My Grandmother and I: Dysfunction, Grief, Guilt - and Small Miracles
A story about finding hope and faith after my Grandmother's death, with the help of my Guardian Angel.
Grama and I… and a whole lot of Family Dysfunction
When my Maternal Grandmother died, I was devastated with grief. I could see it coming, but it shook me to the core in a way that I hadn’t expected. She was more like a mother to me and we’d always been extremely close. As a child, I lived with her for many periods of time, when my Mom would just go to bed and stay there for weeks at a time. She was the person I had depended on for love and safety.
My Grama was a smart and accomplished woman who was well ahead of her time. She had several careers throughout her life and was always learning and trying new things. A lot of the good in me, I got from her. She is the one who gave me my first tools at age three, and taught me how to use them to build and repair things. When I was too little to use a handsaw effectively, she put her hand over mine on her jigsaw and taught me how to steady it. She got me a secondhand sewing machine and we made clothes and found old furniture and reupholstered things together. She passed on her interest in anatomy and physiology, horticulture, a love of books, learning and dogs. She also gave me her sense of adventure that she’d never been able to satisfy. She knew what I loved - and what I feared. I had no idea that the most stable person in my life wasn’t stable at all. She was also an alcoholic.
I didn’t know much about what alcohol did to people. My parents didn’t drink often and the people I heard them refer to as alcoholics were obviously impaired - and impaired often. Grama drank beer. She didn’t drink every day, but when she did, she drank a lot. I didn’t know that an alcoholic could function so well. I’d certainly never heard the word in regards to her.
I did know quite well that she had a side that scared me, at times. I learned to watch her carefully to see which Grama would be waiting for me when I’d get home from school. Would it be the one who would laugh with me and teach me? Or would it be the mean one that she turned into after a few “cold ones?”
The understanding that Grama was an alcoholic didn’t come to me until I was in my early twenties. I’d gotten involved with a man who was funny and kind – until he started drinking. I heard about Al-Anon from his mother and went to a meeting. That’s where I realized that my Grama was a functioning alcoholic and I had picked a boyfriend who had a lot in common with her. I had a lot of the classic issues that an adult child of an alcoholic has.
The day came when I gathered my courage and sat down with her as an adult to talk with her about my concerns about her drinking, and the obvious affect it was having on her. She listened, but didn’t say anything. Instead, she walked over to the kitchen counter and picked up a large cast iron skillet; she tried to hit me over the head with it. Luckily, I ducked and she missed and cracked the countertop tiles instead. I think she would have killed me if she’d hit me. Shaken, I left the house in tears as she stood there silently. She and I never spoke about what happened that day again.
In therapy, I came to realize that as much as she loved me and tried to nurture me, she also tried to manipulate and control me. She didn’t want me to be independent or successful, especially in business; she was horrified when I opened my first store. She felt I was too sensitive and kind to be in business or out in the world, for that matter. She couldn’t visualize how I would function in the world as sensitive and compassionate as I was - much less with me talking to Joe, my Guide, seeing spirits, leaving my body, having dreams about people and the future…etc. etc. If it had been a different age, she would have put me into a convent – or an asylum.
(I call my Guardian Angel "Joe." He has been my Guide and constant spiritual companion since I can remember. I called him "Yes" when I was very small, because that was my favorite word. The name Joe was meaningful to him and I, so we settled on me calling him that when I was a teen. And that is another story…)
When I went on make a success of my stores and then got into the movie theaters and other businesses, Grama was confused that I did so well - in spite of my abilities. At times she was also angry and did things to try to sabotage me, thinking that she knew best. I wasn’t happy with her schemes, but I just kept going and ignored or side stepped whatever she’d try. There was no point in trying to talk to her; she would just stare at me like she did the day she picked up the iron skillet.
In therapy I’d become conscious of the fact that I’d inherited some very unhelpful patterns from my Grama, mixed in with the good stuff. A dysfunctional family with a lot of sad and sick secrets may not get along well or even like one another much, but they will often hold on tight to at least one family member, no matter what happens. I was determined to break those patterns, without breaking my love and appreciation for her. Yes, Grama had a lot of faults – nevertheless - I loved her with my whole heart. I’ve never met a perfect person - we are all mixed bags.
