My process in dealing with life’s confrontations is to write.
In my adolescence, I put words on paper. My childhood scribblings filled white page after white page with ink—preferably blue—helping me work through whatever was going on. From the experiences of high school that did not seem trivial at the time, to the adult challenges of leaving the security of my parents’ home for college, the trauma of losing grandparents and classmates, the repercussions of a bad marriage, the joy found in a good divorce, daring job changes, the despair of dissolved friendships, and the various calamities humans experience as we continue to age.
Through everything, I write.
Yet, there are times I have no words.
The Newton, Connecticut shootings left me speechless—word-less. Each school shooting before and since has done the same. I have nothing to contribute except prayers that the Christ I believe in would give those families the strength they need to survive such an unfathomable loss.
The Death of Family Members
The first death of the young in my generation of our family was when my cousin Davey died in an accident at age thirty-five a mere two months to the day after his wedding. To cope with his loss it had to become about what we need to learn, who we need to be in getting through, in rising day-after-following-day and winning against the struggles.
After my cousin’s death, his co-worker told me, “I no longer leave for work in the morning without hugging my son and wife, kissing them both and telling them I love them.” Is that a cliche? I think it sounds like a man learning to appreciate every moment he gets with his family.
When Davey—a soul whose mission on earth seemed to be bringing everyone he met into his light—died, my faith came out of the shadows and started to grow into his residual brightness. It was simple: There was no way to believe that Christ was not in the world or Christ in the after world because Davey couldn’t end, could not simply be gone without an echo. He had to keep shining somewhere and heaven seemed a very likely place for that to happen.
Searching to fill the empty left in a life without Davey, I began to truly believe. I bought an NIV Life Application Study Bible and read the New Testament straight through. Twice.
Different Crises to go Through
My nephew-in-law was in an accident two years later and one month after his marriage to my beloved niece. While he was in surgery, I prayed with an ardent heart that couldn’t do anything but pray: “Please Lord, heal the burns on his hands, please Lord, heal the burns on his hands.” He had been thrown from a ladder due to an electrical arc and landed on his back. His spine was damaged, yet my faith was so little that I didn’t understand that I could have prayed to God to heal each part of him. I focused on his palms and that those burns would not cause permanently damage. They healed. He is a competitive cyclist, a skier, a man of wide-ranging interests who happens to be a paraplegic. Daily, he teaches others how to Go Forward after a loss.
During his rehabilitation, they let their story out into the world via the early days of a blog. People worldwide came to them with prayers and offers of assistance. It was stunning what we on the outside learned from their private struggle to prevail and life a large life.
Over the years, I have lost many young people. My parents called when I lived far away to tell me that this accident happened and this person is gone. There was losing Sue, so young, the sister of a boy I briefly dated after high school. Dad called to tell me about the car wreck and I curled into a corner of my apartment and wept. My father was stuck on the other end of the phone, unable to do more than repeat, I’m sure sorry, honey. I have wept many tears and always wonder how I have any left to cry again.
But I always do. And with each loss, I wrote about that person.
Conquering Grief, Conquering Death
There is a story inside of me I have needed—need—to write since my parents died.
I stubbornly refuse to sit still and work it out, spill the words onto the screen, because the journey to do so is too onerous. The story starts like this: My parents each weighed 110 pounds when they died. For Mom this wasn’t that far off what she had been most of her life, give or take depending on pregnancies or health issues. But for my larger-than-life, robust, and strong as Hercules father, this was 70 pounds less than usual.
We lost our folks within eight months of each other. Probably there are daughters and sons who have lost parents with an even shorter gap between the deaths. It doesn’t matter to a child if it was eight months, six years, or four decades. The passing of a parent is awful. No, I am still not ready to use my process on this loss.
Not a Parent
I am not a parent, so the loss of my child will never been known to me. But I am an aunt. When my sixteen-year-old niece left my Montana house for the first time to drive herself the nineteen miles home, I watched her go out the 500-yard driveway, thinking how much I loved her. Then I went to pieces, calling Jackie, demanding that she surreptitiously call when Jenny arrived home, staying in a panic for a half an hour until I knew she was safe.
When I left Montana, a terrible moment was saying good-bye to my nephew. At fifteen, he was already strong and gentle. We hugged and stepped apart and his shoulders shook with trying not to cry. After all he was at football practice, so get real, no emotions like that in public. How I hated myself for leaving him, thinking, oh my God, what have I done to cause him pain? I have never forgiven myself for that moment.
Caregiving Our Parents
When Mom was fighting cancer and Dad battling ALS, we siblings each assumed certain roles. Jackie was in charge of medicines, doctor appointments, the VA. I handled financial, estate, and communications with the ALS organization. Joey was the primary caregiver, giving up nights with his wife half a mile up the road in order to stay with our parents. Joanne was in charge of meal preparation, ensuring the freezer was stocked with healthy fare.
