The Young and the Faithful
November 4 marks the third anniversary of my grandmother’s passing. We lost her rather quickly to a cancer that had gone undiagnosed until it was too late for the doctors to do anything for her. In less than a month, my fiery and energetic grandmother went from beating my brother, a star on his high school golf team, in an 18-hole round, to a hospital bed surrounded by hospice nurses.
My grandmother had the kind of laugh that you could pick out of any crowd, no matter the size. It was loud and boisterous and it seemed like, when she was around, there was always something to laugh about. Her energized spirit and love for life was infectious, and she was always thinking about and planning her next big adventure.
Losing my grandmother so quickly in the fall of 2013 really tested my faith. I grew irritated with God, and the deep place of prayer I had fallen into when she was first diagnosed with cancer vanished as quickly as it appeared. Rather than turning to God for help in healing for myself, as I had done on her behalf in the weeks of her illness, I didn’t think to go to prayer at all in the first weeks after she passed.
I was so angry that I even had the nerve to tell my priest, about a month later, that I thought heaven was made up – just something we all wanted to believe existed to make ourselves feel better about losing someone close to us. Thankfully, the priest is a kind man who simply chuckled, and told me that when I was done thinking like Karl Marx, he had a suggestion for me.
My priest did not push me back to prayer right away; he understood I was upset and hurt and needed time to grieve. Instead, he encouraged me to talk to my grandmother directly. I’m sure I gave him a look that suggested he was crazy, but he continued to encourage me to talk to her and tell her all of the things I would have normally told her during a visit to her condo in Michigan or during our regular phone calls. He knew through previous conversations that I had a very strong and close relationship with my grandmother, and he told me that she still wanted to hear about my graduate school classes, my relationships and my regular ups and downs.
Later that evening, after a good cry, I mulled over his advice and decided to give it a go. The next morning, I went for a long walk, along a path I was sure no one would see me, or hear me, and I talked. I talked for a long time, speaking directly to my grandmother about everything I wanted to tell her, from how much I missed her to everything new going on in my life.
The holidays can prove to be a painful time for remembering loved ones, who too often left us before we were ready for them to. And, it’s a challenging time, as we struggle with that internal battle of knowing we should be grateful for all of the love and good things that are present in our lives while still wanting to grieve for what has been lost.
Speaking out loud up to heaven is perhaps not everyone’s idea of a good time, or the first way we think of to deal with grief, but I can say that taking those walks and talking out loud to her has helped me still feel close to my grandmother and include her in my life through holidays, big moves across the country, new jobs and my wedding day last year. Perhaps Father’s advice is something for you to try as the holiday season approaches so that that table or gathering space can feel a little less empty.
Anna Jones is a writer who lives in the New Haven area.