When a loved one dies, the world around us ceases to exist for a time. We may post an obituary to Facebook and share beloved photo memories of the deceased, but we are going through the motions. Moving forward, as we must. There is a haze about our very existence.
I have found that it is in the months after the sympathy cards cease coming, after friends and family drop by to check on our welfare, that the weight of grief settles.
Losing a loved one
This week I attended the wake and funeral of a beloved family matriarch. Gloria was my in-law, ever-present at family gatherings big and small over the decade since I had joined her extended family. I knew her as a doting great-grandmother, as a grandmother with a surprising sense of humor, and as a compatriot to my own Nanny when she was alive.
But I learned more about her as an individual in the past three days since she passed than I had ever known before.
There is something wonderful about that, and something equally sad.
It’s not a revelation to notice that our loved ones’ stories are often buried treasures. It does sadden me, though, to notice again and again that often those stories remain buried.
At the end of a life, we are able to look back at said life in its entirety. It is natural and wondrous to talk of the milestones that marked a person’s journey.
Why don’t we reflect on our lives while we are living them, though?
The simplest and best answer I have is that we take our time together for granted. We live in the present moment—as well we should!—and flow with the fast-moving currents of time. We go from one baby shower to Sunday family dinner to the next, wielding a camera and smiling as the kids play, chatting over coffee and dessert before we head home and get invited to do it all over again soon.
The gift of remembrance
We may feel abundant love, even great gratitude, for our family members. We know them as they relate to us, but less often do we ask about them as a person unto themselves! What did Grandma do before she became a mother? What were her parents like? What games did she play as a child? Did she get good grades in school?
The nature of family gatherings changes for a while after a loved one dies. The person’s absence is palpable; they should be here. Our supreme awareness of their absence invokes sadness, for sure, but it prompts storytelling, too. Memories of even the smallest moments, once shared, provide comfort and connection. Stories are a balm to our bruised hearts.
In the aftermath of loss, we are surrounded by others who share our grief. We are not shy about remembering—out loud—our loved one. We tell stories, and relish when we hear stories we had not heard before. When we learn something new, no matter how small, about our deceased loved one, we grasp it tightly, cherish it as a most special gift.
We seek, and find, connection in those also connected to our loved one.
During his eulogy of the deceased, the priest thanked the gathered family members for “sharing Gloria with us.” This phrasing struck me: She was a faithful church attendant and community volunteer; she had friends from all stages of her life; and yet, she belonged to her family.
For those who knew and loved Gloria, may your memories of her continue to provide comfort and even joy amidst the gaping sadness of her loss. Don’t stop sharing those stories.
Your perpetual remembrance is a celebration of her love and life. Be strengthened by her spirit, and know that you are her legacy.
And for everyone who loves someone: Ask them questions. Discover their stories. Now, while you can share in the emotions and relive the memories together. Celebrate your loved ones’ lives while they are being lived as much as you undoubtedly will when your loved ones are gone.
Remember, celebrate, and connect. Create a legacy together.