Finding the Good in Grief

Four years ago, I kissed my father’s cheek, hugged what remained of him, held his hands for the last time, and walked out of his hospital room. I reached the parking lot, got into my same car, took the same route home, walked into the same house to see the same husband and the same kids. Everything in my life was the same, yet everything was completely different.

My world as I knew it had changed.

It was the end of my dad’s life. The end of his battle with cancer.

But it was also the end of his career. 

The end of our long and meaningful conversations.

The end of him attending birthday parties or family functions.

The end of surprise visits and impromptu dinner dates.

It was the end of so much. 

Death highlights the ends, causing sharp pain which cuts through your heart. 

Although I’d suffered this profound loss, I found myself comparing my situation to others.

I had friends who’d lost their parents much earlier in life. Their parents had not been around to walk them down the aisle or see their grandchildren be born.

I had friends who’d lost their child. That is out of order in the cycle of life. Our parents are supposed to die before us, not the other way around.  

I had friends who’d lost their spouses, young and old. They’d had to rebuild their lives without their other half.

Things could be worse, I thought. How dare I be sad?

And then there was something else. I wanted to believe that my father’s presence would remain with me even after his death. I had to believe we were still connected— that he was still here with me.

But if he hadn’t left, then how could I miss him?

I suppressed any feelings of mourning, thinking I didn’t have the right to have them.

At the time, a friend of mine sent me a podcast interview on grief.  It took me a while to hear it, thinking it would be too heavy and unnecessary. But eventually I did press play. That podcast did something for me that I will be eternally grateful for: It gave me the gift of grief.

The guest said something that stayed with me. Something I’d never heard before. “Pain is inevitable, Suffering is optional.”

What I was really trying to do was avoid suffering.  I refused to become a victim of my loss. My father had taught me to focus on the positive, to use humor in all circumstances, and to be strong. I thought by grieving his death, I’d be letting him down. But that podcast showed me that I was merging pain with suffering and I didn’t have to.

That changed everything. Suddenly it didn’t matter if my loss was more or less tragic than anyone else’s. It didn’t need to be compared. It was my loss and it sucked.

And then the guest said something else. “It’s not about the grief, it’s about the change.”

It’s not that he’s not with me…it’s that he’s with me in a different way.

My relationship with my father had changed. A relationship that had helped mold me and define me. A relationship I had counted on and depended on for the last 35 years.

I no longer had a relationship with my father— the person.  I was beginning a relationship with my father— the soul.

I could see my dad in my mind or in videos. I could sniff his cologne and smell him. I could hear his voice. I could remember him.  But I could no longer touch him. I could not kiss his cheek, hug him or hold his hand. I had lost one of the most important senses we humans have, the sense of touch. We are allowed to feel the pain of that loss.

The most beautiful realization I made, however, was not while I was listening to the podcast. It came later.

Despite giving myself permission to grieve, I was still the same person as before.

I was still positive.

I still used humor.

I was still strong.

I often think of my dad, cry, and minutes later find myself laughing at something adorable my child did. I can miss him and feel his presence simultaneously.

I can grieve with grace.

I have also come to appreciate the cycle between ends and beginnings. The end of one thing is always the beginning of something else.

A newly wed welcomes a life of companionship and romantic dinners yet misses the simplicity of being single.  A new mother thanks God for her beautiful, bouncy, baby girl and yet mourns the time when she was only responsible for herself. As parents gloat with pride that their bright and independent son is off to college, they mourn the little boy who creeped into their beds in the middle of the night. Even happy beginnings come with sad ends.

Although I reached the end of my earthly relationship with my father, it was the beginning of a new relationship. One in which I carry him with me everywhere I go.

The gift of grief has allowed me to live fully in the present moment. I can be happy or sad without feeling guilty about it.

 I used to have a mantra whenever I felt a twinge of pain. It went like this:  “I am strong. I do not feel sorry for myself. I am not a victim. I am blessed. I have a good attitude.” 

I continue to reiterate the same mantra, but I’ve added this sentence: “I am human and I feel sad… That’s ok too.”

A Moment of Clarity

If we deny ourselves the joy of the beginning or the pain of the end, we are denying ourselves the act of fully living.



