What You Discover About Holiday Grief

family-old-picture-grandpa-hong-kongAs the holidays approach, the phrase that has been imprinted on me since a young age, “holidays are meant to be spent with loved ones” starts to hold more and more meaning. In the past year, my family experienced its first loss when my grandpa passed away in early May. I am lucky that my close family are  mostly alive and healthy, but this also means that this holiday season is uncharted territory. Last year, my grandparents spent their first Christmas morning with us, opening presents and learning what a “selfie” was.  It will be so different this year.

I could say that grief overcomes my family or that there has been a visible impact on each member of my household, but I honestly cannot understand how some people react around death. I am no expert on how to act after a life has ended, but I am slowly learning. Everybody copes in their own way, whether it is visible or not, I believe the point is to show compassion to those who grieve. At times, it can be hard to tell how a person is doing. Go up to them and show your support. They may not always want to talk about their feelings, but a distraction from their thoughts may be just what they need

The best example is my grandmother who has lost her husband of over 50 years. At first glance, anybody would assume that the couple had grown to hate each other. Their house was rarely quiet, even with guests present. My grandma is a fast talker and could carry on for hours on a number of topics, but the only words directed at her husband were instructions and criticism. Fix the boiler. Go clean out the gutters. You shouldn’t be cutting hair in your slippers. My grandpa would grunt or nod and shuffle off, set upon whatever task was asked. They were the complete opposites.

As his lungs struggled to bring in his last breaths, I had exhausted all my tears. The ordeal had lasted almost a week and both my body and mind were exhausted.  When I looked over at my grandmother, another wave of sadness hit me, as I saw her cry for the first time. I’m not certain it was out of love, or out of familiarity, or of a sense of self-loss, but it was heart-wrenching. Through the rest of the year, she would miss family holidays and social gatherings, telling us it was too painful. This winter will be the first large family get-together, and the only certainty is uncertainty.

The past seven months have been a whirlwind of emotion and frustration. My grandmother feigns independence in living on her own, but asks for help almost every single day. She has bought and sold an apartment, changed her plans numerous times along the way. She has considered living with my family, and we offered to build her into our home. She has considered living alone and we have arranged for home care.  As understanding as we try to be, there is a point where frustration takes over.

I have learnt that a person can have such a significance in your life without obvious signs.

I have learnt that the small things you remember about a person can be the most moving.

I have learnt to spend the time to learn from and about an individual’s unique story.

Most of all, I learnt to cherish each moment that we have.

 

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