Dear kindred spirit,
Odyssey is highly known for its extensive use of the "open letter" writing format. You can browse our platforms and find various letters dedicated to family members and friends who have left us, in the hopes that many of us who have experienced loss will connect with someone we missed one last time through allowing the letter to be shared and circulated throughout our reading audience. This time around, I want to use the characteristics of an "open letter" to address girls and women who have lost their grandfather at various points of their life. "Open letter" possesses a duality of meaning- it is "open" in the sense that it is easily accessible online, but also in that it is emotionally "open," allowing for the writer to truly express themselves. I openly want to acknowledge what it is to lose your grandfather when he is the sunshine of your life.
As I am learning, losing your grandfather is hard. It is one of the most difficult things I know I will ever experience in my life. The title of "grandpa, "poppa," "pops," "papa," is one that carries all the loving meaning of one's own father, but with all the extra perks of long- standing traditions, inside jokes, walks together, stories passed down through generations, kindness, and wisdom that supersedes old age. When your grandfather is your hero, it's like being a daddy's girl to the man that taught boys who became men how to be dads- the daddiest of ALL dads. Many of us have grown up close to our grandfathers, others of us have (and I refuse to say had, because love is then, and now, and always) grown up living with our grandfathers, and all of us who mourn deeply within our hearts have lost one of the most beautiful parts of ourselves.
Whether we are the golden only granddaughter, one of many, or the last to know him, each of us has a one-of-a-kind relationship with our grandfather that we see in our mind's eye when we dream, that we feel in our soul when we hear "our song," or that we feel tugging at our memories when someone says his catchphrases, we smell his cologne, or we look in the mirror and see features that could only be his.
Our loss starts off as a burning sensation, a rage that tears through our bodies and minds and space and time, and over time it becomes not tolerable, not bearable, but I will say a doable pain that we all just have to learn with. Some days will be filled with tears, silence, and resentment at the world, at religion, at even our own families.
There is a big gaping whole at the head of the table on Thanksgiving, no strong but slightly wrinkled hands to wrap around yours to light a Sweet 16 candle chosen just for them, and nobody to chuckle, pat your boyfriend on the back, and invite him to watch baseball during the summer. Prom and graduation photos of you sandwiched between grandma and grandpa can't be taken. Long gone are the days of being called your special nickname, being carried on grandpa's back or being someone's "mini- me" or "best girl." It's just you, left with nothing but your melancholy memories, photos, and empty roles that only grandpa could ever fill.
As time goes on, your days will feel somewhat normal, but you'll hear or smell or see something that snaps you back into the devastating reality that is life without your grandfather there in person. When that happens, it will feel or it does feel like someone punched you straight in the gut so hard that you might vomit.
Although he's not there in person, you and I and everyone knows what comes next: "But he's here in spirit!" I have heard that phrase so many times that I wish I could roll my eyes so hard they'd pop out of my head... Everyone comes up to you and wants to kindly offer up their sympathy; there is truly nothing that anyone can say that will ever make up for our loss. Even so, as sick as I am of that phrase, those who utter it are so right.
His spirit lives on in you and I.
I think one of the worst parts of the aftermath losing your grandfather as a granddaughter is figuring out how the hell it is that you are going to carry on his legacy. Some grandfathers have no granddaughters, so to be one puts us in a really special place of honor in his heart. Things like keeping up his little habits when you finally gather up the strength to do them yourself, following his model of love and kindness, and even just talking about him when you miss him are all okay. That last one is the hardest for a lot of people, and it's not something that all us girls will feel comfortable with.
The important thing is that we comfort ourselves, and others who understand the type of loss we have, in ways that grandpa would want us to. Part of living his legacy is also learning to treat ourselves with as much love as he treats us, others as well. Nobody is going to baby you and spoil you like a grandfather can, but we owe it to ourselves to love everyone, ourselves, a little more when we want that hug we can't get or we wish we could make that "Happy Father's Day" phone call. Saying this is easy, but doing it is not. I know I often have a hard time treating others kindly as I should, being patient, or having compassion for others when I can so suddenly become consumed by my own pain.
Part of me is writing to granddaughters of lost grandfathers because those little girls who grow up with grandpa's love, then "left behind," deserve to know that somebody else is thinking about them specifically, and wants for them to be able to live lovingly with their grief and to thrive. Another part of me is writing this because I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. I have family members and friends, classmates and co-workers, who carry a piece of the special man that showed them to do and be so many things with them wherever they go. I know there are strangers who feel like this pain is one no other family member can recognize. I want to extend a hand to all of you, and say that pain we're feeling is only so grave because the loss of a role model is even more grave than the pain itself. The pain just means we remember all the goods times.
As I end my open letter, I just want us all to remember one more thing that I don't have a hard time remembering:
“It takes an hour to like someone, and a day to love someone... but it takes a lifetime to forget someone.”