I understood why she thought as she did; she’d grown up dirt poor in a man’s world, fighting for every bit of success she’d had. She had to be tough to survive and she often confused kindness for weakness. Her integrity was elastic - something that shocked me, even as a child. She once told me that “doing something ‘wrong’ isn’t wrong, if no one sees you do it.”
I replied “But Grama, God always sees what I do – and so does Joe - I don’t want to do wrong things.”
That conversation supported her belief that I was too honest and too fragile - and was therefore fundamentally incapable of surviving the cruel world without her.
Even at 10 years old I knew Grama was mistaken about me; yes, I was kind, but I was also stronger than she realized. I was independent and stubborn about being honest - in a family where honesty was not valued. It seems odd to me now, but I didn’t feel the need to prove myself to her or the others in my family. I did want them to love me, but I wasn’t sure they did. I was certain that they didn’t understand me well enough to have an informed opinion about who I was, so how could they judge me? I did fear them - and the inconsistency and various ways they could punish me.
I did want to prove to Joe - and most of all, to myself - that I could survive long enough to lead an effective life, doing my best to ascertain what the right thing to do was.
I grew up and got out. Although I made many mistakes, I took responsibility for them and moved forward. I continued with therapy and worked hard to recognize the dark and often hidden patterns that no one in our family openly talked about. I began to realize that I wasn’t like them - and felt relieved.
As an adult, I was making choices that were much different than my family; one choice was to be honest with myself about what had happened to me and stop sugarcoating it. I made everyone very nervous with that choice.
Was my love and attachment to my Grama a function of the dysfunction, pain and fear in my childhood? Yes, of course; she was an anchor for me. She had major issues, and I knew for sure she didn’t agree with me - but I knew for sure that she loved me even when her manipulation didn’t work. That’s a powerful bond in any family – and maybe even more so in a severely dysfunctional family. It’s also a potentially powerful complication.
Meanwhile, Grama was now in her late sixties; she was depressed that I didn’t need her like I had.
She began to go to the doctor a lot, asking for one test after another, insisting to him, and to me, that she was going to die soon.
She’d always been pretty healthy, except for the drinking - and at that point she wasn’t sick and the doctor told her so.
That was hard for her to accept and as a result, the meddling in my life intensified for a few years, until it became hard to overlook. I talked to her, but she just ignored me.
I realized she wasn’t going to change at this point; I did my best to engage her in other projects. I called her daily to check in and ask her advice on some business thing; I knew that helped her feel valued and loved. I drove the familiar twisting road over the Santa Cruz Mountains, to take her out for lunch or just hang out with her. I cherished those times after we found a “new normal.”
Then came a day when I walked into her mobile home and immediately saw something had changed. I took one look at her energy and put her in the car and drove her to her Dr. instead of going to lunch.
She had developed lymphoma. She was delighted at how quickly it was progressing; her spleen quickly grew to the size of a loaf of bread and had to be taken out. She was not happy that I wasn’t at the hospital for her surgery, but I had ended up in a different hospital at the same time, having a breast tumor removed. It was benign and we both went home to recover.
Grama did very well for seven or eight years. She slowed down a little, but was a feisty as ever - and still binge drinking. I found her a housekeeper to help with chores and she accepted the help for once. The time passed.
The Spring of 1981 was the most beautiful we’d seen in a long time. I went to her place one Sunday and weeded her little garden and replanted her flower boxes as she supervised. She seemed a little tired, but overall, about the same. Her doctor told us that she’d developed some anemia, still, she mostly seemed like her old self. I knew she’d been drinking before I got there, because she ended the visit arguing with me about something. I was uncomfortable with what she wanted me to do, but I didn’t want to upset her so I just agreed with her.
Two days later I woke up from a dream knowing that she was going to die very, very soon. I’d I called my mother and told her we had to go see Grama right away because it was almost her time. I had no evidence that this was true, but we all knew my dreams were almost always right. Taking no chances, I picked up Mom and we drove over the mountains to see her one last time.
I stood looking at her as she lay there, knowing I somehow had to say goodbye her. I was hanging on to her with all of my might. Her doctor said that things were more serious that they’d first thought; she had pernicious anemia and her body was quickly shutting down. He told me that he felt that the only thing keeping her alive was the bond between her and I.
I knew it was true and that it was wrong to try to hang onto her - but how could I let her go? I wasn’t ready.
