Keeping the Memory of Our Loved Ones Alive

Keeping the Memory of Our Loved Ones Alive

May 31st will always be a marked day for me. It is the day that my grandmother, a major mother figure in my life, passed away after a 9 month battle with cancer. She was only 66 years old. I was 11. The loss of my grandmother was the first loss I had ever experienced in my life up until this point – and tragically, my grandmother was also the person whom I had felt closest to.

11875045_10200864883061576_4141917487437606851_oGrief has many different forms. For the first four years after her death, I felt nothing but absolutely sadness and anger about it. I missed her. I hated that she would miss out on so many things in my life. I was angry that such a kind, nurturing, and gentle person like my grandmother was dealt with such awful cards. The fact that I missed out on my last chance to say goodbye to her the day before she died haunted me for years.
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Then my grandfather died four years after her, and my grief changed. My grandfather’s death was much faster and with less warning. But somehow, as sad as I was about it (the call I got of my grandfather’s unexpected terminal pancreatic cancer diagnosis was the first “gut punch news” I had ever received) – I had a slightly different perspective; at least they were not without each other anymore. It sucked for all of us left behind, but I took solace in the fact that in my heart I truly believe they are doing good work on the other side, together. My grandfather was a wreck without my grandmother. He only wore black for those last four years. He’d often quietly wipe his eyes of tears when reminded of her. It was heartbreaking to watch him suffer. After my grandmother died my eyes were open to the reality of our mortality. I appreciated every single day I had with my grandfather after my grandmother died. His death was not easy on me, but knowing that he was now reunited with my grandmother helped me to accept it.

Now it has been 15 years (today) since my grandmother died and 11 since my grandfather. My feelings of grief are still up and down. I can only speak from my own experience but for me, grief shows up in different ways and pulls at different emotions but the one thing that it doesn’t do is go away. And that’s ok. I’ve accepted that over the course of my life I will mourn for many people and as much as it is difficult it is also part of being human. I can choose to look at it as I am lucky to have known and have close relationships with people like my grandparents.

I’d rather experience love and loss than no love at all.

Grief shows up in unexpected ways, too. When I worked at my last job, a longterm care facility, and I’d be filling out resident information, it always used to make me feel… sad? when a resident’s birth year was sometimes over a decade before my grandparent’s birth years. Sad, because I’d realize, how much life my grandparents missed out on. Weddings, babies, holidays, etc. Sometimes I still find myself doing the math and realizing, wow, they’d only be in their 80s right now. There are plenty of people in their 80s alive today.

I’ll also admit that there have been times where in my heart I’m a little relieved that my grandparents have not experienced certain things. Believe me, that is not easy to write or say. But hear me out. The year my grandmother died there was a bad snowstorm that knocked out electricity in her neighborhood and I remember thinking “If she was alive, her oxygen machine might’ve been turned off and that would’ve been really bad”.
Also, in these 11-15 years, two of their sons passed away tragically, both under circumstances that would’ve absolutely crushed my grandparents.  Or now, the cornoa virus pandemic. There is a little part of me that feels relief that my grandparents don’t have to experience the fear that many of us, but especially the elderly, are feeling right now and that although they both died unfair and untimely deaths, at least they had family surrounding them when they died. They did not die alone like many cornoa virus patients do.

But mostly these days, I feel thankful that I have had the best set of angels to guide me through my adolescence and adult years that I could ask for. My grandparents always made me feel like the most loved and treasured little girl when they were alive, and I still feel that love around me when I think of them. Their photos make me feel warm, my memories of them are still sharp. I have a shawl of my grandmother’s and a hat of my grandfather’s that I keep safely in a box that, if you can believe it, I feel still has a little tiny bit of their “scent”. Those things are comforting.  I truly do believe they are still “in my life”. I believe they watch over Julia and know her in their own special way.

“Every man dies two deaths. The first, when his body dies. The second when the last person who remembers him dies.”

 

Although they no longer walk the Earth, there are little parts of my grandparents that live on through me and others that were close to them.