Each time Jackie flew from Montana—usually every six weeks to stay for two weeks—my beating heart was lodged like a stuck piece of food in my throat until I picked her up or she again landed safely in Billings. Safety, being safe, traveling safe—we have no control over this, over accidents, over the things that hurt our loved ones and cause dramatic changes in our lives. To know that she was out of harm’s way was one thing to celebrate during a terrible time.
I love my family. Let me re-state that: I. Love. My. Family.
The Griffith clan (and our add-ons) comes with an abundance that never ends. These people nurtured me throughout my life. My cousins teased me as a child (the only redhead—how could they not?). We fought and played, laughed and hugged.
Oh my God the hugs.
I love my family–the way they descended upon our parents’ home, in and out constantly the ten days my mother was dying.
How they came at the drop of a hat when we declared “Cousin’s Party!” or “Luau at Dad’s this weekend!” every time we shouted it throughout Dad’s fourteen months of dying.
At Mom’s funeral viewing, a cousin forgot to shut her cell on vibrate and as she left the casket, it went off: “Ring, ring ring, ring, ring ring ring…” Each one progressively more shrill. Stricken, she looked at Dad, at his kids, and we burst out laughing. My mother would have loved that.
We came up against a new loss to process. Another cousin left us.
Having survived too many other deaths, I still do not know if anyone in my family has been able to fathom what happened. In the months following her death, we fought to understand what happened. We were our pragmatic selves, talking, spending many sleepless nights thinking it through.
Grief is hard.
Processing grief should be taught in schools, taught at home, learned from the earliest age.
We lose people. We lose them to accidents, to war, to terrible diseases that shrink them from the inside out. Sometimes we lose them to suicide.
Loss will always be in us and if our hearts are open to love, death will devastate us each time it connects to our life. Knowing that does not make our sorrow any easier. It does help us understand that we can shut down the abundant tenderness inside our hearts and hide from family and friends. Or we can break open the hard shells surrounding our emotions and tell the world, I hurt.
I hurt for the world when someone who filled our lives with utter joy has chosen to leave us. I have no writer’s imagination to fill in the blank left by her absence, to fill the empty hole with anything better than her.
We continue to live
In the years following the deaths of those we love, come the anniversary dates of these harsh losses. We note those dates the way we do the birthdays. Our hearts re-live the pain and fall into danger of breaking to the Humpty-Dumpty point where putting them back together again is beyond comprehension.
Have we healed? We pray and hold fast to our faith. Each of us get out of bed every day and move forward, one foot following the other. We seek salvation from our grief through our relationships, through celebrating the days of sunshine and wallowing in the days of rain. Healing after death happens. Even though everything is changed without the people we love here with us. We recover because we choose to.
And some of us write. I share my pain through words. It is the thing I know how to do. Write out my words of sadness and share them with the people who care. Soon, I’ll be able to write about my parents. I’m sure I will.
One of the advantages of a small family is that we have less loss. Having said that, losing my mother left an even bigger hole because I had so little family left once she was gone. I can’t imagine how you survived losing both parents within 8 months. My cousins lost both their parents in about 4 months (right after my mother died) and I know it took such a toll.
It’s great that you’re so close to your siblings. At least you have each other for support. And it seems to me like you probably each take turns supporting each other.
With our similar life experiences, we sure do have opposites in the family numbers, Erica! Losing your mom and your aunt and uncle–that’s a lot for a small family to go through in such a short time. I hope that you are all able to share memories with each other and tell lots of stories that keep the lost members alive in your hearts.
Our family–yes, that support is there, and faith, and a whole bunch of parental inspired humor.
Loss always hurts, but I too largely deal with grief by writing. My grief has been over the loss of someone who isn’t dead, but who abandoned me. That sort of grief has a different tinge, but it’s still grief. As much as I process all events through writing (along with the insight of the therapist who’s been seeing me pro bono for over three years now), I’ve been taking greater strides at being less reactive and learning how to detach from things as they are happening. It’s hard to learn how to respond differently when we get so conditioned and set in our ways.
Jeri, I went through a wicked divorce once upon a time and remember trying to describe that grief to someone. That is was like a death in that the unit you two had created was gone. And even though it was “for the best” and in my case, I wanted/needed to move on, it was still devastating. It took a very long time to get through it. I remember wishing more than once that therapy could have been an option. I love that your therapist is so kind!
The conditioning we allow to happen to ourselves–when we come out of that behavior and look back and say, Wow, what was I thinking? Well, it changes everything.
I’m so sorry for your loss. I am a writer too but I don’t generally process my grief by writing. Sometimes it is just too painful to do that. Maybe later down the road, after I’ve dealt with it for a while. What I’ve learned over the past little while is that there are many ways to experience with grief and we need to be kind to ourselves and allow the process to unfold. I’ve also learned you can lose people to things other than death, dementia and addiction for example, and that can cause grief too. Wishing you strength and the comfort of family and friends as you process your grief.
I have a few..
15 The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous
and his ears toward their cry.
16 The face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
to cut off the memory of them from the earth.
17 When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears
and delivers them out of all their troubles.
18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.
19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the Lord delivers him out of them all.
