The Art of Letting Go

Trigger Warning: Death

credit: Feyretale on Tumblr

I’m watching this movie, This Is Where I Leave You, and in the movie, Jane Fonda, playing as Hilary Altman, is attending her husband’s funeral with her children. She turns to her son and says, “it’s okay to cry. It’s also okay to laugh. There’s no right way to grieve.”

Jason Bateman as Judd Altman in This Is Where I Leave You (2014)

It reminded me of when my paternal grandfather died. I was nine years old. My mother told me. I laughed. I laughed and I buried my face in my arms because I was ashamed that I was laughing. I was confused as to why I was laughing. I loved my grandfather. I was upset that he died. I was confused at that moment, but I found my tears later as I stood over his gleaming white casket remorsefully holding a pink sharpie. Awkwardly carved into the shining wood in my childish handwriting was a small note.

‘I love you Pop-Pop’ — with a heart.

I spent years wondering why I laughed at that moment. My mother didn’t realize it at the time, but years later during a conversation she had some suggestions — awkwardness maybe, or relief. My pop was an amputee whose rampantly ignored diabetes led to multiple severe heart attacks and strokes in his lifetime. One of them resulted in the loss of his leg. Another resulted in his death. It was really nobody’s fault except his own that he refused to listen to medical advice. We all loved him, but my aunts and uncles had spent years begging him to take care of himself. He wanted to live his life on his own terms. I respect it in a way. We all have an end to our story; just write it for yourself. Do what makes you happy. If it kills you in the end, at least finding your peace made it a life worth living for.

I’ve come to find that grief is almost a comforting feeling. Maybe that’s why I laughed that day, though the mystery behind that is buried deep in the corners of my youth. Believe me, the feeling of loss is awful — I am not negating that. But grief has an overwhelmingly powerful affect besides sadness and hopelessness. It sparks memories. I feel like so many memories I have of a person are unlocked in the final moments I have to say goodbye to them. Those memories are important, because they ground you to who you are and recall lessons buried in the corners of your childhood. You didn’t see the lessons as a child, but as an adult you understand. If you truly let yourself feel the loss — live it, breathe it, cry it, scream — you give yourself the opportunity to clear your mind and decipher the things you need to know. You won’t find the key to life, but you may answer many questions about yourself and how to repair things in your life. Sometimes just the same words they say just tell you everything you should’ve realized all along.

My other grandfather, my stepfather’s father, died when I was 21. I mourned him. I cried. Then, I looked out my window, in the distance above the rooftops in the night sky: a shooting star. When my paternal grandmother died, my aunt hugged me and said every star in the sky was an angel in heaven. While that might not mean much to me, it stayed with my throughout my life. The brightest star in the sky was her. She was a beautiful, gentle woman — maybe too forgiving, though I hear her temper in her youth would certainly deceive you. I truly believe, however, that she could burn that bright. She always did when she was alive. She wasn’t just the center of my world — she was the center of our whole family. I think we all kind of fell apart when she died. Nothing functioned the same after she was gone.

My grandmother as a young mother — AI enhanced so you can see her beautiful face.

So, looking out my window the night my grandfather died and seeing that shooting star meant everything to me. It felt like my beliefs were affirmed. Maybe, the stars I was seeing were for me. I know it sounds delusional, but stars are light. My angels in heaven paved paths for me when they were alive, I truly believe their deaths wouldn’t stop them from lighting the way for me now. My grandfather wasn’t just any type of star. He was a shooting star.

Shooting stars hold weight in almost every culture in the world, mostly positive. In many, they’re seen as good luck. They’re also symbols of love and change. But even more, they’re symbols of transcendence — a way of seeing or communicating with what can’t be seen, such as souls that have passed on. Greek mythology specifies that shooting stars are messages from those passed. Romanian mythology suggests shooting stars are souls passing to the other side. I’m sure how you could see how this bore an incredible impact on me in the wake of my grandfather’s death.

credit: Jeremiah Cisz (2018)

You see, my grandfather was in my life for a very big period of change for me. Not just the typical changes, like graduation and birthdays and heartbreak. I lived a tumultuous life that changed constantly. I’m very adaptable, just look at my track record. My grandfather was a steady constant through that change, always rock solid, never for a moment making me doubt his love for me. When I lived in Connecticut, he was a hug away. When I lived in North Carolina, a phone call. He was a man of few words, but he always knew what to say.

The one thing he said, every single day that I spoke to him was, “same shit, different day.”

As a kid, I would just roll my eyes and quip back with some playful response, always inducing his famous smile and a chuckle. When he died those words were ringing in my ears and echoing in brain throughout the days leading up to his entire funeral — to a point where I kind of felt crazy because I just kept repeating it to myself. But it was true.

My grandfather and I the night of my sophomore homecoming.

Life keeps changing. It’s always going to move around us. But for us as people, we find comfort in familiarity and constants. We do the same things every day, for different reasons, but to bring us each individual happiness all the same. We have hobbies, interests, preferences. We have jobs, priorities, families. Things have to stay the same in order for the world to feel like it’s moving, because change feels like the end of everything. I’m sure my grandfather wasn’t alluding to some deeper meaning every time he said it. Maybe he was, I’m not a mind reader. Either way, it gave me a lot to think on and ponder. I began questioning a lot about the way I wanted to live my life. I thought about why I did the same thing every day if it did not bring me any happiness, but rather felt like it was draining every fiber of my being.

I started giving myself the opportunity to change with life, slowly letting go of what I felt like was holding me back from what I needed to do for myself. I began forgiving people, I began praying again. I’m still in the process of letting go of some things. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I am only one person with so much time, money, and energy. But I’m beginning to feel the reward of my progress — the same thing on different days has different meaning to everyone. But for me it is incredible to connect with the comforting familiars of my past. The memories do not haunt me, they heal me.

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Emma Diaz

Emma Diaz

I’ve like, been through a lot bro.