 

1917291_1028539770964_1049701_nMy grandmother taught me the incredible importance of patience. She was the most patient and calm person that I have ever known. I still remember how good it felt to be around her because of her naturally calm demeanor. I try to model my own mothering approach after my grandmother’s approach with me. I only had 11 years with her, but I’ll never forget how good it felt to be in her presence. Because she was so patient with me, I have been able to be patient with my own daughter, who I hope also learns patience with others from me. In that way, my grandmother lives on forever. Her lessons of patience and gentleness can live on through me.

Similarly, my love of animals is due to my grandfather. My grandfather grew up during a time of great poverty where animals were strictly animals – either food or a nuisance – not pets. My mom has told me stories of children in their seaside town throwing stray kittens into the ocean to get rid of them without a second thought about it. For me, (and most people in 2020, I’m sure) it’s a hard thing to imagine as someone who grew up in a country that practically treats our pets like children.

lucky
Lucky (2003-2016)

But the point is – my grandfather went from living during a time where animals were just animals to becoming an old man who not only made homemade cat food with a manual food grinder (he had a dedicated process!) for the stray cats in his neighborhood but allowed them to live in his garage, bonded with them, took care of their kittens and mourned for them when they passed away. My grandfather’s love of cats instilled a love of animals in me from a very young age and it was he who gave me my very own cat for my 10th birthday, a beautiful little boy kitten that I named Lucky.  My grandfather’s relationship with animals evolved over the course of his life and because of him, I learned from an early age to be gentle and loving with animals. One of his daughters, my aunt, also became a bonafide cat lady, no doubt at the influence of her father. She has had as many as 5 under her roof at one point! Two of which came from my grandfather’s cats.

We can keep our loved ones “alive” by continuing to share their stories.

I will never stop talking about them. I think it’s important to talk to our grandparents and elderly relatives while they’re still alive, of course, to get to know them as much as we can. But in my situation, my grandparents died before I could ask them much about their youth. It wasn’t until my grandmother had been gone over five years that I learned that she had made a solo trip to the United States in the mid-1960s to work and make money to bring back to the Azores while my grandfather stayed behind with the three children they had at that time. It may not seem like a big deal to someone else but to me, that was incredibly fascinating to learn. It made me realize that there was a whole lifetime worth of memories, trials, joys, and experiences my grandparents had that I will never know about because they are not here to tell it. Because of that, what I do know about them, I cherish and want to share with Julia. I think it’s important to know where and who we come from. 

Julia knows my grandparents as her “angels” and I hope that one day, she is able to pass on my stories of them to her (potential) children. I know this post was mainly focused on my grandparents, but I actually know a few stories about my great, and great-great-grandparents that have been passed down to me. I cherish these stories!

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Alexandrina

I can look at a photo of my great grandmother Alexandrina and know more than her name because my mother was able to tell me a story about her, that her father told her. She [Alexandrina] was one of my first relatives to briefly live in the United States before immigrating back to the islands when she was a teen because of the influenza outbreak in the US. She was also the only one from that generation of my family to speak English.

Similarly, on my dad’s side, there is a story my dad loved to tell me as a child. Apparently, my great-grandfather was a tall, strong, man. One day when he was traveling by horse somewhere he came to a shallow, river-like body of water. His horse was too afraid to pass over the water, so apparently, my great-grandfather carried the horse over it. Does this sound like an absolute lie? Well, yeah. I’ve always suspected that it was a story that was (suuuuuper) exaggerated. But regardless, since it is one of the only stories I know about him, it is the image I have in my head of him. And it is a story I will pass on to my children. Imagine how he would feel about that? This grand story of his bravery has been passed on 3 – 4 generations! I can only hope that one day my great-great-great grandchildren will know some funny or heartwarming story about me. Wouldn’t you?

Now, I’m not foolish enough to think that anyone coming to my blog really wants to know all the stories I shared above. I mean, if you made it this far, that would surprise me! (but it would also make me so happy!).

But the takeaway here is that losing a loved one is never easy and almost always incredibly difficult. Grief is a long process that, I believe, never ends. But we can do something with our grief. We can learn from it. We can miss someone dearly while also choosing to honor them in some way. It can be as simple as making a recipe your loved one was known for and keeping it in the family. Or it could be recognizing a quality you loved about them, such as their patience, and choosing to work on your own patience with others.

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I hope this post finds you well, and as always

Sending love & light,

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