I stayed up that night and prayed about what to do. Finally I decided to create a ritual to support me in letting go of her. I collected things that represented the many experiences and happy memories we had together. I put them in a beautiful box. I did my clearing and releasing exercises… then I buried some of the items and burned the others. I was determined that I would not hold on to her and delay her passing any longer. Finally, I cut our ties. I finished and went into the house, feeling numb.
Not much had time passed when Joe appeared and told me that she had passed about 6:30am. Within moments the hospital called to tell me the same.
Suddenly, I felt so alone and helpless. Grama had been the most dominant force in my life. What was I going to do?
Joe said to me, "Give your Grama to me, Sherry. I'll take care of her." Although emotionally devastated, I knew intellectually that the Soul that had been my Grama would never be her again; she had left her physical body behind and moved on. I needed to accept that and trust Joe. Trust that he would help her with her transition, in any way he could. I asked him how she was doing and he told me that she was with her sister, Maryanne. I had never heard of her having a sister with that name, but was I too upset to argue or question him.
Overwhelming and suffocating Grief – and Guilt
I can still see myself looking in the bathroom mirror that morning, brushing my hair. I was thinking,
"Here I am, combing my hair, as I do every day, and my Grandmother is dead. Nothing will ever be the same again, and I am just combing my hair." This was the first time in this life that I fully and completely realized that that life and the whole world go on, with or without us in it.
My Grama had made a final request of me on that last weekend; it was outrageous. She had me promise that I would carry her request out. I made that promise, knowing full well that I couldn’t keep it - my Mom was her heir, not me. Mom would never let me do as Grama had asked - and rightly so. My Grama was not in her right mind at the end.
I try my best not to break promises I make; certainly I wouldn’t make a promise that I knew I wasn’t going to keep. After she died, I felt tremendous and crushing guilt over making her a promise when I knew I was lying.
I focused on the feeling of guilt, instead of on the real issue of my sadness and grief. I felt cold and numb; I spent a couple of days sleeping too much and crying a lot.
Two nights after her death, I fell asleep in a recliner; I abruptly woke up at 3:11:11 am. I had had a vivid dream that my arm was on fire; it hurt so much that I expected to see blisters.
My Grama was born on March 11, 1911 - 3/11/11.
All of a sudden I was totally terrified. I was sure that this was a sign that my Grama was upset with me for not carrying out her final wishes; I was sure she had sent me the dream because she was angry. I became more and more certain that she was going to haunt me to punish me. I didn't sleep for the rest of the night; I sat there shivering, feeling very, very afraid.
The next day, I went with my Father to pick up Grama's ashes from the crematory. I got into his car holding that small box and I felt the utter lifelessness of the contents. Never before had I felt something so completely devoid of any energetic sensation. Nothing of my Grama was in there; not one bit of her subtle energy was in this box of ashes. I felt hollow and icy fingers of terror squeezed my chest.
As I looked out the car window, I had a hard time breathing as the renewed realization that everyone and everything that we know, love and work for, passes away, eventually. I thought I’d known that: I've been through death time and time again, life after life…but I learned it at a different level, while holding that little box.
It truly is "ashes to ashes, dust to dust" for each one of us.
I became fully aware in that moment that for me, life is only an empty existence if I have no faith, no hope, or no sense of wonder at life. Mine might not be what others think of as faith, but it had always been there. I felt my faith and my inner sense of joy wavering.
I took her box home and put it on my dresser and waited for the memorial - the memorial that she had begged me to cancel in her last lucid moments.
The day of her memorial dawned beautifully. There were about a dozen family members and friends gathered for the drive from my parents home in San Jose to San Francisco. We had two cars and we’d find places to park and then meet up on the Pier at Fisherman’s Wharf. Then we’d go out on the bay in a small boat to scatter her ashes in the water near Angel Island.
A friend drove my VW van that day, since I was in no shape to do so. Another childhood friend, Bill, went with me and we stood on the pier, waiting for the rest of the family to find parking spots and join us.
About 45 minutes passed, and no one came.
As I stood there, in the middle of a Saturday crowd at Fisherman's Wharf, holding a plain little cardboard box with my Grama's ashes in it, I was immersed in the total desolation of the bereaved.
I was still freezing as I again realized that, for me, life without my sense of hope, joy and faith was not worth living. I felt that I couldn't go on without it, and I couldn't imagine how I could restore it.
