Sad, not sorry

I don’t think I’ve ever given this an awful lot of thought until today, but it’s a strange thing that when you talk to people about something sad that has happened in your life one of the most common reactions seems to be that they say, “I’m so sorry.” And while I am still not entirely sure what that is supposed to mean, other than hopefully showing their sympathy with my sadness, somehow I usually feel that people want to say something like, “that’s too bad, I wish this thing didn’t happen in your life.”

So, today is one of those days where I am sad. My dad called me just a short while ago, telling me that my grandmother, who celebrated her 95th birthday in February this year, died earlier today. Once the words were out, I could hear and sense my dad’s sadness, just as I could feel tears welling up in my own eyes, and we shared a long silent moment on the phone together. There clearly is a feeling of loss, and knowing that I will never be able to spend time with her, listen to her words of wisdom and her humor makes me sad. But am I sorry? Am I suffering from the loss? Well, what I can say with certainty is that I don’t feel any regret, and neither I think does my dad, nor did my grandmother until the end.

My dad told me that he and his wife were sitting with my grandmother until she was gone, and that even shortly before she went, she expressed how satisfied and contented she was with everything, with her life, with the way things have turned out, with the fact that she has raised a wonderful son, who in turn founded his own family and gave her three grandsons she always felt she could be proud of.

The predominant feeling I have, next to the sadness over the loss, is that of gratitude. My grandmother has always been a source of inspiration when it comes to a wonderful attitude towards life: you always do your best, but whatever comes out of it is in God’s hand. While I do not think of the world as being “controlled” or “constantly ordered” by God, I truly believe that one of the main reasons why my grandmother was able to weather the tremendous storms that rattled her life was that she was willing and able to “give in to reality” and not despair, but rather grow with the challenges as they presented themselves.

I want to take this moment to celebrate my grandmother for the woman she was and remember her for the best of what she instilled in me!

Even before my dad was born, she received word that her husband, my grandfather, had been killed in a railroad accident in Russia. It was the summer of 1942, in the middle of World War II, and I cannot even imagine the agony and pain this must have caused her. One of the things my grandmother would, particularly later in life, repeat often whenever we spoke was that her family had warned her, “don’t you dare having a child so soon.” Well, obviously she did have a child, my dad, and has always been thankful for not heeding the advice she was given. And I do hope that, next to some traits I inherited from my mom’s side, my grandmother’s defiance and determination to stand against all odds and do what she felt she had to do will always be with me.

A few years later she was faced with a most terrifying health crisis. She developed an infection, which eventually led to an almost complete loss of hearing on one side. And after attempting pretty much everything that classic medicine could offer at the time, the doctors told her she had mere months to live. But she wouldn’t give in, and she surprised not only the doctors… Her son needed her, and she fought a long uphill battle. She began reading up on less traditional medicine, she became learned in herbs and their properties, and despite this severe incident she managed to outlive all of her siblings.

Another of her most endearing qualities was her humor. She would always joke and laugh with my brothers and me about the things she knew were declining during her final years. For instance she would suggest to us that we should take her to a dance, fully aware of course that her mobility and health would never permit it. But she wasn’t bitter about the loss of mobility, the loss of hearing, or the loss of memory. She just took whatever came and made the best of it anyway, simply by being who she was, by doing what she felt was right, and then allowing God to fill in the blanks. She often said that all she wished for was for God to take her home, so she could see her husband again, who would be waiting for her. But she didn’t wait anxiously but rather calmly.

In short, despite the many and heavy personal blows that fate dealt her, she kept going and always did so high-spiritedly. While I have not made up my mind about whether or not I believe in an after-life, I must say that I do hope that she is now reunited with my grandfather. She has been longing to see him for quite many years, and finally the waiting, at least, is over.

For as long as I live, I now want to do my best to follow in her footsteps and keep her legacy alive in me: Do what you feel is right, and then be content with what comes of it. And in those moments where I might feel frustration over something I didn’t manage to achieve, or angry about someone who I believe has wronged me, then I want to remember her… Don’t be angry, just be yourself and then everything will turn out alright.

Thank you, grandma, for everything!