Grief is not temporary.
It took me years to realize that the presence of grief is everlasting. It also took me years to realize that it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Grief brings sadness, denial, anger and eventually acceptance. It isn’t a fleeting moment, it’s part of the stitching that holds us together in life. It keeps those we love and have lost alive within us. As cheesy as that sounds, it’s undeniable. Although no one can say for sure what happens to us when we die, it’s clear that death doesn’t remove the power of the presence of someone in our life.
Ten years have passed and I feel her everyday. My body remembers how it felt holding her hand in the hospital. Her skin was soft and her hand was as delicate as a newborn in my hand. I can hear the wail and shock as my family and I realized she was gone. Her body was surrounded by her children and grandchildren as we sang her off from this life to the next. I can remember my aunt stroking her head, tears running down my dads face, and the confusion in the eyes of my baby sister as we all came to realize we wouldn’t see her physically here anymore. I remember shaking my head as we walked down the aisle in the church at her funeral, in disbelief that I wouldn’t be able to call her anymore.
That’s when it hit me like ton of bricks. The grief slowly flowed inside of me and then all of a sudden it was real. It was an impossible reality to have ever thought that she would someday be gone. She was our rock. As a mother and a grandmother, she had come to terms with all of that long before we did. She set the stone for us. As the years passed, we each brought our own little pebbles to gather around hers. Eventually, the pebbles grew closer and closer, encompassing her stone, and becoming one.
No longer just her stone, but ours.
The parts of her that created the foundation fused with the parts of us that made it stronger.
This past Thanksgiving, there was an abundance of gratitude at the family table. My large Irish/Lithuanian family could finally cut the turkey together, as opposed to our Covid/Zoom Thanksgiving from the year prior. We embraced, we laughed, we celebrated, we cried, some of us yelled- but it was comforting to finally share a meal with the ones we had loved and missed. Later in the evening my Uncle was reminiscing about past Thanksgivings. My grandparents started our family traditions decades before I was ever part of them. They raised their kids with the belief Thanksgiving was the most important holiday to share together as a family. Each year they asked everyone to try to make it home to be with the family if they coupd. They then requested that their kids and their spouses find their way home for that special day too. As the years passed it was important that their kids, spouses, partners and grandchildren join the family table too. We were free to go where we wanted for Christmas, but Thanksgiving was a priority.
My aunts and uncles would drive hours or even just a few minutes down the road to my grandparents home to help cook the turkey and set the table for their loved ones. Every year trips were always planned around that week in November to ensure that no one would miss out on a Thanksgiving in Connecticut. There were years that it was almost impossible for some to attend, but they would go above and beyond to get there one way or another. Snow storms, flights cancelled, conflict with a spouses family and whatever else would get in the way. At times, it was a chore to get there, but there was a force more powerful than any conflict that could arise.
It was the smile of the face of my grandmother and grandfather as family members trailed in through the front door. My grandmother would reach up from her chair and hold you tight in a hug with a kiss on the forehead.
My grandparents were incredible people. They constantly opened their heart and home to anyone in need. They were selfless, hard working, extremely silly and loving people. Long after their deaths, their are still people who’s lives were greatly impacted by a single act of kindness from Bob and Peg Andrulis. They were pillars in their community for decades. They did so much for so many people and asked for nothing in return. That kind of generosity and compassion is a rare gift that they happily gave.
If I ever needed a hug, a nap, a prank call, or a double stuffed Oreo, I would find it at their house. They gave me the same love and comfort that they gave their children. I was the first grandchild and commonly referred to as my Grandpas favorite. They gave me unconditional love and support. If I wasn’t the first grandchild or anyones favorite, they still would have given me the exact same amount of understanding and compassion.
I could write thousands of examples. They were just the absolute best.
Showing up for them was a small request compared to the lasting effects of their devotion to each and every family member.
My Grandpa passed when I was in high school. I had never experienced grief before. I knew he had died, but it didn’t seem real. It felt like a scene in a movie. My Grandpa was different from all the other Grandpas out there- he was supposed to live forever. I couldn’t imagine a life without him in it. I couldn’t imagine a Thanksgiving without him seated at the piano playing the same three songs over and over while the food was being prepared for the table. I couldn’t process that I would never hear him sing ” Let Me Call You Sweetheart” one more time.
Months passed and eventually Thanksgiving arrived. As we stood around the table to say our family prayer, I felt the words choke in my throat. He should have been there. I felt the hot tears roll down my face and looked over at my aunts and uncles, the same tears flowed for them. Then I looked at my GG. She knew something I didn’t. She knew that the traditions would stay the same, the same prayer and song. The same place settings. The same green bean casserole and stuffing. My Grandfather remained alive in those traditions. Year after year, his presence was intertwined in all that we did on that special day. His unique imprint was permanent.
As the sadness, denial and anger of grief pulled away with the tide, the beautiful wave of acceptance came up to shore and somehow seemed to whisper, ” You’ll never walk alone. We will walk with you.”
And they have.
As my uncle moved on from the memories of Thanksgiving to present day, he said something that settled into my heart and hasn’t left since.
” You know, we used to come home for Thanksgiving for them. We did it for them. Now we do it because of them.”
They made our family traditions important and repeated year after year. By setting up the importance of family and community in each of us. Standing in my aunts kitchen making jokes about the gravy, watching my brother eat an entire turkey leg like a cave man, listening to my dad talk about our favorite memories from years ago- these simple acts keep us attached to each other. The values and beliefs about family that were so important to them are now equally as important to all of us now.
We travel from a few different states and a few different towns. We expand our family table to accommodate spouses, children and friends. We designate different cooking jobs to different people. We stand, hold hands and sway as we sing our family prayer. We stand in the kitchen, eat cheese and catch up on each others lives. We make sure everyone has had enough to eat and leave room for ” just a sliver” of pie. We sit by the fireplace and hold our annual family talent show after sing ” Over the Rainbow” together, because it reminds us of the memories and love the two founders of our family gave us and continue to give, even after death.
Ten years ago today we said ” Toodaloo” to the woman who made sure we knew her love was never ending, even in death. A few days before she passed, as she lay in her hospital bed, she looked out the window and motioned for a few of us to scoot out of her view. She saw her husband, our Grandpa, waiting for her. Their love transcended death, and because of them we now gather and let our light and love flow from one generation to the next.
We live in a crazy world full of fear and change. It seems like the rug just keeps getting pulled out from beneath us. When everything spins out of control, I know with great certainty that by continuing the legacy of my grandparents to my own children and family, I can leave that same imprint that they so gracefully left for me.