To speak or not to speak: Responding to Grief


pexels-photo-356842 GRIEF

Photo Credit: Pixabay

It’s not so much the fact that loved ones die that keeps us mourning, but the fact we are here without them. In especially close relationships the grief seems unbearable. When that special someone is the person we shared our intimate thoughts with, confided in, laughed with, cried with, shared life with, the desolation is brutal. It’s said that time heals all wounds, but I disagree with that sentiment. I think we carry the wounds for the rest of our lives, but time does help us carry on, despite the wounds. I think the worst thing about grief is the way it takes us back to experience anew every single occasion where we lost someone we loved like some kind of twisted and tortuous boomerang.

In today’s world it seems like grief is either ignored, shamed, or bullied into a dark closet. But people can only begin to heal once they feel safe and their emotions validated. I find it strange how, in our society at least, that people are so uncomfortable with grief. Yet death is the one thing that is an absolute guarantee. It will come to each of us – nobody is getting out of here alive.

In my family it’s okay to talk about death – though we, as individuals, may deal with the aftermath in different ways. Some seem so dry-eyed and strong while others cry copious tears and wear their hearts on their sleeves. It doesn’t matter what the personal expression of grief may be, it is, by and large, respected and accepted.

I remember years ago when I went back to school after a sudden death in the family how uncomfortable and awkward most of my classmates were around me. But there were two very young men who approached me to say ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ and how much their simple expression of condolences meant to me.

So, my advice would be, don’t be afraid to express simple condolences. While a grieving person may be in pain, your words may bring them a bit of comfort. Don’t be afraid to mention the person who died – most people are grateful to have their loved ones remembered. I think it hurts more to be ignored or to not have your pain acknowledged and/or validated.

I am speaking from my own personal experience, which may vary greatly with the next person’s. But I think we, as a society, have much to learn about coping with death. And to me ignoring it is not an option.

My beloved Uncle may you R.I.P.


Yesterday I found out that a beloved uncle has died. He was ninety-one years old. Many have said he lived a long life. Yes, he did. Others have said it was his time. That’s a fair point, I guess. But does age really matter? I mean, loss is loss, and no matter the age it’s still painful. My uncle was a fun loving, mischievous, and very caring man. I could live to be a hundred and more and never meet a kinder, sweeter person. It hurts knowing that I will never get to visit him again or hear his laughter – the man would laugh until tears freely poured down his face. He really enjoyed a good joke! He also loved to play tricks and pranks on his loved ones. And he could never hide it when he had a plan – his eyes would twinkle and his grin would give him away long before he could execute his plans. But he absolutely loved it when one of his pranks was carried off before his victim caught on to what he was doing. Here’s a little case in point:

We were building an addition onto the little house we’d bought and my uncle came to help. He and my husband were busy outside nailing down the floor joists. My husband was so caught up in what he was doing he didn’t notice my uncle behind him nailing another joist in place. They were standing on ladders as the addition included a basement and they were laying the foundation for the ground floor.   I was in the house when I heard a light tap on the door. I opened it to my uncle who was bent over, laughing hard, and gasping for breath. He couldn’t catch his breath to tell me what was so funny. He was pointing to the corner where my husband was caught between the floor joists and could not move. My uncle had him trapped there. And it wasn’t enough for me to see the results of his prank, he wasn’t satisfied until everyone in the house seen what he had done. Then, and only then, did he pull the joist off so my husband could move.

Aw, the many happy memories. This was one of my uncle’s favorite stories to tell at every family gathering of which we were part. Actually, it is also one of my husband’s favorite tales to tell whenever my uncle’s name comes up in conversation. Do you remember when…it always begins. With my uncle there are many remember when moments. They are memories we will cherish.

He was also such an exceedingly kind man. He loved his family dearly. I remember his stories of how he met my aunt and the love in his eyes as he related it to me; of how smitten he was with her. She also died in November, five years ago. He missed her terribly. That same pride would shine in his eyes as he told me of the latest news of his children or grandchildren.

