My process in dealing with anything is to write it out.
Back in the day it was putting words on paper. Childhood scribblings filled white page after white page with ink—preferably blue—helping me work through whatever was going on. The trivial challenges of high school that never seemed trivial at the time, to the adult challenges of leaving the security of my parents’ home for college, the deaths of grandparents and classmates, a bad marriage, a good divorce, job changes, dissolved friendships, and other calamities most of us go through as we continue to age.
Through everything, I write.
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.
From one of the first losses of the young in my family, when my cousin Davey died in an accident at age thirty-five a mere two months to the day after his wedding, I’ve grown to believe that tragedy’s like this, like a friend’s granddaughter who at five-years of age is fighting cancer, that in these moments, it becomes about what we need to learn, who we need to be in getting through, in rising day-following-day of the loss or of the struggle.
A co-worker of my cousin’s 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 that brightness. It was simple: There was no way to believe that there was not Christ in the world, Christ in the after world because Davey couldn’t end, could not simply end. He had to keep shining somewhere and heaven seemed a very likely place for that to happen.
I began to truly believe. I bought an NIV Life Application Study Bible and read the New Testament straight through. Twice.
When my nephew-in-law was in an accident two years later and one month after his marriage to my beloved niece and was in the hospital, 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, so I focused on his palms and that those burns would not be permanently damaged. They healed. He is a competitive cyclist, a skier, a man of wide-ranging interests who happens also to be a paraplegic who daily teaches others how to Go Forward after a loss.
During his rehabilitation, my niece and he let their story out into the world via the early days of a blog. World wide people came to them with prayers and assistance. It was stunning what we learned from their private struggle to overcome.Grief should be taught in schools, taught at home, learnt from the earliest age. Click To Tweet
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 arduous. The story starts like this: My parents each weighed 110 pounds when they died. For my mom this wasn’t that far off what she had been most of her life, give or take pounds 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 them within eight months of each other. Probably there are daughters and sons who have lost parents with an even shorter amount of time between the deaths. Probably it doesn’t matter to a child if it was eight months, nine years, or decades. The passing of a parent is awful. I am still not ready to use my process on them.
I am not a parent, so the loss of my child will never been known to me. But I am an aunt. An aunt who loves her niece and nephew (and families) with a ferocity that I’m not sure they understand.
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, my worst memory is of saying my last good-bye to my nephew. At fifteen, he was already strong and gentle. We hugged and stepped away 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. I hated myself for leaving him. I thought: oh my God, what have I done to cause him to hurt? I have never forgiven myself for that moment.
When mom was fighting cancer and dad 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 at his home with his wife half a mile up the road in order to stay with them. 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 heart was lodged beating 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.
There have been many times over the years that I have lost young people. There were calls my parents made as 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, Dad 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.
I love my family. Let me re-state that: I. Love. My. Family.
I love the Griffith clan (and our add-ons) with an abundance that never ends. These people nurtured me throughout my life. My cousins tortured me as a child (the only redhead—how could they not?). We fought. We played. We laughed. We hugged.
Oh my God the hugs.
I love my family. I love the way they descended upon the house and were in and out constantly the ten days my mother was dying.
I love how they came at the drop of a hat when we declared “Cousin’s Party!” or “Luau at dad’s this weekend!” every single time we shouted it while dad was dying for fourteen months.
I love that 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 us and we burst out laughing. My mother would have loved that.
Then we came up against a new loss to process. Another cousin left us.
Having survived the other deaths, I still do not know if any of us have been able to fathom what happened, coming to terms with, understanding. We were our pragmatic selves, we talked, we spent many sleepless nights thinking through.
Grief is hard.
Grief should be taught in schools, taught at home, learnt 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 it any easier.
Knowing that makes me understand that we can either shut down the abundance inside 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 has filled our lives with utter joy is has chosen to leave us. I have no writer’s imagination to fill in that blank left by her absence, to fill that empty hole.
Years after, the anniversary dates of these harsh losses come and our hearts re-live the danger of breaking to the point where putting them back together again is beyond our comprehension. How have we healed? I prayed, am praying. I sought, am seeking, salvation from grief through my relationship in Christ. Without faith providing strength, there is no point in getting up each morning.
And I write. And I share my pain. It is the thing I know how to do. Write out my words of sadness and share them with the people who care.
How do you process grief and what resources do you use to do so?