With no belief that I would be heard, I decided I would ask for a sign – not a sign that I would choose myself, but for something to happen that I could not mistake as being an answer or some guidance, once I saw it. Although I was very earnest, this was not a prayerful request; this was more like a challenge to God and/or to whomever heard me, including Joe, to prove there was a rhyme and reason for being alive.
By then it had been nearly an hour of waiting on the sidewalk on the Pier and Bill and I were getting worried. My normally prompt family was still nowhere to be seen. We were afraid that the chartered boat might get tired of waiting and leave without us so we decided to try and find the Captain of the boat and tell him to wait for us.
We walked around, checking all of the places that we could see where there were boats and pier numbers, but we couldn't find the exact Pier that we were supposed to be at. The crowd was pressing around us and I began to feel panicky. Then, I saw people with small boxes, just like the one I carried, boarding a boat up ahead of us. We ran to it and started to get on – but it was the wrong boat! It was a boat for people who had opted for a group Funeral. I'd never heard of such a thing and it was depressing.
Finally, we walked around the pier, to the back of a restaurant; I was intent on finding someone, perhaps a worker, to help us find our way.
All of a sudden it became still around us and we stopped. A man was approaching from the end of a pier where I saw docked boats. The stranger walked right up to us, looking directly at me. He came close and stopped. He took his captain's hat off and said:
"My name is Joe. Sherry, give your Grama to me; I'll take care of her."
I was shocked and Bill looked like he was about to faint. I had told my family and close friends, including Bill, what MY Joe had said to me when Grama died. He said later that he’d thought for a moment that “my Joe” had materialized on the Pier and was about to take us out to sea.
I was flabbergasted by this stranger, but still without saying anything, I handed the box to the man and as I did, my family and friends arrived. Without delay, we all followed the new Joe onto a boat. I felt wooden and like I was dreaming.
As we were boarding, Bill told my family and friends what had happened.
Everyone was speechless and wondering what was going on. We sat down and the man came into the cabin and set the box down and turned to speak.
He said that he was the Captain of the boat we’d chartered to take my Grama out to the ocean that she'd loved so much. He turned to me and said he was sorry he'd startled me. He said he was a bit baffled and even spooked about why he had said those things to me and wasn't sure how he had known my name…but the words just came out of his mouth and felt right. He added that he was real sorry if he'd upset me.
We all assured him that it was OK, and someone said that sometimes strange things happen around Sherry. Dad said it had all worked out and we were ready to go. Captain Joe still looked a bit shaken, but he thanked us, shook off his "spooky feeling," and started making preparations to take us out onto the Bay.
As the engine was warming up, all of us sat in the cabin watching as Captain Joe opened the box and prepared to take Grama's ashes out, intending to put them into a silver urn.
He started opening and shutting cabinet doors, peering inside every cupboard in the cabin. After a minute or two, he told us that he was really sorry, but the fancy urn that he had brought on board had disappeared - and he couldn't imagine where it was.
We all looked at one another and began to laugh. The humble cardboard box was much more suited to my earthy Grandmother than a silver urn. We left her in the box, and I got up and placed a beautiful wreath of flowers around it.
We all thought we were ready to go, but right then, Captain Joe turned around, opened the box and reached his hand right into the ashes, fishing around.
We were shocked as he brought out some kind of a blackened metal medallion. It was something the State requires to be placed with a body at the time it is cremated. As he held it, he started babbling that he didn't know why he was doing this, because it wasn't legal to remove it. He said he felt he had to get it and give it to me, because he "knew" that Grama wanted me to have it.
Then he took my hand and put the medallion in it and looked into my eyes as he told me that my Grama loved me and would never be angry with me for anything for very long. He said repeatedly that she loved me more than anything and would never want me to feel bad at not being able to do the thing that she had asked me to do. He kept apologizing to us that he didn't know why he was doing and saying these things…as he repeated himself a few times. He was bewildered and begged us not to tell anyone that he had given the medallion to me, because it was against the law and he would be in trouble. He said that he had never done such a thing but felt that he must do this.
I knew why he did it. Everyone there knew why he did it; I’d asked for a sign and it all was happening so I could find peace and truly let go. This situation was a sign - and the disk was another tangible, physical sign. The disk was kind of gross, but it was something to hold on to from Grama.
It was so like her to do something like this. As I took the disk and turned it over I saw that there were numbers on it.
