monthly essay: grief transformed
In the two months since my Grandmother passed from this life, so much of what I have been experiencing is the grieving of the wonderful things that she brought to the 46 years of the life I shared with her. It was at first haunting, the memories of her passing, of those moments when I held her and felt her body breaking and her soul wrenching free from her earthly form. It is a difficult thing to see the body die. I wouldn’t have changed anything about it. I was so glad to be there with her for that transformation. To be present as she made the passage from one form to the next. The process of dying is akin to the process of birthing. In my mind, dying itself is a birthing process. It is messy and full of pain and moaning and opening oneself up to the journey into the next phase of life; the exception being, that once that process is complete, you don’t hold a new soul in your arms, that soul is no longer with you.
And that is the part that beleaguers the heart.
For with death comes endings.
The last time we….. the last time I……we never will……I can’t do this without…..I wish we could just…..
In those first days and weeks after, so much of what I could focus on was the endings. That we would never sit together in her living room and chat. That I would no longer be tending her in the mornings, or taking her meals to share at night. We would no longer talk about our favorite books, or her cat Felix, or what we would like to do tomorrow, next week, next month. She would never be just a few steps away ever again.
It was the same way when my Grandfather passed two years ago. I would never again see him heading out to feed his cats, never see him in his favorite brown coat riding on his tractor, never see him sitting on his porch, or calling to the crows. There would no longer be that person who could fix anything that needed to be fixed, repair the broken, whether it was a clock, an engine or a sad little girl.
There is an emptiness. A great vast hole that cannot be seen, but is felt so deeply in the very nature of who we are, the ones who loved them and are left behind.
Something happened over the course of the last few weeks for me. It seemed that slowly I realized I was no longer seeing endings, but transformations.
My grandparent’s cat Felix, became kitten like again once my cousins moved in and brought their cat with them.
Now, I see my cousin, Kelly, coming down the porch in the morning, Buddy, one of the outdoor cats running to greet him and walk with him to the garage to get the food, just like he did with my Grandfather. It is Kelly on the tractor moving and blowing the leaves that have recently fallen. My two cousins, now the ones who can fix those forgotten things because my Grandfather showed them how.
And I am here, moving around, tending plants, in the soft L.L. Bean flannel shirts my Grandmother constantly wore. She is here with me. I feel her in the soft fabric and I know that it is only through her gifts that I am keeping her African violets alive in my kitchen windowsill. It is the things that she taught me and the traditions she instilled in me that will keep her alive for me. That there will not be an ending when I embrace the parts of her that remain a part of me.
A person’s mark on the world doesn’t just disappear at the moment that they leave this earth. It continues to live on in the ones they leave behind. Every life is touched in some way, shape or form by the lives we lead. Certainly, there are physical reminders in the way we look like, or act like, or speak like the ones who have preceded us. She has her eyes, he has his hands. She has that same knack for gardening, he has those same stubborn opinions.
There is a legacy surely that is left behind and that is the secret beyond grief. That it is true what everyone has been telling you during these long weeks and months. The dead never do truly leave you. A soul’s purpose is to leave traces of itself in the very nature and being of those whose lives they have come in contact with. And whether it is the shape of your nose, the soft flannel of a work shirt, an appreciation of songbirds or the best cookie recipe ever, it is there, not gone, but transformed.