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|Volume 11 |Issue 14| April 06, 2012 ||
Honouring a Loved One
In a world that sees so much inequality and injustice befall different people, one difficult experience we all face, at many points in our life, is the loss of a loved one. Our first experience of death is often in childhood, when a grandparent or elderly relative succumbs to a disease that has lessened their quality of life. Our last experience, before our own death, is often that of a spouse or sibling. As a child, you might not understand what dying really means or you might not care but as an adult, the ache in your heart can stay with you until the end.
A few weeks ago, my grandmother passed away after suffering from dementia for nearly a decade. She was a strong woman who survived accidents, poisoning and disease for 91 years. It was not a quick death, but my grandmother was not alone. I was told over the telephone, and I didn't know how to feel except immediate concern for my father, her son. The last time I'd lost a grandparent, I was 11 years old and I was barely affected. It was my mother's father, and she seemed annoyed that I had not cried, so I forced it.
I know now that that was wrong of me to do, not only because it was insincere but because our way of showing grief would never be the same. Everyone relates differently to the loss of a parent, grandparent or child. No death is the same, and no experience of grief is uniform.
A friend of mine lost her father when she was 13 years old. She said to me recently, “One thing I wish people had told me is that it's okay to feel whatever you're feeling.” She explains, “It sounds kind of stupid but if you're not actually feeling that sad, that's okay, or if you feel like it's the end of the world or you're angry at no one for not understanding, that's okay too. It's totally up to you how you deal with your own grief and you don't have to feel pressured into acting in a certain way.”
Being a little older and (I like to think) a little wiser than I was when I was 11, I know this now and am at peace with crying one day and not caring the next. Unlike many people who turn to religion when death pays a visit to someone close, I do not think my struggle with this death will be eased by a spiritual influence. What I have struggled with is not my grief or the way I express it but with how to honour my grandmother's memory.
I have noticed that some people tend to remember someone more kindly in death, or dwell on the personal regret the death has created or more worryingly, dwell on what was lost rather than remember what good was left behind.
My grandmother was not a bad person but there were times when she was stubborn and rude. She would spoil me with chocolates, much to my mother's frustration, and would ignore or walk away from people she didn't like. But she was also incredibly generous with her time, affection and money. She had a cheeky sense of humour and a love for good food. She took great pleasure in spending time with her family but she also let her loved ones live their lives to the fullest without her.
I am not suggesting that when someone dies one must dwell on the person's bad qualities, but one should not forget them either. I do not want to remember my grandmother through rose-tinted glasses because her flaws helped make up who she was and that is who I should really remember.
I know people who have lost parents years ago and still regret not doing or sharing things with them. Regret comes from wondering whether you did enough to value that person in life. I did not see my grandmother very often in the last few years, despite having been very close to her in my childhood. I used to joke about how senile she was and how her marbles had rolled off – was that appropriate? Or is it excused because it was a coping mechanism to deal with the fact that dementia was why she no longer remembered me?
I believe dwelling on regret serves little purpose unless it empowers us to change and make sure we do not feel the same regret when someone else dies. I regret not knowing more about my grandmother's life, personality and passions. I am currently living with my other grandmother and I am hoping our conversations and shared pleasures will stay with me so I do not regret the same again. Regret will not bring anyone back nor will it help the pain of losing someone. If someone regretted the way they showed me their love, I'd want them to know that that regret in itself was a declaration of love.
I know a woman who lost her son and then her husband. I cannot imagine how great a hole either death has left in her heart because I have neither married nor had a child. Years have passed and she is still depressed, crying and dwelling on what she has lost. It might be naïve of me to say this, but when someone loses a loved one, they lose sight of what they still have. Losing a child is a pain no parent should suffer, but when you have other children and family, there is still a lot of joy and life to be had with them.
Anyone who has died would not want their loved ones to stop living, and if they did, that someone is not worth mourning. We are mortal and our time on earth is precious. Time spent remembering someone poorly, regretting not doing more or forgetting what or who we have left, is time wasted. My grandmother loved me and that love for me would mean she wouldn't want me to do those things. She would want me to remember her the way she was, improve my relationship with others and make the most of my other blessings. That is how I can honour my grandmother's memory.