Is this it for grandma?

You still shall live, such virtue hath my pen,

Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men. – W. Shakespeare

13-28-37-41-51 / 18

Hello Diner. I hope this Fortune finds you with this question still unanswered. But the time of transition from life to death is just arbitrary–a string of numbers that can never represent the life its digits terminate. So I’m wondering whether this is indeed the question you want to ask. Because you’re at the point of asking when the end will come, I’m guessing that the person you’re asking about today bears little resemblance to the vibrant individual you knew. I’m sorry. But whether her body still lives, the spark that was your grandmother ended. All that her loved ones could do for her has been done.

What’s left is for the survivors: mourn, heal, live. I think your question lies here: How do I survive? How do I deal with that loss?

You may have heard the advice to let yourself mourn. And while well meaning, this advice is at best confusing, and at worst prolonging your unhappiness.

The intent of that advice is to do a long, self-indulgent purge of emotion to reach an eventual catharsis–that sigh at the end of tense dramatic movies. There are two problems with that approach:

1) Your life dealing with this tragedy isn’t a neatly contained movie with a two hour runtime and definitive end. There isn’t a set amount of “total sadness” that you can just get rid of. It comes and goes for a long, indeterminate time.

2) Scientist found that putting yourself through this constant flow of sadness (aptly named “catharsis theory”) just doesn’t work. Ruminating–meaning, constantly thinking about the tragedy–just keeps you in a state of mourning [1].

When tragedy hits, you have no choice but to react emotionally–you’re human after all. This will come naturally, so don’t worry about “letting” yourself do it.

Instead, say your goodbyes in whatever way you need to: say “goodbye” outloud, visit, tie loose ends, zero emotional balances, make offerings, pray, apologize, or give thanks. If circumstances don’t allow you to do something, do as much as you can. This process–like life and death–is not perfect, nor does it have to be. It may not seem like much, or it may seem silly and useless, but give yourself the benefit of going through this ritual.

For all of recorded history, humans as civilizations conducted rituals as metaphors to life’s transformations. But more than metaphors, the rituals are crucial components in the transformations themselves by making that process concrete. Rituals are things that you can see, hear, smell, touch, taste, and most importantly remember, which anchor those changes in your mind.

Next, with this life’s transformation, actually change. What was it about your grandmother that brought out the best in you? Remember and act on that. If your grandmother had skills you appreciated, adopt, practice, and master them. Your community–and by inclusion, the world itself–will benefit from another master carpenter, chef, tailor, or unicyclist.

“But I can never be as good as her, Cookie,” you’d say.

To that I have two thoughts: 1) It’s your skill now; just do the best you can with it. You’re definitely not competing with her–you’re carrying a legacy of knowledge. 2) Your grandmother took the same path from novice to master. With practice, you might even be better.

Remember who your grandmother was and how she affected you. Be that to someone else. The way she made you smile and the magic she created are the things you miss most. If you make someone else smile, wield her kind of magic, and then teach someone those things, she can live forever. Remember that, Diner.


[1] Bushman, B. J. (2002). Does venting anger feed or extinguish the flame? Catharsis, rumination, distraction, anger, and aggressive responding. Personality and social psychology bulletin, 28(6), 724-731.