Transforming Grief: Life Lessons From Loved Ones We Lost In 2011

As the year draws to a close, it's only natural to reflect back on the events that had the biggest impact on our lives. For me, it was the loss of my grandfather, Hy Elias, at 83. My Papu (meaning grandpa in Greek) was in and out of hospitals for the better half of 2011 with a weakened immune system and a bad case of COPD from decades of cigarette smoking. When it was clear that his days were numbered, my cousins, brothers and I jumped on a last-minute plane to Florida, where he was living with my grandmother. The day we arrived was a Thursday. He died that Tuesday. Papu was in a hospital bed in his home in Delray Beach being cared for by hospice -- there was nothing else the hospitals could do. Yet, when we arrived, he miraculously rallied and we spent the day telling stories, hugging and kissing him, and feeding him his favorite foods. From that point he moved in and out of consciousness and passed five days later in the presence of my mother, uncle and grandmother. (Scroll down for his life lessons below.)

His funeral was too soon -- I couldn't bring myself to write a eulogy. But after my two brothers' perfectly delivered speeches, our rabbi insisted I say something. I completely butchered the moment as I stumbled through whatever came to mind. It certainly did not do his life justice. After he passed away, my grandmother found a letter he wrote (27 years ago) called "To Be Opened Upon My Death." He ends the letter with, "Hopefully you'll remember much of my good and very little of my bad." So, I offer these life lessons from my Papu in an attempt to carry out his request.