 

 

Turning Tragedy into Legacy

I recently attended a meeting where guests deliver a thirty-second commercial about what they do. I shared with the audience that after twelve years of practicing law, I’ve dedicated myself to keynote speaking and writing to fulfill my purpose of carrying my father’s legacy. 

 An older man stood up when it was his turn and said “My name is Mario and I, too, am carrying a legacy.” He then spoke about his roofing company. 

At the end of the meeting, I walked passed the main entrance of the meeting room and bumped into Mario. 

“So you’re carrying a legacy, too?” I asked 

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Is it your dad’s legacy?” I figured maybe his dad or grandpa previously owned his roofing company. 

“No ma’am. I’m carrying my son’s legacy.”

My smile faded. “What happened?”

At twenty-six, Mario’s son died when a drunk driver crashed into him. He left behind a roofing company he’d proudly created on his own. Because Mario’s son loved being a roofer, Mario decided to do whatever it took to keep that business alive. For a while he tried juggling his own company and his son’s, but soon realized he couldn’t continue doing both. Mario shut down his existing company to focus on growing the company his son had poured his heart into.  He became a roofer and now manages the business with pride, knowing he is doing it in his son’s memory.

Mario touched my soul. He serves as an example for all of us that regardless of the pain we endure, we always have a choice. We have the choice to get lost in our suffering, or put our pain to work somehow. We have the choice to forget the ones we lost, or to honor their memory and keep their spirit alive. We have the choice to stop functioning, or to carry on with purpose, love, and resilience.

A Moment of Clarity

Mario’s son died too soon, but his dad made it his business to carry his legacy. Now that is purpose-driven work!

Mario found a way for his son to be there even when he’s not.

Before you delete another email, Read This!

Email inboxes have become another annoying source of clutter in our lives, requiring management and strategic planning to tackle them. Although removing the noise from our inboxes stops the mental overwhelm, I’ve discovered there are some emails you should never DELETE.

I recently attended the funeral of a ninety-four-year-old woman. I didn’t know her personally but she was my friend, David Altshuler’s mother. David’s son, Ellery, was the first speaker to deliver the eulogy. He seemed like a nice, educated and articulate young man.  

I thought it was quirky that Ellery referred to his grandmother by her actual name, Thelma. People don’t normally call their grandmothers by their first name. But after a few sentences escaped his lips, I knew there was nothing ordinary about this grandmother.

I quickly discovered that Thelma was an excellent writer with high standards and that she was always available to help Ellery with his school papers. She was a highly educated and successful woman. I expected to hear all about her accolades and accomplishments, which I gathered were significant.

But Ellery’s speech went in a different direction.

He took us all on a journey of Thelma’s life by reading emails she wrote to him dating back to 2004. Every email on its own might have seemed unremarkable and insignificant, but coupled with Ellery’s commentary and the context he provided, each one brought the audience closer to his grandmother. This was Ellery’s way of showing us who Thelma really was.

Ellery mentioned how he and Thelma enjoyed literary realism. He referenced a few books and noted how those authors reminded you of the profundity found in everyday life. He did an outstanding job at displaying the depth of his relationship with his grandmother by allowing us to peek into their ordinary, yet hilarious, string of email exchanges.  

Instead of hearing about her awards and recognition, we learned about her constant battle with her printer and its toner, her obsession with compression socks and free parking, and her keen ability to complete the New York Times crossword puzzles.

Suddenly I felt so connected to this woman I didn’t know.  Her brilliance, her zest for life, and her love of literature, music, art, and humanity mesmerized me. Her independence and character inspired me. And the special relationship she formed with a boy sixty-nine years younger than her left me in awe.  She was more than his grandmother; she was his best friend.

By the time Ellery finished reading their email exchanges, Thelma had become my friend, too. She was exactly the kind of old lady I aspire to be.

At the end of Ellery’s speech, he spoke about how much he would miss Thelma. His head dropped a little lower and his shoulders slumped a little more. “I had Thelma in my life for my first twenty-five years, but I’ll live the rest of my life without her.”

He’s wrong about that.

Connections like the one Ellery and Thelma had are not lost or broken by death or distance. She influenced his life in a way that will manifest itself in every aspect of Ellery’s life until he dies. Plus, Ellery has something precious; He has the gift of his grandma’s written words.

