My Grandpa passed away about 8 months ago, the end of November. Losing him has been the most challenging event I’ve ever had to endure. The worst part of this has been that we pushed back his Celebration of Life to avoid making people fly in the Winter, planning it instead for June 12th (what would’ve been his 75th birthday) … and then the pandemic ruined that plan as well. So, I’ve tried to honour him as much as I can this year, through my writing.

While I’ve lost family members before, the bond my Grandpa and I shared was one-of-a-kind. He was a hermit by choice, moving to a middle-of-nowhere location and having faraway neighbours, avoiding the world as much as he could … yet he was always so excited when I called him. He’d answer and I knew he was smiling on the other end. Before he got sick, we would talk for over an hour. I made sure to phone at least once a month (and this is why I still haven’t taken his number out of my phone; I just can’t yet).

My Grandpa and I would talk about a variety of things — he was a man with 3000 books, and a lot of unique interests. With that said, you’re probably not surprised to hear how much he valued education, knowledge, and being a lifelong learner. He and my Dad didn’t finish their university degrees, so I know he was proud when I finished mine. When I decided to pursue my third degree, in teaching, he’d always ask me about the courses I was taking, genuinely curious and excited. (He did that before as well actually, even in middle school.)

The day he passed, it was the weekend before the final week of my third semester — I had four presentations that week, two were with groups, and I knew I had to push through in order to not repeat the entire semester. So I did. Then I pushed through trying to finish everything I needed to do in preparation for my final (10-week) practicum. Then I pushed through the holidays, wanting to be happy and have fun, as it was my first Christmas with my boyfriend (and we spent three days together with our families!). Then, more preparation for practicum.

It wasn’t until early January, after my first of 10 weeks in the classroom, that the grief finally hit. I sobbed for three days. I knew I wasn’t okay. With the suggestion from one of my professors, I took a year off, to seek counselling and to grieve, so I could come back next year and be at my best for my final semester.

But something shifted inside me. I thought it was just the grief — and maybe, at first, it was — but as the months went on, it was bigger than that. You see, not having my Grandpa in my life — a man who I love and respect so dearly, whose opinion I always cherished — was strange. I lived a lot of my life trying to please him (and others, in all honesty, but him most of all). Not having his physical presence in my life had me asking a lot of questions. I began to ask myself, “what do I want out of life?” … and, even more, “do I still want to be a teacher?”

The answer? No. But for six months, I had my Grandpa’s voice in the back of my mind, telling me to go back later and finish my degree. Even though I had already decided on a new career path, I could hear his voice, hear his logic, to play it smart and get my degree as a back-up plan.

I spent those six months on a personal development journey — researching my new future career, seeking guidance from life coaches, reading more and more books. (I couldn’t just sit around for a year, right?) I thought this would tie me over until I was ready to go back to school, but if anything it made the decision worse. I was resentful about having to finish — why couldn’t I just skip right to my new dream? And eventually I couldn’t take it anymore; I decided not to finish my teaching degree.

Of course, this left me with guilt, for believing I’ve disappointed my Grandpa. It hit me one day though — yes, he valued education, and I know he would’ve loved for me to complete it … but dedicating my life to constantly learning, and to continue growing as a person, was probably more important to him. I also know he hated hearing me cry, so I like to think he’d rather I was happy.

Grief impacts us all in a unique way, and based on my past experience (losing my cousin vs. losing my Grandpa) the same person can grieve differently for different people. I knew I would be devastated, and I knew losing my Grandpa would take me years to recover from. Never in my wildest imagination did I picture making dramatic changes to my life.

I know it’s not the path you saw me on, and I know the next few months will be scary … but Grandpa, if you can see me, I hope you’re still proud. And just know, your legacy as a lifelong learner will live on, through your sons and through your grandchildren.