Is Grandma Still Part of Our Family?

Palliative CarePalliative Care Community Specialist

This is the earnest question I heard from a 5-year old girl to her mother as they left the church after the funeral.  Brave of this mother to bring her daughter to the funeral.  Many parents might not.  I don’t know how she answered her daughter’s question.

For years I have taught a workshop on Transcendence to learners who came through our Palliative Care program.  At first when I would ask students to define transcendence, particularly at end-of-life, I would just get blank stares.  Eventually I adopted a different approach.  I would ask everyone to close their eyes and think of a family member that was important to them and they had been close to… but who had died.  When everyone had the person clearly in the mind’s eye I would ask them if this person was still a part of their family. Over a 10-year period nearly everyone would immediately and forcefully respond yes!

I would then ask them to unpack what this must mean.  How were these deceased family members still part of the family??  I would point out that in some way they and their family member were transcending death.  We would go on to explore ways that we might foster transcendence by intentionally making memories, meaning and legacy.

I believe Warren Zevon’s song  Keep Me in Your Heart captures this concept. As he was dying of cancer at a young age, he seemed to understand transcendence and in an effort to leave a legacy and a path to stay connected after his death he wrote these opening lines.

Shadows are falling and I’m running out of breath
Keep me in your heart for a while
If I leave you it doesn’t mean I love you any less
Keep me in your heart for awhile
When you get up in the morning
and you see that crazy sun
Keep me in your heart for awhile

To hear the whole song on YouTube, click here

Transcendence is a beautiful concept that keeps us all connected in this life with those who have left.

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