About a year ago, my Grandma started to talk with me about her impending death. WHOA!!!! I know I just jumped right out of the gate there but hang with me, it's not what you think...
See, my Grandma had just turned 81 and had noticed a really big change in herself between 80 and 81. I had noticed it too. She was still really healthy, she still drives and goes to her silver sneakers, and she still has the joy and enthusiasm of a child which has always been something about her that impressed me. So when a year ago these conversations stared to take place about her death, given that she wasn't sick, she wasn't diagnosed with anything, she was just getting "older," I was needless to say thrown for a loop!
At first, I was really upset, sad and in complete denial. Despite all of those emotions that told me to run, to make her change the subject, to pretend like I'm not listening, etc...
I listened anyway. What struck me to my core was her total and complete willingness to be vulnerable with a subject that culturally is so taboo to talk about so openly. I think what was hardest was how she approached these conversations very matter of factly and even at times with excitement and joy! Joy?!?!?! Excitement?!?!?! What the heck???
I'll never forget when I was visiting with her one day and she got all excited and jumped up and said, "Wait here! I have to show you something..." Off she ran (which always still impresses me by the way for her spritely age) and came back and handed me this large wooden box that was quite lovely and I had no idea what it might hold. Upon opening it, I saw a medium sized wooden box along with a matching picture frame and thank you cards...wait for it... I just stared for a moment and then... "Uh, Grandma....is this your urn???" I asked. She replied with a giant smile on her face, "Yes isn't it beautiful!" I thought about my options for 2.5 seconds... I could run, I could hide, I could cry (that one seemed to be winning at the moment) or I could embrace her enthusiasm and match it. So I said, "Yes Grandma, it's beautiful just like you." We spent the next 2 hours talking about her death and what she wanted and how she was excited to see her parents again and all of her friends that had passed before her. In those 2 hours something shifted inside of me. I realized I had a choice. We always have tons of choices by the way, we just often forget that we do. I realized I had a choice as to how I want to approach death, and more specifically her death, moving forward. I could continue to resist, which is something I did a lot when my Dad died, or, I could choose to approach it with acceptance and joy, just as my Grandma was doing. And by doing so, here is what I have learned so far.
It is a complete and utter honor to be a part of these conversations with my Grandma. She has given me more to think about in the last 6 months regarding death, than I have ever thought about in my entire life. It has given me a chance to share things with her now before I can't, and to encourage her to do the same in her life. We often talk about the "bucket list" and I like to see if there is anything new she'd like to add to it. There are times where she is afraid and sad, and she mostly just can't imagine leaving her family behind and that's when there are tears and we cry together and then she jumps up and says, "stop this silliness, I'm not dead yet!" Then we laugh and continue about our day together. Much of our conversations has allowed me to help some of my clients as they are dealing with grief as well. God/Universe gives you what you need so that you're prepared right??? Right! So I feel like this has allowed me to help not only myself, but other because of these conversations.
One of our most recent conversations was around me asking what she wanted in terms of a funeral or Celebration of Life party. She was horrified! "I don't want a party! I don't want people to sit there and be sad and to spend money to travel. That's such a waste, I don't need that, I'll be dead!" I laughed and said, "Grandma, the party isn't for you, it's for all of us. It's to help us grieve." she replied, "I know but you know what's always bothered me about that?" "What?" I asked, she said,"It just seems sad that it takes someone passing for people to share all the things that they like about them and they never bothered to do it while they were alive." I couldn't agree more with her and this one conversation has been bothering me more that any of our others so I came up with an idea that I'm hoping all of you who read this will like to participate in as well!
I'm starting the Love Letter Project. I am going to start writing love letters first to my Grandma, and then to other people that I love, so that they have written down accounts of why I love them so much and how much they have impacted my life. I'm going to send my first letter to her this week ( :) hee hee!) and I only wish I could see the look on her face when she reads it. My other idea was to throw her a funeral before she actually passed away but I'm not sure if the world or my family is ready for that idea yet... perhaps when it's time for my own passing (if I'm blessed to make it as long as she has) I can throw myself a pre-passing party of sorts...(ha ha!)
So... who do you want to write a Love Letter to? Who do you love SOOOO much and you haven't told them that in a while? What are you waiting for? I double dog dare you to write one this week along with me and to see what joy that might bring for one of your loved ones. What's the worst thing that could happen?
-Tabitha :) xoxo
P.S. A client of mine wrote this and I asked if I could share it anonymously. My hope is that is helps to remind us all that we each will deal with grief differently. What is certain though is that we will have to deal with it, so, why not give each other grace and space as we do so?
"Unfortunately when someone passes, grief doesn’t come in a nice package with a pretty bow on top. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Grief doesn’t fit into a mold. It’s not a one-size-fits-all hat. We all need something different.
It can be messy, it’s ugly, it’s dark, it changes you. The void your loved one leaves behind seems unbearable. The hole is so deep and wide you can’t help but fall in it everyday. You act out, cry, loose your patience and even push people away. Your plan for life has fallen apart right before your eyes. You have to find a way to keep living, start over, find reasons to get out of bed every morning. You find simple joys in the smallest things because you’ve learned how precious life is. You see your children start to smile again. You learn it’s ok to be happy again because they want you to be happy again. You pickup the pieces and start plan B. People judge you, label you, talk about you behind your back.
I’ve learned that grief is hard enough on it’s own but it’s even harder because your judged. You want to do whats right for everyone but you soon learn that no one has to live with your choices except for you. You take chances, try new things, find new passions, remember what life is all about. Slowly you heal. Grief never goes away, it becomes part of your journey. Embedded deep inside of you. It becomes part of who you are.
You learn to follow my heart, trust in Gods plan for my life and always be kind because you never know what someone’s going through."
Tabitha enjoys living in Tucson, Arizona with her husband Jared, and her adorable doggies Shadow & Scooby. Stay tuned for Tabitha's upcoming book Serendipity in which she takes us through her time in Africa.