How Do I Live with Grief?

Nancy laying head down on arm at the kitchen table. Black and white. This article covers the question, How do I live with grief?

Getting Older and Grieving

This past December marked my 40th spin around the sun. It makes me remember this picture of me that my Dad took when I was a teenager.

I remember being tired and putting my head down on the table. The window behind me was open, and the sun had started to set, and he said, “Don’t move, the light is hitting you so beautifully right now,” and he snapped a picture.

It makes me smile because I can see the tips of his fingers in the corner, but, he captured my youth and a moment in time where he saw beauty.

He also immortalized a time period of my life when everything was easier, my troubles were few, and all was right in the world because my family was still whole.

How I long to go back to when it was still whole, but, alas, life doesn’t work that way.

Embracing Age

40 is one of those milestone ages, and I’d be lying if I said that the reality of getting older hasn’t crossed my mind more than once this past year.

Birthdays for me aren’t really about celebrating, and a lot more about gratitude. It’s another year that I’ve been given to spend time with my loved ones. Another year to see our girls grow, to love my people hard, and to make new memories.

I’ve never been the type to hide my age or be ashamed of it. Simply because aging is truly a blessing that not everyone is bestowed.

The biggest thing that I’ve learned this year is that love is infinite but, our time here is so very short. We have to use our time wisely and love on all the people that mean the world to us.

How I wish he could have been here to celebrate this milestone with me, but, I know he is always in my heart.

Nancy resting her head on her papa and posing with Gabby in a Halloween costume. This article covers the question, How do I live with grief?

Moving from Grief to Grieving

The last two years have taught me how to survive with grief. Today, makes two years since I lost my person, my best friend, my papa.

I didn’t know that grief rewires your brain. According to the American Brain Foundation, grief, and loss affect the brain and body in many ways. It can cause changes in memory, behavior, sleep, and body function. It impacts the immune system as well as the heart. Not only that, but it can also lead to cognitive effects, such as brain fog.

What’s the brain’s goal? Survival.

I can attest that my sleep, health, immune system, and the way my body functioned as a whole was impacted. I don’t know how I functioned some days.

Furthermore, I’ve learned that grief is a natural response to loss. That punch in the gut or knock you off your feet kinda feeling becomes your new normal for a long time. Grieving is accepting the loss and the absence of our loved ones that we carry with us.

There are good days when I can wake up and face the day, get things done, and not fixate on the loss. Even when I see pictures, hear his voice, or a guitar play. Even with triggers, I’m able to compose myself and move forward with my day.

Then there are those hard days, where it hits you like a ton of bricks. Especially on days when I find something he left behind. He left behind things with a purpose, and left them with other things we would need with it, and he left it so neatly to be found. Knowing one day we would need it. Even having passed, he is still taking care of us.

Those are the heavy days, and sometimes there are days that feel that way for no particular reason at all.

I think we will always experience grief. Especially when we experience moments that you’d thought they’d be there.

But, grieving, is how we deal with grief, and it changes with time. How we think to ourselves that, hey, this reality sucks but, we don’t want to feel this way all the time. You find a way to get through that tidal wave.

Nancy taking a selfie and smiling.

Allowing Happiness to Return

It isn’t all doom and gloom. You do smile and laugh again, you make new memories, experience new things, and a new semblance of happiness returns. But, it’s not without that little voice you softly hear in your head reminding you they should be here, too.

Sometimes you think about it with a smile because you know they would have loved what you’re experiencing too, and other times with anger at the unfairness of it all.

I can now agree with the folks that told me that “it gets better” but, now, I know what that truly means.

You will always reserve a space in your heart for that person and for what could have been.

I found that good ways to cope with grief is to talk about your loved one often, and talk to a friend who understands. Keep a journal. I’ve written in mine, especially during those early days. It’s also helpful to get counselling or therapy to work through your feelings. We carry a lot of things with us that we may not even realize.

I’ve found happiness in the confirmation that my Dad is living on through other people. Not only my family but, through the lives of people, he has touched.

By chance, I was looking to hire a contractor, and he recognized my last name. He asked if I knew a Frank Polanco, and I said yes. It’s my brother. He said, no, it couldn’t be, since he’s an older gentleman. I said yes, that’s my father. He was blown away at the whole “small world” of it all and went on to tell me so many memories of my Dad.

He described him exactly as he was, and he also expressed how much he valued him because he taught him so much. It turns out, he had worked with my dad when he was just 17 year-old (he’s 40 now) and he still remembered my Dad by name, and was so appreciative of him. 23 years later.

He mentioned that he is still using skills he learned through my Dad. When he asked me how he was doing, I told him he had passed, there was a long pause, and he expressed his condolences. It was a bit emotional but, I know he impacted many people during his life.

When I hear a guitar play, I know that my dad lives on through his students too.

Even when I use a tool he left, he lives on through making our lives easier. He’s still a part of our life and is with us wherever we go.

