Grief and Gratitude

Grief is perhaps the most visceral experience I have ever had, each time it happens.

This time I am experiencing grief for my grandfather, who died last Friday. He is one of the most influential people in my life, and in the lives of most people who know him.

I have been writing poems and memories down.
I have been floating off mid-sentence, mid-task, my breath catching in my throat when I try to say anything directive or clear.
I’ve been trying to practice non-attachment and celebration, and then seizing up with longing for his big hugs, and then releasing again.

On Sunday I went down south, and walked into my grandfather’s house and he was everywhere inside it. I felt him behind me in the living room, smelled him on a shirt in the laundry room, saw all of his things, untouched, his world.

I stood with my family at a southern visitation, where folks who knew my Papa came to pay their respects. All these people who loved him and wanted to connect, but I couldn’t really say anything without tearing up.

I stood by his casket and sang ‘his eye is on the sparrow’, just for him, because of how his faith brought him such joy and how that song makes me feel full of faith and joy no matter what.

I sat with my family through the funeral, where my uncle spoke on behalf of Papa’s six children, and my cousin spoke on behalf of the 19 of us grandchildren. Both shared perfect, perfect words about him. I wept, we all did. The whole church sang Amazing Grace.

Then we sat around my grandparent’s house and looked at his arm chair, his dining room chair, his pictures, the hall to his bedroom. My nephew looked up at one point and darted backwards, saying he saw a ghost. My dad told him it was a good ghost who was looking out for us, and to say ‘I love you.’ We all got chills.

Then I came home and proceeded to enter another phase of grief. My dear friend Sofia articulated it well – everything feels out of focus, only this loss is clear. It feels like a brightness on me, the tenderness of the transition. I keep trying to do things, wanting to do things, and losing my way.

So now I am just sitting still, feeling, and writing. And praying, in my own way, for my mother, for my father (to whom Papa was a major father figure), for my grandmother. For my family, that we internalize the wisdom my grandfather was always sharing with us about having faith, and letting things go, not letting grudges and anger and pain become the legacy you carry, but letting go, letting love be your guide.

I am looking at all of the people in my life who I love and thinking…how can I love them better? What do I need to do to make sure they know, and feel, my love for them?

Sofia says eventually the rest of the world will come back into focus, and I know it will, but I wanted to document this moment. I am so blessed to be in a family, and surrounded by a community, that is supportive, giving me space while sending me love, checking in on me and reminding me to feel. I want this to be a mindful part of any community experience, too, holding each other with love through the coming and going.

Through the grief, I’m full of such gratitude I can hardly voice it, and everything feels smaller than it…to be responsible for remembering such a magnificent man. I am grateful. To be in and of this world is such a miraculous experience. I am grateful.