Thoughts on grief and loss
For those who don’t know, my dad passed away last week. Thank you to all those who have reached out and offered support. I am so grateful and humbled by my community of people.
My dad and I had a complicated relationship. A word that comes to mind when I think about the whole of our relationship story is “fraught.”
But in the last five years, we healed many wounds. We grew both together and separately, and it was good. Beautiful things happen when two people mutually commit to accountability.
So when the day arrived that he was gone, I had no regrets. We accepted each other as we were, and that’s all we can ever really hope for in relationships that are fraught.
I’m having trouble thinking this week. I’m not so much overwhelmed by grief as I am by details. There are so many details to take care of when a parent dies. And if I’m honest, I’m not really doing all that much. My younger brothers are doing most of the work. I guess my brain just shut off for the week, and I’ve learned that when my body speaks, I must listen.
And so, after agonizing over our Redefining Love discussion topic all weekend and into yesterday, I decided that I might as well lean into the only thing that feels comfortable for my heart and mind to dwell on right now… grief and loss.
And because I don’t really feel like writing this week, I’m going to recycle something I wrote way, way back in 2009. (I had to recheck that date, because certainly it wasn’t over 12 years ago that I wrote this?? But alas, it was.) As it turns out, this piece is still astonishingly relevant.
And so, without further ado, here is a reprint of a newspaper column I wrote on grief…
In church on Sunday, the pastor prayed for a local family recently devastated by loss. He asked that their grief be “bold, renewing, and resourceful.” What a profound prayer.
Bold! Like grieving old Italian ladies in the movies, wailing painfully in black lace veils, facing their grief in all it’s ugliness, letting it tear them apart. Sometimes, you have to dismantle something before you can rebuild.
Renewing! Every ending is also a beginning. That’s a tough one to accept at the onset of a crisis. But it is an eventual necessity.
Resourceful! A loss is sometimes total. There may simply be nothing good to be found from it. But the resulting grief can be a resource. Grief is a profound teacher.
You discover parts of yourself you didn’t know were there. You discover a depth of passion, compassion, and inspiration. For me, I found my writing voice. For others, it may be art or music, flowers or fellowship. There is no better way to honor a life lost than to rebuild anew.
Grief is a paradox. You don’t want to be defined by your crisis, but for a time, surviving your crisis is all you can manage. You don’t want to lose yourself in your grief, but the very nature of extreme loss brings you to a new place of understanding.
Suddenly, you are a new you. You look at life differently. You are still you, but not. And it isn’t just you who must get reacquainted with this new person. Everyone in your life has to alter their idea of you.
I am finally willing to accept that maybe, just maybe, loss has made me a better person. But don’t try telling that to someone immediately after a tragic event. They don’t want to hear it, and it won’t make sense for a long, long time.
When I was faced with loss, I tried to hold my grief in – to swallow it and “keep moving forward,” as everyone kept telling me to do. But what I realized was, I couldn’t move forward until I stopped to catch my breath.
If someone kicks you in the stomach, you’ll make faster progress if you stop for a moment to let the air reenter your lungs, rather than crawling continually forward.
So one day, I just let it out. I sat down and bawled like those courageous old Italian ladies. I opened the door and let all the pain and disappointment climb in and stab at my heart. At the end of that day, for the first time in three months, I was finally able to breathe. Forward march!
It wasn’t the last time I cried. But with each crumbling, a new foundation is built in its place – a stronger, more sure place upon which to rebuild my life. And it happens less and less these days.
The hardest time is not when crisis first hits. It is after the dust settles, a year or so later, when everyone else’s lives have moved on. Caring people would never say or even think something as callused as “get over it.”
But after a year or two, there are moments when you sense the world thinks that’s exactly what you should be doing. And you are!
What some find hard to understand is, while their worlds kept spinning, for a time, yours stopped. It takes time for your planet to fall neatly back into orbit with the others.
Something I am only now willing to admit, and it’s taken a long time, is that it does get better. As hard as I’ve worked to not let crisis define me, I admit that it became comfortable.
Like anything done continuously for a length of time, fighting for your life against despair becomes a habit. And as exciting as beginnings may be, they are also scary and overwhelming. But healing eventually comes. It does. I promise.