Captain Joe went into the pilot house and put the boat in gear, taking us out on the water, at last.
Joe had a microphone and as we motored over the waves, headed towards Angel Island, he pointed out things to see in the bay… and then he began to tell jokes. Some were off color jokes. It was a surreal and strange trip. Normally, this would have been quite inappropriate behavior for a man piloting a family to a loved one's last resting place. But somehow, it wasn't as inappropriate as it sounds now; none of us were offended, not even my very religious Great Aunt and Uncle. Rather, we were all struck with wonder.
Grama - a tiny, prim looking lady - got a big kick out of shocking people by telling a bawdy story or dirty joke. We all knew that somehow Grama was there, coming through this man to let us know she was doing fine and she didn’t want us mourning her or worrying about her.
Captain Joe took us out to Angel Island and when we were just off shore, he turned the boat around and cut the engines. The wind had come up and we were in fairly rough waters, but suddenly it became very still. We all went up on the deck. A bird flew above us in the blue, blue sky, as we scattered Grama's ashes into the sea that she so loved. We all threw flowers into the water and as we did, we each felt a peaceful joy come over us; we felt her presence with us in a such strong way, including (and maybe especially) Captain Joe.
It was an amazing moment. We all said a few words about Grama; most of us said something funny. When my Father started to speak he began to get very sentimental and morose, which was unexpected. Suddenly, the boat rocked violently three times and then all was still, again. Dad abruptly sat down and we agreed it was time to go.
It was just like someone had put their finger on the bow of the boat and pushed it down very deliberately, three times. We snapped out of our grief, all at once, and we began to feel better: almost weirdly light-hearted.
The little boat started back to shore.
When we were nearly back, Captain Joe said that he wanted to buy me a drink. This was an uncomfortable idea and I hesitated. I didn't know this Joe and my Grama was an alcoholic. However, everyone else said they’d come along, so we all went into a nice restaurant and I had a Coke with Captain Joe.
The poor Captain was quite shaken, saying that in all of his years and maybe 5000 trips with people's ashes, he had never felt any sort of a presence of a dead person before. He was mystified about the way he had acted - and he was embarrassed. But most of all, he was amazed and overwhelmingly curious to find out what I thought had happened and why it had happened.
As I talked to him, it quickly became clear to me that Captain Joe had recently begun to feel an overwhelming emptiness in his life; his job only seemed to intensify it. Day after day, he took grief stricken people on these funeral trips out on the Bay. He was divorced and lived alone, and he couldn’t imagine someone being around to take his ashes anywhere, when it was his turn. There seemed to be no point to his life anymore. He had gradually lost his faith in himself, much less some higher power; he was just coasting along. What had happened with us on his boat had left him with a hunger to know more. He felt that the day’s events had opened something inside of him and that his life was about to change. He was convinced that since I was the main recipient of the "messages" from Grama, that I could help him. He wanted me to shed light on his behavior and he didn’t want the experience and the day to end.
I told him a little about myself and "my Joe," and all that had happened after Grama died. I said that I thought it was Grama and Joe who had engineered this experience in order to help me, but that nothing happens in a vacuum and his own Guide surely had a major hand in it, also. I explained to him that I hadn’t made anything happen, but that I had asked for a sign.
I told him that I believed that he’d been part of a complex series of events that were an answer to a prayer I’d made. The situation had helped me deal with my deep grief and lack of hope, faith or joy after Grama's death - but I would bet that he had been open to it, at some level, or it wouldn't have happened.
I asked him if he thought it were possible that this experience was about more than the death of my Grama and my grief? Could it have also happened as an answer to a prayer or request that he had made for something?
He was taken aback, but said, that yes, he could agree that what had happened today really was the answer to something he’d been praying for
He said that he’d been surprised at all of the things he’d said and done and a little freaked out, but that he’d also enjoyed himself and had been filled with wonder.
I explained I had been taught by Joe that all things work together for the greater good and that this was a Spiritual principle of the Universe that Joe calls the Spiritual Law of Economy. We talked for another hour or so - and then I said it was time for me to get everyone back to San Jose.
Captain Joe was desperate to maintain contact with me and somehow continue the experience. He offered to take me back out to "visit" Grama anytime I wanted, free of charge. I kept telling him that it wasn't me that had caused the experience, but he was sure that I “had something special that could rub off on him.” He said that he felt like he needed to say in contact with me so that he wouldn't lose this feeling.
