Coping with loss: how healing can take rare forms

by LISA CAPOBIANCO

I’ll never forget that summer night in 2012 when my great aunt came to me in a dream. She appeared after a busy and stressful semester during my junior year of college, and finals had just ended several weeks before.
All I remember was walking on campus toward the library on a clear day when suddenly Aunt Josie appeared standing right in front of me with her arms wide open. Without saying a word, I approached her immediately and wrapped my arms around her shoulder while she gave me the biggest smile.
No fear, no tears, no words, just complete joy.
But the moment didn’t last long before I finally woke up in a sweat, almost in disbelief that I saw her.
“Wow—I can’t believe what just happened,” I said to myself that night.
People cope with the loss of a loved one in many ways. Some cry, some repress their sadness, and others remain in denial, even for years to come.
But some, like myself, have dreams. From the time I dealt with the loss of family a family member, at least several of my loved ones appeared to me in a dream, some more than once.
Aunt Josie had appeared to me before, but in a completely different context and setting. In one of those dreams, she walked into my grandma’s (her sister’s) living room unexpectedly while my family was taking a visit there. But feeling frightened and nearly shaking in my shoes, I turned away as soon as she tried to approach me in the living room, and I almost screamed.
When I woke up, I couldn’t understand how I could feel so scared of a woman who was like a second grandma to me on my father’s side of the family, a woman who exhibited immense strength, independence and loyalty.
Aunt Josie, who lived to be 95 years old, never married and did not have any children. But she treated all of nieces and nephews as if they were her own. Every Sunday, my father would take me to her house for a visit, and every weekend she embraced me in her arms—just like the dream I had several years ago. Her pies, whether they were chocolate cream or strawberry chiffon, were baked to perfection, and her spinach bread was devoured every Thanksgiving and Christmas.
But my aunt’s health took a turn in her 90s, and I’ll never forget the day I found out she passed away. It was the day everyone calls the holiday of love, Valentine’s Day.
Aunt Josie was in the convalescent home for awhile, and my family knew she did not have much time left on this earth. It happened during my second semester sophomore year of college, and my phone rang after a long day of classes.
The way my parents broke the news to me on the phone is a blur, but my reaction isn’t. Bursting into tears, I ran to the bathroom slamming the door shut, crying out for a good hour or so. I was so loud I wouldn’t be surprised if other students walking by my dorm raised their eyebrows in perplexity, wondering if someone had been murdered. My direct roommate was minding her own business in our room, and when I entered, she didn’t say a word to me.
But there was no time to have another meltdown. I finally exerted all of that sadness and mourning into the eulogy I wrote for my aunt’s funeral a day later. During the funeral, I read the eulogy aloud at the church altar. Although I initially felt nervous about breaking down in front of everyone, I managed to get through all of it with courage and strength—just like my aunt would have if she were at that same altar. The eulogy was my tribute to her, and by writing it, a part of my wounds were healed.
Nearly one and a half years after her death, Aunt Josie appeared to me on that campus—the same one where I found about her death. The reason for her presence there is still unclear to me—perhaps she wanted to take away any lingering pain or just offer me comfort in a time of stress. But whatever her reason for being there, one thing was clear: reuniting with her brought more than just joy—it brought hope.
Even more so, it reminded me just how important it is to continue telling the people you love just how special they are, whether through a hug and a kiss, or a “Good morning” message.
Lisa Capobianco is a staff writer for The Observer. She can be reached at lcapobianco@bristolobserver.com.lisa capobianco