digital collage on a dark purple background. a black woman with shoulder-length hair sits in a wheelchair while wearing a sunhat. she looks up at two hummingbirds hovering near three hanging flower planters that hold leafy plants and blooming flowers
(Designed by Kimberly Rooney 高小荣)

This year will mark eight years since my grandmother made her earthly transition. I’m amazed at both the way time has passed and the things I’ve endured that I wish I could share with her. Reflecting on the years that have gone by, I recall a saying of hers: “No matter what happens, time rolls on.” 

Time has indeed rolled on. My journey with grief has shifted tremendously; the sharp tenderness felt at the initial loss of my grandmother has changed into a manageable ache. My memories of her are still there, and I smile more when they come up instead of frowning from sadness. Spiritually, I feel more connected to her thanks to certain practices I have enacted; I’m grateful for her steady visits in my dreams and for the signs she sends when she knows I need them.  

This year, however, I am doing something very different and intentional to remember her—I’m reclaiming my joy by doing the things we once did together. One of those things is watching television, specifically shows like “Wheel of Fortune” and music programs. Since her passing, I haven’t made the time to watch these programs because they were heavily tied to her. However, recently, something nudged me to rediscover these interests. As I rewatched our favorite shows, I remembered all the comments she used to make that brought me warmth and laughter.

Reclaiming joy during a grief journey is an incredible act of healing. Emotionally and spiritually, I knew that I was not in the right head or heart space to do these simple activities. It may sound strange to those who haven’t experienced this kind of loss, but the activities we used to do with the people we have lost feel uncanny to do without them. For some of us, doing them at all is too painful—those feelings are completely valid. Everyone’s grief journey is unique, and that uniqueness means that we engage (or not) with the activities or routines we once shared with the person who has transitioned.  

Revisiting these activities felt off because it highlighted that my grandmother wasn’t with me.  However, I knew that that feeling would subside as I became comfortable reinstating them—and it has.  

Taking this step has opened me to consider other activities that I have also paused over the years. I plan to dive back into birdwatching, an activity we enjoyed while sitting on the porch together. My grandmother loved sitting outside and tending to her hanging plants and flower bed. During the spring and summer, we particularly loved watching the hummingbirds who took a keen interest in her hanging flowers. I also plan to get a new hummingbird feeder and keep track of the various birds I watch—the little things I know she would appreciate that I’m undertaking for my happiness. 

Grief is strange—that’s one thing I’ve learned intimately. It changes you in the most subtle ways; yet for me, those changes have allowed me to grow stronger and connect with my memories in intentional ways. Engaging in small acts creates room for us to reclaim bigger, joyful moments, and I also share memories about my grandmother in my work and day-to-day conversations to heal and keep her influence alive. 

Writing this piece is also its own form of reclaiming joy. Nothing in my life prepared me for this loss, but I am still here, sharing what I have learned with those who may relate. 

Vilissa Thompson, LMSW, is a contributing writer covering gender justice at Prism. A macro social worker from South Carolina, she is an expert in discussing the issues that matter to her as a Black disabled...