Kimchi as a puppy lies on the hardwood floor in a farmhouse living room.

Welcoming Love

During the early days of grieving, I took off for weeks, and I was in Toronto with my Mom. It was a distraction and a way to not face reality. When I came home, we decided that having a buddy at home to be with me when everyone was out (I work from home) would be beneficial.

So, we found a litter of goldendoodles and we picked one out by pictures alone. He was adorable, and had one black ear, which is rare. When we arrived, he was so high-energy and rambunctious—our energies didn’t match.

So, we looked at the other puppies and amidst all the chaos, a tiny puppy wearing an orange collar came right up to Gabby and me and just sat there. He looked up as if wanting to be lifted, and we did, and he just cuddled right into our arms. We carried him around while looking through the puppies play in the big farm. He stayed calm and nestled in the arms of whomever held him.

He chose us.

We told the man that we would like to take the orange collared one instead, and he nodded. Before we left, we asked him when they were all born and he said, February 6th. The very day my dad left this world, Kimchi had entered it.

I don’t know about coincidences or anything like that, but, Kimchi has hugged me, sat with me for hours, and been there for me through it all.

I needed him.

Moments like this warm my heart and give me the strength to get through the sadness and see things in a more positive way.

It’s important to remember that there is no timeline. It’s been two years, and it still feels like yesterday but, we adapt to ride those waves.

Nancy's foot at a popular spot in Pittsburgh. Reminiscing about her father. This article covers the question, How do I live with grief?

Looking to the Future

I recently found a picture my Dad drew for me 20 years ago and the note he wrote alongside it. I did my best to translate it from Spanish and tried to conserve the eloquence with which he wrote it.

He had a gift for that.

I want to share an excerpt because I want my girls to read it and I hope others find solace in his words like I did.

I found it when I needed it most.

My little girl, look at the future like a new day that awakens with the dawn sun, one that does not lose its light when dusk sets in. Do that, and you will always find good and renewed things. May hope never wither from your heart, and never lose the will to go on at any moment in your life.

I’ve been operating at 50% these last two years. In every aspect of my life, and I feel that it’s time to honor my Dad by starting to live with that same vigor I once had.

To start feeling that hope again, and seeing each day, my future, as a new day that doesn’t lose its light.

That means putting my health first so I can be there for my loved ones, and finding my passion again.

Nancy's parents, Frank and Milagro, in the 80's posing in a park in Chatham, ON. This article covers the question, How do I live with grief?

Honoring Them

The best way to honor your loved ones is to live a full life. I know that my papa would want me to be happy. He would want me to enjoy my life to the fullest, just like he did. I also honor him by loving hard because time is too short.

To my dear mama, you are the strongest person that I’ve ever known. I love you more than words can ever describe. You’ve taught me what love truly is, and you’ve given me hope when I needed it most.

That hope and promise that we will see each other again, and that when we leave this realm, we are in His memory, the best place we can be.

I thank Jehovah that we have you every single day.

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To my babies, my best friend and love in this life, my perfect little family— I love you all immensely. Thank you for supporting me and holding me through this tsunami of grief. To my brother and sister, we are connected in this loss but, I know that we can count on one another and get through anything.

To my friends who check in on those hard days or just because, I appreciate you so much. I’m sorry that I haven’t been a present friend, but, I’m working on it.

To those going through new grief or at any point in grieving. It’s different for all of us, no two people grieve in the same way. But, just know that you aren’t alone. Please reach out if you ever need a shoulder or ear to listen.

Just take it day by day.

And it does get better in its own unique, painful, and jumbled way.

How do you live with grief?

Let me know, til then—cheers m’deres!

The name Nancy is shown as a signature.


Nancy laying head down on arm at the kitchen table. Black and white. This article covers the question, How do I live with grief?

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  1. Beautiful! Made me tear up. Some days grief for me is hardly there. Others I need to take minute by minute. As time passes it gets easier for me. I love hearing stories and looking through photo albums

  2. This would be tough. I teared up reading this. My husband lost his dad and I know it’s difficult for him.

  3. I love the photo your dad took of you! It is hard losing a parent. I lost my dad at around the same age as you did. But I know that whenever I think of him, he is right here with me and continues to offer guidance. He has always been here since he passed…he’s just in non-physical energy!

    1. I am seeing his presence more and more lately. I appreciate that so much and it provides comfort. Thank you, you never think that you will look back on those moments. I am glad we have them though, to look back on.

  4. I feel like grief itself never really gets much easier but the ability to accept happiness after tragedy does. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  5. Beautiful read and so very true. Grief changes you for sure in so many ways. Somedays it washes over me in gentle waves and other days it roars like the eye of an hurricane… and then other days, it is just there, like the quiet calm of a lake..

  6. I am sorry for your loss and I appreciate you sharing your story. Such beautiful photos throughout too and I am with you on growing older…. I recently returned 50 and that is truly when you will feel old LOL. I feel like I got wrinkles overnight in all honesty.

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