Death is the only sure thing in this life. Maybe you have not lost anyone you love or know, but we will all come to face that in our lives. Sometimes it turns your whole world upside down causing an earthquake of emotions – devastation, grief, feeling lost, stuck, scattered, uprooted and ungrounded.
My best friend – I call her D – lost her yia yia (Greek for grandmother) last Sunday on Mother’s Day. I do not believe it is true that because a person is old or the death was “expected” that the loss is easier or less sad. It is a devastating time for her whole family. D’s grieving and celebrating of her yia yia’s life has been really inspiring to me and I want to share her story with you…
“I was in the dressing room of an antique store when dad called and told me you passed away. Only minutes before I had said to Alex “These 1950’s dresses and jewelry remind me of yia yia and make me feel so nostalgic.” Maybe you led me to that store so I could somehow feel you around me as I heard the news? I like to think you did. Every friend and loved one who has texted me the past day has said something about how sweet you always were. And I do agree with them because you were so sweet all the time. But what do I actually think of when I remember you? I think of your toughness. I think of you growing up on a farm milking cows at 5 am. I think of how you stuck your head up high despite being bullied because you were the only Greek Orthodox family in a small dusty town in Utah. I think about how you lost your mother when you were only 18 and declined a scholarship to a great university so you could care for your widowed father and younger siblings. I think of how you had the hope and faith to apply for a scholarship again and eventually moved to Los Angeles to go to USC. I think of how you didn’t take a single sick day for the whole 25 years of your career. I think of the countless meals you made, dresses you sewed, and sports events you attended. These are what I think of when I think of you, Joanna Chaknias Ludwig. My fierce Greek yia yia who always wore pink and had her hair done every Friday. Who had more jewelry than anyone I know in the world. Who made the best spanakopita I’ve ever had including in Greece. I pray I can grow to be as resilient as you were and I promise to tell my future daughters the stories of your strength and bravery. I feel a hole in my heart now that you are gone but I know that you are in my blood and bones and I’ll take you every where I go. S’agapo Josie.” – D
A few days after yia yia’s death and lots of mourning, I received a text from D telling me that today she was going to be happy for and celebrate her yia yia’s life. What an inspiring spirit!
Although she had her day of joyful remembrance, there are many ups and downs throughout mourning. The next weekend she felt she needed to physically match her spirit of sadness and feeling low with her personal one-day sit shiva. She was raw, over-stimulated and overwhelmed and the sit shiva allowed her to honor that. She sat low to the ground, closed the windows, did not address her physical appearance by skipping the shower, covering mirrors, not wearing jewelry or making herself up; she read scriptures and let the waves of feelings wash over her – “crying from grief, laughing from joys and knowing she was mine and I loved her.” She honored, accepted and released emotions and dove into her soul to figure out what she needed from there.
How do get back to your life when you are so deeply mourning another? How can you let out your pain and sadness in healthy ways? The goal is not to get rid of or ignore the sadness or pain but to shift the energy of it. Here are a few ideas, not to lessen your pain, but to help release it from your heart so you can fill it full of the love, gratitude and good memories of your loved one: practice a meaningful, personal ceremony, cook meals in remembrance of your loved one, light a candle, talk to a trusted friend when you feel pained and sad, get an intense work out like kick-boxing or spinning, go to a place where you feel your loved one, write letters to them, say a prayer, find a grieving meditation, allow yourself to give yourself whatever it is you need at this time.
I am not an expert on this, so if you are mourning and do not feel ready for this or it does not sit with you right, if your have mourned and this was not your path, that is all okay. You take care of you in the best way possible.
As always, I would love to hear and learn from you: What helped you in times of grieving? What has your experience been like? This is something all can or will relate to, so your story and advice will definitely serve us all. This is a safe, judgment free space.
Sending you love and support on your journey and wishing you health and happiness and sending love and gratitude to yia yia and all our loved ones who have moved beyond this world,