The first time that I knew someone who died was when I was about six years old…
Grief is a fact of life; it is a byproduct of love and mortality. If you are in love with someone and that person is in love with you, one of you is going to be left behind without the other. Those car accidents, you know the ones I am referring to; where two people who are married to each other both die instantly, that the financial planning experts and insurance salesman talk about, well they just don’t happen that often and thank God for that.
I tend to be a “prepare for the worst and pray and hope for the best in life” kind of person. Unfortunately when my new husband went from vibrant health to death in less than half of a day, I was not prepared. You aren’t supposed to go from being a newlywed to being a widow before even celebrating your first anniversary. There is supposed to be some kind of warning, anything to give you a heads-up that someone is sick. I had no warning when Don died he had an abdominal aortic aneurysm. His heart stopped beating in the emergency room with my arms around his head. The doctors tried everything they could but they could not save him.
The first time that I knew someone who died was when I was about six years old and my Grandmother’s Brother died. I was very confused because I wasn’t crying and other people were, I remember feeling guilty. I remember my Great Uncle Paul as this very tall kind man who would play jokes with the kids and who had a miniature poodle. He was married to my great Aunt Helen who had red curly hair and was rather round when standing next to her tall and lanky husband. Children need to be told that whatever they are feeling it is appropriate and they need to feel that they can ask questions and that their question will be answered with respect and truth.
During the time in-between my first experience with death and my most recent loss of my husband I have been the person in my family who speaks at funerals, the one who comforts my family, the only person in my family to pray in public. I have lost four of my first cousins and been there for their parents and then I have been there for the passing on four uncles, my two grandmothers and tragically the burial of my two nephews and one niece under the age of seven. Helping a parent bury their child is something all Pastors dread. It smacks of unfairness in the universe; it isn’t supposed to happen that way. Children bury their parents and grandparents and the generation that has lived longer than them. We aren’t supposed to say goodbye to our children it is not natural.
The ancient Hawaiian practice of Ho’oponopono…
So how does someone make peace with grief? I don’t know the answer for everyone; I only know the answer for me. There is only one way to get through grief and that is by grieving. You do not get over grief, you cannot sidestep around it. You must go through grief in order to get through it. I took a year off from school after my husband died. I didn’t consciously intend to take a year off but thankfully I had wise and caring Deans and Professors who looked out for me. To me and many others making peace with grief means making peace with the person who died.
The ancient Hawaiian practice of Ho’oponopono: “A Good Goodbye” is something I find resonating with my experience. According to this practice there are four steps that one must take when saying goodbye to someone; 1) I love you, 2) I thank you, 3) I forgive you, 4) please forgive me, and then finally then Goodbye. We may not all consciously realize that we are going through these steps but they are usually there none the less.
When my mother died in December of 2011 she had been sick for fifteen months. As her caregiver I was with her pretty much around the clock for that time. We had opportunities to actually say those things to each other. We loved each other unconditionally and we were at peace when she passed. She was not the perfect mother, I was a far cry from a perfect daughter but none of that mattered. Love wins in the end every day.
When I lost my husband in the May of 2014 we had no warning. We had no goodbye. Making peace with someone who has gone on before you is one of the hardest things to do in life. I easily told my husband that I loved him, I always will. I had to say I am sorry for my shortcomings in our relationship, and to do that without being overcome with guilt takes a long time. I had to forgive him for anytime he had come short of what I needed him to be. That was a simpler process. Thanking my husband for all that he brought into my life was also relatively easy. He taught me what love was; he stood behind me and always had my back. I did not know what real love was until I fell in love with him, but now that I know how wonderful love can be I also know he would want me to continue living my life to the fullest and he would be happy and proud of my accomplishments.
We are never alone in this process.
You might say that if all there is to making peace with grief are those simple steps then why is it so hard to deal with the loss of someone we hold so dear? There are no two people who are alike in this world; therefore there are no two deaths in the world that we will have to deal with that will be the same. That is what makes us human, what enables to fall in love with someone and not someone else, and this humanity makes us vulnerable to pain and grief and loneliness.
It is the hardest thing in the world to keep on living when someone you love so dear has been taken so suddenly, but that is indeed the thing we must do; live! We must make a conscious decision every day, to get out of bed, to go to school or work, to care for ourselves.
We are never alone in this process. When we weep God weeps and when we are in pain God feels that pain with us. God did not cause our pain. God did not “bring us to it, to bring us through it.” Death is non-discriminating and it is final, we cannot escape it nor can we really prepare for it.
Death is about saying goodbye but many times when someone dies someone comes along and brings joy to our lives after we thought all joy was lost. For me this person has been my granddaughter. Just this last weekend my oldest son married her mother and I am officially her Gigi from now on. Having a seven year old say that she wants to sit with me on a train ride ( completely designed for children to ride, meaning no leg room if you can picture it) is the greatest thing in the world. When this seven year old runs up to me and puts her arms around me, all the cares of the world disappear. I am a much better person with her in my life than before I knew her; and in a way that makes me at peace with the loss of my husband. In the end; even though I still miss my husband every day, I am here alive with my children and granddaughter and that is why Love Wins!