My caregiving experience, my grandparents death, the grief that followed and all that Nonna represented came together for me. It was then that everything I had been exposed to by being with her so much as I was growing up came into focus. It was then that I realized that all those things that were Nonna just being Nonna were really lessons, life lessons. I needed to not only get on with my life after she passed but also move forward with sharing these lessons to guide others throughout their lives.
We tend to think that people will be with us forever, but realistically that can’t be so. Yet, despite what may be the brevity of the time we spend with those we love; it is the quality of the relationship that matters. These special people may no longer be physically with us, but it’s what they leave with us, their role-modeling, their values, our memories and our sense of them that help us chart the course of our own lives.
For me, those lessons came through caregiving and losing Nonna. My awareness was definitely not immediately clear as I was living it and at the height of it. But over time by turning to external resources, through reading and research, and finally, with the distance of retrospection, I embraced and actualized all that Nonna had modeled and taught me during my early childhood, elementary school days and my adolescent years.
Each of us has our proving ground. It could be the loss of a job, behaviors that lead to the loss of an important relationship, a child who is sick for the long-term or any of a number of significant losses or disappointments. Whatever the specific nature and magnitude of our loss, there is pain as we experience it. Yet if we adjust our thinking even slightly and open our minds to learning, we can derive lessons that inform the way we live our own lives.
At some point, each of us has a cross to bear. Not one of us can prevent adversity, suffering, or the most final of all, death, from entering our lives, but we can learn to view these experiences differently. We can find blessings in the support we receive from others. We can demonstrate resilience in the way we manage even one small task during our time of despair. We can find humor in an unexpected moment. We can find growth in our darkest hours and the renewal of hope as we begin to change our perspective and persevere.
We can remember and hold within us all the good that those we’ve loved have taught us.
In so doing we create our legacy—a living legacy that is shaped by the work of the people who have come to us and before us and deepened through the work we do and the relationships we form with our families, our friends and people in our communities. These are the people who are physically with us in the present, and, as their lives continue to evolve, who will carry what we teach them into the future.
Retrospectively, through caregiving, grief and ultimately my acceptance of Nonna Lidia’s death, I learned one of my life’s greatest lessons.