Grief. Grief is such an ugly word. It affects us all in different ways. And, it causes pain and heartache in its own time. We don’t control grief. We don’t control the circumstances of grief. And we certainly don’t control its timeline. Instead, we change and adapt as a person to our new life. Our new life without that someone, or something, we lost.
People want to believe that once the event has passed, we move on. That once our bereavement is over, the grief also subsides. People want to believe that life just goes back to “normal”. While experiencing loss is a part of life. It isn’t something we just move on from. We don’t wake up the next morning without all the emotions we experienced from this loss.
It is important to remember that grief can manifest in a number of ways. It’s emotional. Of course it’s emotional. It is a multifaceted response to loss. It can also have “physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, cultural, spiritual and philosophical dimensions.” And, in a time that most of us need our community most, we often feel isolated.
So, first, if you, or anyone you know, is finding this holiday season difficult because of loss. Be it recent or long ago. Please, reach out. Reach out to loved ones. Reach out to friends. Be there for your people. If you’re not sure if what you’re feeling is “right,” then first remember there is no normal. We all experience grief and loss in different ways. But if you’re unsure, then reach out to your doctor or a therapist. There are people ready and happy to help.
“I think when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice,” she wrote. “You can give in to the void, the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe. Or you can try to find meaning.” — Sheryl Sandberg
There are many ways we can heal processing our grief. And, for me, after losing my grandfather this August, writing was key. Today, December 21st, would have been his birthday. In his memory, I’ve shared what I wrote in the days leading up to, and following his death.
Remember, if you find yourself in a difficult place, reach out to your loved ones or a professional. Be heard, and find your healing.
One of my favorite stories to tell about my grandfather is that he put coffee in my baby bottle. On more than one occasion. It clearly has direct correlation to my intense love of coffee, and likely has some indirect correlation to my vertical ineptitude. However, when it comes to telling stories about George, that is merely the tip of the iceberg. People hear these stories and think we simply must be exaggerating, who would actually suggest that football players should have little one inch blades on them – just to spice up the game? But how can you exaggerate a man who is the master of his own Wonderland? He is in no way clinically insane, don’t get me wrong. But he doesn’t just skirt with the absurd, he lives and thrives in it.
He is our real life Mad Hatter, with the wit of the Caterpillar. Just trade that 10 shillings sixpence top hat for the yellow paper bag that he happily, and shamelessly, wore to dinner because his granddaughter made it for him. He’ll ask you questions just to see if you know the answers, purposefully provide inaccurate information to check if you’d correct it, and tell stories that will simply puzzle you. You need real guts to enter through his looking glass, but if you can follow along, you have a welcome seat at the table; if you can reply in sarcasm and keep up your half of the conversation, you’re no longer just a guest, but have your own mug. And all of us are his supporting cast. Each of us coming back to that tea party as often as we can, because we wear our Wonderland residency with pride.
Let’s not get it twisted though. This man, who I would be remiss not to remind you shares his birthday with Snow White, wasn’t one to watch Disney movies or Saturday morning cartoons with his grandkids. Except, of course, for that time Gregory child locked their TV. Instead, he’d tape the greats; Holyfield, Trinidad, Mayweather. And then I’d watch right hook after left uppercut with him. Afterward, he always reminded me that just like those fighters, I too have the heart of a lion.
This is a man who honestly loves his family. And I do mean his actual family, not the stock photos of families he leaves in picture frames and tells you stories about. I can’t remember a single conversation with George that doesn’t involve him slipping in that ASU is calling for me. That they need the next Long woman to join their ranks. From the day I was old enough to fit into a tiny human sized ASU sweatsuit, up to and including the day I graduated from college…albeit, not ASU…he’d be sure to let me know, ASU called again. While I didn’t follow the previous two Long women by attending ASU; he nevertheless still made sure to see me walk as a college graduate. A true highlight of that weekend was having dinner with two of my friends, both having just walked with me but having completely different majors. And here was George effortlessly maintaining a conversation that wove economics and current business operation studies, with 17th and 18th century Spanish artists by name and bodies of work, including their lesser known paintings and styles of art, and wrapping into International law and relations and of course throwing in quotes of Philosophers from all the ages. For me, this was a normal conversation with George – except that it didn’t involve any statistics about the Mets. For my friends, they left dinner in awe.
Even if all the Christmas cards, with suspiciously similar handwriting, from every current and former President of the US and the Pope weren’t proof enough. George is a very important man. And even if stories of one sided knife fights in pawn shops lead you to believe this is a man living with delusions. George is a man of…logical mind. And the truth is, what I truly believe about faith is from watching my grandfather. Every Sunday as a kid we’d go to mass with my grandparents. And every Sunday, George was the last man kneeling after Communion. After watching this Sunday after Sunday, I finally asked my dad why George took so much longer than everyone else. And my dad, first glanced at his father still kneeling and then told me very honestly and very simply, that George just has a lot to pray for. Starting the next Sunday, I took it as a personal goal to pray as long as my grandfather. Everyone else would be sitting back in the pew, and my little body would be fighting the wiggles, but I’d keep my glance to the left and if George was kneeling, so was I. And at the end of mass, he’d always walk over to the candles up front with me and give me a dollar to pray for anyone I thought needed an extra prayer. And after my maternal grandmother had passed, he made sure to let me know I should light a candle just for her.
No man, no life, is perfect. And even through power color yellow tinted glasses, George wasn’t perfect. But, at the end of the day, his legacy is this wonderfully operating Wonderland. A world of sarcastic, witty, challenging characters that will continue to come back to our tea parties, to tell and retell the stories of our Mad Hatter while he’s up there pouring another cup of coffee and laughing; likely playing tricks with a fake thumb, finding cigarettes behind people’s ears, with butterscotch candies not far from his side.
I am just one of his Wonderland citizens, but from the day I was born George worked to instill in me that I am strong and powerful with the heart of a lion; that I am intelligent and have a brain because ASU is still calling; that life needs humor and nothing is ever as it seems, even if it requires questionably authentic greeting cards and stock photos; that family is important, even if it requires wearing a yellow paper bag on your head once in a while; and even if you’re the last one kneeling, never forget the importance of prayer. And of course, no day is complete without a coffee.
Here’s lookin’ at you George.