Faith and Life: Death reminds us to live for a legacy 'that exceeds us'

What is the most significant loss you can remember? For some, the answer may come immediately to mind. Others may have to ponder a bit to figure the answer out.

Mine is fresh on my memory…my grandmother. She passed Oct. 21, six days short of her 99th birthday.

I will never forget the last time I saw her, nor will ever fail to remember the last conversation we had.

My grief started 17 days before her passing when my mother phoned to tell me the end was near. I cried the entire night from somewhere deep within my being. The day she passed I cried less. The morning I officiated at her funeral, I again welled up minutes before stepping out to the pulpit.

Grief is defined as a process, gone through in non-sequential stages. The Kubler-Ross model is a good representation of how the “the five stages of grief” can occur. It uses the acronym DABDA: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

The denial stage is about one basically thinking, “Hey, I am fine, this cannot be happening to me”; the anger stage is more of a, “Why me? Life is not fair” type of perception; the bargaining stage is usually asking God for more time with the idea of changing one’s lifestyle, “I’ll do anything if only…” type of thoughts; the depression stage is kind of a “Why even go on?” type of mentality; while the acceptance stage allows one to finally think, “It’s going to be alright I may as well not fight it.”

These stages are typically what individuals go through during the grieving process. True, deep, “grief” lasts about two months. When the duration exceeds this, it is technically diagnosable as a major depressive episode -- which makes sense when we have lost someone very close to us.

But the truth of the matter is that grief can look different for everyone. And the bottom line is that grief is not only necessary to move on, it is a dreadfully powerful emotion that is pervasive in nature.

The passing of a loved one is one of the most difficult life stressors we can experience. It is permanent. There is finality to it that other stressors and losses do not always include.

What I have noticed with the passing of my grandmother is a bit different from other deaths I have experienced. My grandmother was so alive when she lived on this earth!  So much so that her photos now somehow evoke the feeling that she is still here. Not in a supernatural sort of way, but in the way that my memories of her are alive.

They are of someone so loving, so true, that I can still feel the memories as if they are present day. She is with me in my prefrontal love, my heart, and my mouth can still carry stories of her beautiful deeds and loving gestures.

This woman goes down in my history much as someone might remember President Lincoln for his work and service. No one can take her from me. She is a history maker. She is well loved. I was well loved.

Remembering and grieving someone who gave selflessly in life makes me wonder: how will I be remembered? Will I be grieved well with others having fond memories?

Deeds, love, our loved ones, and memories are pretty much all we leave behind when we pass. And there is not much more of a legacy we can have then to start living a life that in some way exceeds us and blesses the next generation. I know my grandma has.

For me and many others, she is known best for one thing: unconditional love. And that’s a pretty major way to make history in my book.

The REV. KIMBERLIE ZAKARIAN is a licensed psychotherapist in the Montrose area. You can reach her at

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