When a loss is felt deeply, sometimes there is a lot of guilt around living. The worry is if I move on, I will forget the loved one, the life we had, or the memories we made. There is fear around being too joyful, too fulfilled, too alive, which is logically pretty crazy and yet, it is the reality. There is almost a magical belief that if we keep our lives similar and/or sad, our loved one might somehow return or be honored.
You may not even realize that thinking is present because it is a part of the grief process. It is also something we don’t talk about because it does seem childlike or even crazy. It is difficult to let go of what was out of fear we will completely lose our loved one.
One of the most difficult transitions I have made this past year is letting go of my uncle’s shoe repair shop. The shop was started by my great-grandfather. I grew up going to the shop when my grandpa owned and ran the shop, and when Uncle Jeff took over, I frequented the shop as well. It was a place of joy and connection for me and my family. In the days and weeks following my uncle’s death, I spent many hours in the shop working and cleaning. Every weekend I would drive to Chicago to help out at the shop, I would have to remind myself of why I was doing this and that he would not be in the back room working. The last day the shop was open was emotional to say the least. It was a great day as most of the family came to work and clean and honor a family legacy.
When the last customer left, shutting the door felt like Uncle Jeff had died all over again. It was devastating. Even as I write this months later, tears are welling up. However, keeping the shop open didn’t make any sense. No one was trained to take over. We couldn’t do shoe repairs without the shoe repairman! Still, it felt like I was betraying my uncle, grandparents and great-grandparents.
Then I remembered, I still have a life to live. We still have a life to live. And the reality is my uncle wouldn’t want to hold onto the shop just because we wanted to hold onto him. We can have our memories while moving forward into the fullness of life we all have been invited into living.
As we have begun to live life without Uncle Jeff’s physical presence and the shop, a most beautiful reminder of the ebb and flow of living life in all its complexity unfolded. Through a series of complex connections, we found a man in South Carolina who moved from Mexico many years ago to start his own shoe repair business in the States. His dream has been just a dream as he has continued to work for another shoe repair man saving money towards his dream. A couple of weeks ago, his dream came true when he purchased all the equipment from my uncle’s shop and moved it to South Carolina, along with a framed photo of my uncle to hang on the wall of his shop. If we had hung onto the shop and curled up into a sheltered space of not living full out, that man would have never heard about us. My uncle lived his life fully by repairing shoes and raising up young men in Scouting. If I had tried to take over running the shop, I would not have been living full out as my gift is not shoe repair. Yes, there is a time to grieve and then there is a time to live fully with the grief sprinkled in. It’s okay to live. In fact, living is the best way we can honor the life of another.