Lessons from Losing a Grandparent

In a letter during the summer before my freshman year, my uncle wrote to me, “Now begins all the fun stuff- and the hard stuff too.” It stills resonates with me to this day. Because as we embark on the best years of our lives, we may also may be facing some of the hardest aspects of growing up.  

As an “adult” who has lost a grandparent, you’re suddenly treated differently than those younger grandchildren. What once was concealed, what once was whispered, what once was saved for the grown-up table is now yours to deal with. The kids’ table can no longer be your safe haven. The details of the death, the arrangements, and the heartache are all out there for you to confront. There’s no playing hide-and-seek with something this heavy anymore. Times like these, as you’re being treated like an adult, you suddenly feel as helpless as you did when you were five.

Losing a grandparent can be one of the most heartbreaking things at this age. It brings about a painfully beautiful juxtaposition. In a time when we feel invincible, we are reminded of just how vulnerable we truly are. In college we do truly feel untouchable. We live with no consequences. We have endless possibilities ahead of us, with potential that is limitless. There is still so much life that has yet to be lived. Pain seems distant, and ever so elusive. This wholesome view of the world can quickly be shattered after losing a loved one. Those rose-tinted glasses are pulled right off your face. It’s a sharp reminder of your own mortality. All the world’s possibilities that once seemed permanent, now feel tragically temporary. We’re defenseless when life throws things our way. On one hand you’re still feeling that there’s a whole world out there for you to explore, but on the other, there doesn’t seem to be enough time to indulge in it all.  We’re co-existing between two contradictions - invincibility and vulnerability.

Being away at school can make grieving an even more complicated process than normal. It’s like you’re in your own little isolation bubble. Your own little world that you can crawl up in and try to cope. Your life feels so far away from the rest of your families’ no matter how many miles actually separate you.  You feel distant. You feel different. And sometimes you might even feel guilty. For me, being away at school seems like a Band-Aid. While it covers up the wound, it's not truly healing what is underneath. All the homework, and exams, and parties, and studying serve as Band-Aid on top of Band-Aid on top of Band-Aid.  But once you go back home, the wound is reopened.

All those distractions were just that- distractions. At some point or another, you will still have to grieve because you can’t hide from pain forever. Coming home, you have to face all the realities of losing someone all over again. You drive by the restaurant you would always go to together, or the park where they would push you on the swings, or even their house where you practically grew up. You’re suddenly flooded with all those emotions you’ve been suppressing. Let yourself feel. Let yourself sulk. Let yourself grieve. But most importantly, after you’re finished, let yourself heal.

Things may not feel like they can ever be the same. And maybe they won’t be. But even if everything will be different, eventually, everything will be okay. The loss of a grandparent will bring both tears of sorrow and happiness to your eyes. If anything, death teaches us the fragility of each and every one of us. So remember in these moments not to push your loved ones away. Bring them in closer and embrace them a little bit tighter than normal. When you lose someone, you are never alone. Try to let the stories, the memories, and the laughs outweigh the tears. Grasp onto the hope amidst the despair. And on those days when it’s hard to bear that your grandparent no longer exists in your world, remember they will appear in the crevices of your life. They’ll appear in the most unexpected ways- your mother’s voice, your uncle’s craftiness, your cousin’s sense of humor, your sister’s selflessness, or even your family’s holiday cookies.

The most poignant lesson that I have learned from losing a grandparent is that the world spins madly on.


In memory of my grandfather, Gary Graziano.