If there’s one thing that I can’t say enough, it is this: the key to success in any interaction is open and honest communication. It’s not just how we portray ourselves, but how we perceive others’ actions, words, desires, and needs.
As with any aspect of love and relationships, every person has their own way of communicating and coping with a loss. We have ways in which we mourn, and ways in which we help others mourn.
So far in The Man’s career, thankfully, we haven’t yet had to deal with any serious call or devastation faced on the job. One day, I will have the first-hand experience, and be able to give advice on how to help your firefighter through a traumatic call or shift. I also hope that people will share their stories and advice on this topic.
Today’s message is a personal story from the heart of The Lady. Even though it’s not a tale from the firehouse, it is my hope that this will give insight on how you can find or help someone else (i.e. your firefighter) find peace during a time of loss.
On January 24, my grandfather passed away at the age of 90. Over the course of the last seven days I have experienced a roller coaster of emotions, and I still cannot fully grasp what it means for me.
And you know what? That’s fine.
In my grandfather’s life, he had five sons, who gave him ten grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. That means five different memories of a father, ten different memories of a grandfather, and three memories of a great-grandfather, however short they may have been. We all created memories of varying lengths with the same human at different points in his life, and therefore, different points in his happiness, prosperity, health, charity, and abilities to love. No two experiences with Wun-Hong Eng were the same.
At first, my sadness came from watching my grandmother lose the man with whom she built a life. Then my heart broke for my father who just lost his father, and quietly stood by his weeping mother’s side.
After that, nothing.
As the family laid him to rest, three remaining sons, ten grandchildren and three great-grandchildren mourned in 16 different ways. My grandfather and I were not as close in the end, as we had been when I was younger. We stopped spending major holidays and birthdays together, and I guess I lost that connection. And he spent a lot of time telling me what I should do in life– I should learn Chinese so that I can teach my nephew and then take over his store, I should get married because I’m the one who is going to have twins, I should chronicle his adventures in life and business… As I’ve been told, this was his way of telling me that he thought I was smart and capable of great things.
On the first day of services, when I saw the photograph that my uncle had captured of my grandfather about 15-16 years ago, it was then that I remembered the old man I loved. It had been years since I saw the softness in his eyes that I had known growing up. Suddenly,the memories that had always existed had an emotional value– all of the jokes about what he was actually feeding me versus what he said (I now know I ate a lot more turtle than I was led to believe), how to draw little animals from numbers, how to properly cook shrimp, how to grow apple pears, and the spring breaks and summer trips spent down near Tampa.
On the day of the funeral, I realized I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. Now, I am learning how to say goodbye to my ye ye, and will wear the bobby pin in the photograph above as a sign of mourning for the traditional 30 days.
I know some people did not approve of the way that I handled my grandfather’s death, but who is to say that I was or am wrong? I don’t hold that against them, but I expect for people to respect that my experience isn’t like anyone else’s, and this process is solely my own.
Whether you are personally dealing with death in your family or on the job; coping with your own pain or to trying to help someone close to you, understand the individual.
If it is your own pain, trust your gut. You know your own memories, experiences, and feelings better than anyone else. If it is your partner’s, brother’s, sister’s, parent’s, or friend’s pain, be there for them regardless of how they define their pain and grief, and understand two main points: The title and proximity of the person lost does not define the personal level of pain, and you cannot rush someone’s mourning process.
Love those around you, not as though today might be your last, but as though today is another chance to create memories to comfort those you will leave behind one day.
Don’t let love get lost if the love still exists.