12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (ESV)
My help comes from the Lord, who made the heavens and the earth! He will not let you stumble and fall; the one who watches over you will not sleep.
Psalm 121:2-3, NLT
Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
Matthew 11:28, NLT
and the quote my neighbor who was a wonderful women, always said to me..
“if the Lord brings you to it, He will see you through it”
Good thought ……
Why should we waste our emotions with worry and sadness? God’s got something going on in the background; and what we see is always cloaked by our limitations.
Jer, love them all. The last two make it personal and I appreciate that.
Very nicely written, my dear cousin. How do I deal with grief? I grieve for the departed person and at some point I open a door in a room in my brain and shut the person in the room to give my self a mental break. Then, I open the door again and grieve some more, then open the door to the room again. It’s the only way I can sustain myself through the grief process.
That sounds like a good way to handle it, Nadine. It’s like our brains can only process so much loss at a single moment in time. So better to dole it back out to ourselves bit by bit until we can–maybe–make sense of it.
Dearest Rose, your words are beautiful and touch my very core when I read them. Thank you for your amazing ability to express yourself and allow others to feel your grief. If I could, like Tammy, I’d take the pain away if I could. Prayers have been going out like crazy for you and your family. You are one loved woman! Hugs, love, prayers and soothing thoughts come from me to you.
You and Tammy always add so much to my life–humor and beyond. Keep it coming.
So sorry Rose, the loss of someone you love is one of the hardest things to endure.
Thank you for your thoughts, Janine. It truly is one of the hardest things…and it puts much else of life in perspective.
Prayer, Prayer and more Prayer. That is the best way I know to deal with anything. I feel for your family and will keep all of your in my prayers. Griffith Road Clan was a big part of my life and I cannot imagine what all of you are feeling but know that God is there to help you.
You’ve got that right, Jerry. If you have a favorite Bible passage that gives you support, I would love to read it.
So sorry for your loss(es). Yes, just write on. And take it one day/hour/minute at a time.
That’s the only thing to do, Karen–one foot in front of the other and as many friends as we can gather ’round.
Nurse mode. Perhaps Jenny can expand on this, crisis mode, grace under fire, whatever other health professionals call this, this ability to remain calm when all is busting loose. I am blessed (or cursed) to be able to hold it together and be a rock when necessary. Thank you for sharing, for being you, eloquently expressing what others could not. Love you.
I believe in “nurse mode,” Mindi. There’s a whole different way that you and Jenny go about handling things–a way that is much, much needed. Your steadfastness when Mom was sick–well, we couldn’t have gotten through the first day (nor many others) without your advice and guidance.
I have not suffered as much grief at my age as most people I know. I have lost my grandfathers, pets, and a few others who, although not close, caused grief. I have thought it a blessing in the past, but now I realize I am unprepared for it when it happens now.
Your writing touched my heart. just this week I was wondering what the physical pain in the heart actually is when you grieve. When my friends and family are suffering, I am the person to ask God if I can take some of their suffering on myself. Although my heart does actually ache, I wonder if the other person does feel some relief from the answered prayer, or if science has an explanation.
I also never know what to say to someone grieving. I do not think time heals. No one truly knows if they’re in a better place other than God and that person. So what do you say that can portray your condolences, and will help the person your speaking with?
I think you have it write, Rose. ( hehe. Yes, I meant that spelling!) When I am in this situation next, I should remember it’s best to grieve, actually grieve. Grief should be given an outlet. For you it’s writing, others crying, and for the crazy ones like me? Who knows. Maybe laughing, throwing myself into chores or activities, sleeping, or hugging everyone I love. Whatever it is, I am sure that thoughts of this post will help me through it!
Thank you for sharing. Love you!
Tammy, I hope it is a long, long time until this kind of grief comes into your world!
I know–know–that when we pray for others or when others pray for us, that it helps. Those moments when someone is uttering a pray for us–that is the moment that my heart fills a glimpse of lightness. It means the world.
Yes to laughing! You have helped me to last the last week by posting your children’s antics on Facebook. I will be on FB as long as you are because of the humor you bring!
Looking forward to our next hug.
Your words are tribute to all the special people in your life and the fact that you can love so deeply goes hand in hand with the depth of pain you feel when they are gone.
Yes, I know of what write. How do I process grief? I cry and cry and cry again and when I feel wrung out and there are no more tears – there always are. I talk to my person, shout that I miss them terribly, ask if they know the pain I’m in because they’re gone? I too talk to God and thank him for having had that person in my life and for them having no more pain, disease, fill in the blank. I share the grief with others who might understand the loss of a spouse, parent, special person because shared is always better for me than going it alone.
And I always work on reliving the adventures, special times, and things that we laughed about. And it doesn’t go away one day, it just stays with you but the pain is dulled from one year to the next.
Yes, loving someone is wonderful and hard and scary and sometimes devastating, but thank you God that they are or were a part of my life!
Love to you sweety,
Jamie, you said it all so well. I know some of the losses you have been through and knowing you, I understand how your process can help. It’s important to always remember the person–talk about them, share the stories, share the love they brought into your world.