Reconnecting with a loss can be a blessing

Learning about my family history changed my outlook on relationships

Sandrine went back to her grandmother’s childhood home.
Supplied by Sandrine Jacquot

This is not a unique story.

In fact, you’ve probably heard similar ones before, but it’s always worth re-telling.

I’ve always been close to my maternal family. Being the youngest family member, I was the perfect audience for not only my grandparents’ advice and wisdom, but their stories.

As many grandparents do, they loved joking, sharing their lives, and remembering people they met along the way. While I grew up to better understand and appreciate these anecdotes, my grandparents aged, and I watched from the sidelines as they struggled with the ends of their lives in their own distinct ways.

They say you can never prepare for loss, no matter how hard you try, even if you know it’s coming. Losing both of my grandparents within seven months of each other was an indescribably transformative experience.

Mourning them was a difficult and enduring process for many reasons. I saw how it impacted my mother and my family, but I didn’t know how to grieve. I was still a daughter, a niece, and a cousin—but somehow, the ‘grandchild’ label fit differently now.

I had never experienced loss so close to my heart. It changed my outlook on life.

Death and grief are an unfortunate, inevitable part of the package deal that is life. Life can be tender, joyous, and peaceful, but there will always come a time when it’s also sorrowful and deeply painful. We all know this, in our own way, and we know it to be natural and normal. But living it is a very formulating experience.

In August of 2022, I visited my grandmother’s childhood home with my mother and my aunt. In a rural mountain village in the heart of Italy sat the house that had been first passed on to my grandmother, and now to her children.

People often travel to places to reconnect with their roots and family heritage. Though I had visited the family home as a child, it was the first time I’d been back in my adult life.

As soon as I set foot in front of the house, I knew how important this moment was for myself, my aunt, and my mom.

Being back in the village where my grandparents grew up for the first time since their passing was like seeing things through a different lens.

I walked the same cobblestone alleys they did as children, I slept under the same roof where my grandmother and her siblings were raised, I hiked the same paths they did as teenagers, and I saw the same views they left behind to immigrate.

While I had done some of these things before, suddenly these simple activities had a new meaning and weight to them.

To quite literally follow in their footsteps was so profound. It was an out-of-body and simultaneously grounding experience.

During the four days I stayed in that house, I felt more connected to my grandparents than I had since their passing. Meeting and talking to people in the village who had known my grandparents before they immigrated or from their annual summer visits was like reconnecting to a side of them I had sorely been missing. 

It was a full-circle moment.

Not only did I feel connected to my family history, but I had a newfound understanding of my identity. I have a tangible and memorable connection to this side of me now.

As a third-generation immigrant, it gave me the validation I didn’t know I needed to believe ‘yes, this background and this history is part of who I am, even if I wasn’t born here, didn’t grow up here, or speak the language.’

In a strange way, this tiny village thousands of kilometres away had a small hand in shaping the person I am today. Realizing this makes you value family history in a very real sense.

My experience in the village made me appreciate family in a new way. It changed my perspective on the relationships I build with people. It made me a much more grounded, appreciative, and reflective person.

I recognize I’m privileged to still have such strong connections with and know so much about my family history. I’m lucky to be able to remain connected to this distant part of me. I hope I can share these places, stories, and people with any future family of mine.

Family can be messy and complicated. It can be frustrating and confusing. It means many things to many different people. But in the end, these shared roots and history bind families together—even when you’ve lost the figureheads.

You can’t put a deadline on closure. It can be an arduous and solitary time in your life, because even if others are mourning the same passing, you alone are mourning the loss of your unique relationship with that person. 

There’s no right way to mourn. Some people will always hold onto a bit of grief.

For me, staying in touch with my roots and family history has been influential in both my healing process and my maturing as a young adult.

I encourage everyone to learn more about their family. Stay in touch with your history. Go visit places you feel connected to. It’s such an individualized and invaluable experience I will never forget and never would wish to replace.

So no, this is not a unique story. But finding reconnection after loss has given me peace and made me into the strong, thoughtful person I am today. Maybe it will for you too. 

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