Thelma’s emails were just like the postcards my dad sent me. She established a form of communication with her grandson and then communicated with him consistently. Through her emails, she stayed present in Ellery’s life no matter where he lived or what stage of life he was in. Some of my favorite emails involved questions Thelma asked Ellery regarding sports.

“She asked me about sports even though she didn’t care about them,” Ellery noted, “just to meet me where I was at.”  

Unknowingly, Thelma took part in the postcard promise.  And because Ellery never deleted those emails, his inbox became a box of postcards.  Even though she is no longer physically present, Thelma will always be with Ellery even when she’s not.

I met Ellery after the service and told him how moved I was by his eulogy. I also shared with him my personal experience with my dad’s postcards and how even now, three years after he passed, I can pick a postcard from the bunch and his words are still relevant and meaningful.

“Thank you so much for telling me that,” he said. “I didn’t delete my grandmother’s emails out of laziness and now it feels like a streak of genius. Even though I’m sad that she died, I feel so connected to her.”

I can’t emphasize it enough. Write to your loved ones! Whether it’s postcards, letters, emails, or post-it notes, written words are powerful, even when they appear insignificant at the moment.

That evening I returned home from the funeral and this is how the conversation with my husband went.

Orlando: How was the funeral?

Me: It was amazing! I am so inspired.

Orlando: You realize this is not how this conversation should go right?

Me: What do you mean?

Orlando: Caro, funerals aren’t amazing. They’re sad.  You’re insane.

Me: Well, you haven’t been to Thelma’s funeral!

A Moment of Clarity

The next time you’re sorting through your inbox and removing all the clutter, make sure you stop before deleting emails from the people you love. Create a folder for them; Archive them; But don’t delete them. It may seem like you’re being lazy now…but one day it might just be a streak of genius.

Caroline de posada

A Testament to Strength

They say time heals all wounds. Is that true? 

If you’ve ever suffered a loss in your life–one that reaches to the depths of your soul–I suspect you’d tell me that no amount of time can heal a wound like that. And yet, I’ve witnessed families who’ve suffered immense loss heal and even find happiness again. It’s just that I can’t give “Time” the credit for their healing. So how do you heal a wound that runs so deep? 

August 25th is a day I’ll never forget. It was on that day, five years ago, that our community suffered the loss of a precious little girl, Fofi, who was loved by many. At the time, the thought of this was unbearable. I remember being struck by the strength that my dear friends, Alain and Betsy (Fofi’s parents), demonstrated during that time even though I really couldn’t foresee what life would look like moving forward. 

One day Alain and Betsy sat with their priest in their large walk-in closet–the only place they could find to escape the mass of people gathered in their home. 

Alain asked his priest, “Will we ever feel happy again?” 

His priest replied, “That’s your choice,” explaining to this young couple that for many people suffering means love but it doesn’t have to.  Some people stay sad forever, and some people rebuild their lives and find joy again despite their loss. “Only you can answer that question, Alain.”

Early on, Alain and Betsy understood that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. They chose to honor their daughter through smiles, service, and giving, instead of tears. (To see the most beautiful interview of Betsy on how she made that choice, click here.)

Yes, they made a decision and the last five years have been a testament to that decision. 

Since then, this couple gave life to another precious little girl.

They started a non for profit foundation, La Fofi’s Rainbow, to bring joy to families who are suffering.

Betsy and I ran a half-marathon in honor of her daughter, and then we completed our first full marathon shortly afterwards in honor of my dad who also passed.

Caroline de Posada Half Marathon

Betsy is now helping individuals and couples transform their lives and relationships through individual therapy, couple’s therapy, workshops, speaking and training. But most importantly, Alain and Betsy have led their lives by example and served as an inspiration to all of us that we can overcome anything. 

Today we celebrate. We celebrate a beautiful life that lives on in our hearts and memories and continues to impact the many families that need her. We celebrate Alain and Betsy’s resilience and strength. And we celebrate love. For without love, none of this would be possible.

A Moment of Clarity

The answer to the question: “Does time heals all wounds?” is “No.”

A spirited soul heals all wounds.

The choice is yours, my friend.