Loss changes you. None of us have any control over that. However, it is HOW it changes us that we have control over.
As many of you already know through social media, last week I lost my grandfather. It still seems surreal to talk about even though it is something that we all were expecting to happen for quite some time. Regardless of how much you prepare for the death of a loved one, it can still feel unbelievable once it actually happens.
Growing up without a father meant that I was even closer to both of my grandparents than most people are. It always felt like I had three parents instead of one. My grandparents managed to make it to every chorus concert, every dance recital, every cheerleading competition, and every other event that I was performing in or involved in. Multiple times a week they would make me dinner, read me bedtime stories, and tuck me into bed at night. They taught me about musicals, theater, old movies, traveling, and art. They grew up in a completely different era and they brought the best of it to me.
When my grandmother died in 2008, I was completely heartbroken. It was a horrible time in my life and I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to get by in this world without her knowledge, her kindness, and her smile. My grandfather was the one who really helped me get through that time. I always managed to be strong in front of my husband, brothers, and mother, but when I would hug my grandfather, I would fall apart. He was the last person who I should have fallen apart in front of because he had just lost the love of his life. However, his incredible strength made me feel like I could actually express my grief.
The first time I went to visit my grandfather by myself after my grandmother had died, I was terrified. I drove up a winding driveway that I had been in a thousand times before but I knew that once I walked through that door and she wasn’t on the other side, her death would feel even more real. I cried in the car for 20 minutes before I had the courage to actually walk through the door. I greeted my grandfather with a hug and I sat down in my normal spot at the kitchen counter. My grandfather stood across from me and handed me a glass of water, something my grandmother would have normally done.
We talked about how much we both missed her and he told me that he felt incomplete because he was missing his other half. He told me what he had told me many times before, that one day, we will all die. He had been warning me since I was young, to prepare me for a life without my grandparents, but it was only at that moment that I actually understood him for the first time. This time he also told me that he wasn’t afraid to die. He assured me that when his time came, he would be ready and I would have to be, too. I told him that I would work on it but I wasn’t quite ready to say good bye to him yet. So for the last six years, we have continued those talks.
My grandfather and I could discuss anything under the sun and we certainly did. We discussed politics, religion, race, gay marriage, travel, art, business, economics, and the meaning of life. My grandfather kept tabs on all of the members of our large family and he still managed to help me with my college algebra homework, well into his 80’s. He taught me about investing, home ownership, marriage, and technology. He managed to have good advice for any situation I managed to get myself into and he always knew the right way to present information that I didn’t really want to hear.
Now that he is gone, I’m find myself thinking about him telling me so many times that none of us live on this earth forever. I know he was preparing me for life without him and my grandmother but I also think he was telling me to make sure that I live my life to the fullest extent. My grandfather lived a full life. He married the love of his life, had seven children, twenty-two grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren. He had an amazing career, friends from all around the world, and tons of adventures. He saw most of his favorite art in person, heard many of his favorite songs performed live, and made more amazing memories than many people get the chance to. My grandpa always said, “No one makes it out of this world alive.” The truth is, any of us would be lucky to have a life as full as both of my grandparents did and none of us will make it out of this world alive. I plan to make the most out of my time here and follow the examples my grandparents set for me. That means traveling to new places, dancing in the living room, saying hello to strangers, breaking out into song, reading more books than most law students, never forgetting a loved one’s birthday, and celebrating every holiday like it’s the last day on earth.
Loss does change us but I am going to let it make me more patient, more thoughtful, stronger, and thankful.