A friend of the family interrupted him at that point and he told him something like this:
"I know you want to just sit here and marvel at this experience as long as you can. You haven't felt it before and you don't want it to end. You're thinking that if you stay in touch with Sherry that it will happen again. All of us have felt that way at times around her and "Joe." But you can't hang onto her, or onto the experience. Sherry taught me that the only way for you to feel it again is to let it go, and then try to use this experience as a catalyst in your life, to open yourself to the unseen world."
My other friends and family all nodded their heads at this.
Of course I agreed, but I hadn’t even realized this friend or my family had paid any attention to things I’d said to him about this topic. It was a whole new kind of weird.
Captain Joe was unconvinced, but he could see I was ready to leave. We all said our good-byes and left him in the restaurant, sitting with his drink, mulling over what had happened to us all.
We thought that the experiences surrounding my Grama's death were over. But there were a few more revelations to come.
A day later, we were at my mother’s house where my Grama's younger sister was staying. As I’ve said, I had told everyone what happened with Joe the morning Grama died – including how he’d said she was with her sister Maryanne. My Great Aunt took a deep breath and said she had something to tell us that she'd sworn never to talk about.
Yes, they’d had a sister named Maryanne. She had died in infancy when Grama, as a two year old, had pulled a pot of boiling water down on top of her, causing her serious burns which ultimately killed the baby. In those days, it was common for children to die in early childhood, and we knew that there had been siblings that had died as infants, but not one of us could recall any relative mentioning that sister's name, or the exact circumstances of the death.
My Great Aunt said her name was rarely spoken and never mentioned in Grama’s presence, due to the horrible guilt she suffered over having caused her little sister's death. She, herself had not said the baby's name out loud since she was a child and she thought it was amazing - and comforting - that Joe had told me that Grama was now with their sister, Maryanne.
But that’s not all.
A few weeks later, I was at a fund raising dinner with my mother. She was talking to some friends about Grama's death and what had happened afterwards.
During the conversation, I mentioned the horrible nightmare I’d had about my arm being on fire, and waking up to see it was 3:11:11, her birthday. I talked about how terrified I’d been and how I was still processing some guilt I had about promising her something that I knew I would never do.
A woman we knew slightly was sitting at the same table and she interrupted us, apologizing that she'd overheard us talking She said "believe it or not I have something I can add to your experiences surrounding your Grama's death."
What in the world…?
She told us a startling story. She worked for the local crematorium and had had a bizarre experience of her own. It seemed that she had cremated a woman on the very night that we were talking about, at a little after 3:00am. She said remembered the cremation quite clearly - and that she’d felt a little "chilled" when she had handled this particular body. In fact, she said, she'd never forget it.
Well, this woman's name was Dorothy Smith.
My Grama went by the name Dollie, but her legal name was Dorothy Smith.
With one last twist of fate, this Dorothy Smith was the very person who cremated my Grama and put the cremation medallion I had into the box with Grama's ashes.
I spoke to Captain Joe several times after the incident. He called me, but I felt it was best that I didn’t take him up on his offer to go back out to Angel Island. He turned out to be right about the experience changing his life. He no longer did his job without a thought of, or a prayer for, the spirit of the person whose ashes he was carrying. He’d found himself a beginning point that day with us, where he could explore his own faith, in his own way. He said that he thought about Joe and I often and that because of us, he’d come to feel that his own Guardian Angel was with him always, guiding him back to a safe harbor.
I still have Grama's medallion and the numbers on it continue to speak to me, revealing new insights, even after all of these years.
I received my sign. It left me comforted, with a joyful hope; my sense of wonder has continued and intensifies again, each time I think of what happened over four decades ago.
I’m not far off now from the age my Grama was when she died; I’ve experienced too many other deaths that were devastating in that time. When I start to feel helpless and hopeless with grief, I only have to think back to the events surrounding Grama’s death.
I am reminded again, that our Guides and the other Beings who love us, do not turn away from us; we are the ones who turn away from them.
Many people have had priceless spiritual experiences that they can't explain – small miracles that can change their lives: when they allow them to.
It is indeed a mistake to try to hold onto those magical, mystical moments. Cherish them, and remember them - even analyze them - but also get on with your life, taking with you that mystery and sense of wonder.
The ability to be present within the moments of your life is also priceless.