep their stories alive. My cousins, parents, aunts, uncles, siblings and I often retell stories passed down from my grandparents, aunt and uncle. I love our “Remember when…” stories. I find that rehashing the stories also keeps my family close.
- My grandmother wrote down some of her favourite recipes for me when I was engaged. It may seem a bit old school and old world, but she told me, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach – make sure to feed him well”. I laugh whenever I replay the conversation in my head. Whenever I cook her favourite dishes, I think of her and smile.
- I make sure that Little One sees photos of her family members. I tell her stories of how strong and smart her great-grandma was. She’s a bit too young for me to talk about how my grandparents had to live through WWII and how my grandmother had to run with my uncle (an infant at the time) and hide so the Japanese soldiers wouldn’t find them. The Japanese soldiers were bayoneting babies in the villages. Little One is only five years old and doesn’t need to hear those stories.
If you’ve lost someone special in your life, what are some ways of coping that you’ve found most helpful?