The memories are a comfort to me. Yes, it hurts that he is gone. But he left us an example of a life well-lived and adversities overcome.  We will mourn the fact he is no longer with us, but we will celebrate the fact that he lived, loved, and celebrated life with gusto. I will endeavor to follow his example. Rest in Peace Uncle Leo, you will always be remembered fondly and with love.

 

 

 

 

Cold, cold November – remembering those no longer with us


winter

 

It actually is quite cold here this morning, and it’s been snowing on and off for a couple of days now. Snow – frozen rain falling from the skies.  The song by Guns ‘n Roses,  November Rain, plays in my head. “And it’s hard to hold a candle in the cold November rain”. It’s a song about relationship; about love and loss. Even though it’s a love song and the story about the struggles of two people in a romantic relationship, the ballad is so sad, so haunting – it brings back painful memories for me – not about a romance gone bad – but about loss, irretrievable loss.

November – Remembrance Day and recalling the sacrifices made in two horrific world wars. All those who died. All those who were irreparably wounded in body and soul…

November – the month my father died…

November – and remembering the day two years ago when I got that awful call – my brother was killed by a drunk driver.

November, a month I dread with its admonishments that life is fragile.

And realizing, yet again, that it is this very fragility that reminds us life is precious – so very, very precious! A reminder to live life with a grateful heart and to appreciate all the blessings that are given; that even though the earth may freeze, underneath the killing frost new life waits to bloom again….

 

The right to bear arms


So many teardrops

So many years of senseless killings

The earth is soaked in blood

“Prayers and thoughts are with you”

Is said again and again

At school, at work, at concerts too

Bullets are buzzing like a swarm of flies

Insanity seems to rule the day

For the right to bear arms

Carries more weight than dead bodies piling up

Your child, sister, brother, parent or friend

Has paid a price most often charged to soldiers

But the war is now on city streets

In classrooms, churches, and everywhere

Who will be the next to die?

Where will the next shooter stand?

The grief, though real, is not enough to reach a cold, hard heart

And sorrows reach across this land in cities, towns, and counties

Where will it lead? When will it stop?

In the arms of first responders

In the land of the “free”

And the home of the brave

LOOKING FOR PEACE


Since that horrible day on the 19th November in 2016 my family have all been looking for peace. Today was the final day of a trial that began a year after my brother was stolen from us by an impaired driver. There have been many hard days, and others where we found comfort in one another and in each of our individual little families. It’s been a brutal journey. I hope we can each finally find a measure of peace now that the trial has finally come to its conclusion. After 18 months of hell we can finally lay our brother to rest and do the best we can to go on with our lives. We will continue to mourn his loss. It was just so senseless and so unnecessary – and that is what has made it all the more difficult to let go. And especially with a criminal trial dragging us back to that day over and over again. It’s been torture to say the least. But, perhaps now we can begin to let go of all the dregs of bitterness, anger, and remorse that has plagued us all. We are looking for peace and I pray we each find it.

Sojourn into sadness


So, this past Friday was the day my family read their victim impact statements in court as proceedings continue until the day of sentencing. The day when the man who killed my brother will be lead off to serve time in a federal prison. That day is not far off now. Yet, it brings no peace. My brother will be no less dead. I think the worst thing about how he died is how totally preventable it was followed by the long drawn out process of the criminal justice system. I am struggling yet again with the fallout of one person’s decision to drive while impaired.

I have been talking with my sisters today about the difficulty of writing a victim impact statement and how no amount of words can ever truly express the devastation we all feel as a family and as individuals. I am confounded and deeply challenged trying to express it.

Chris’s daughter is soon to be a mama, but her child will never know her grandfather. This child is especially anticipated with joy and thanksgiving, for a part of Chris will live on. But there is a deep sense of sadness as well because Chris, who adored babies and small children, is not here to spoil his first grandchild. We will all do our best to step into the breach, but we are not Chris and never can be.

And so, I write this in the hope that it will strike home the message of “don’t drink and drive” for it has far reaching effects and endless sorrows for all involved.

Crying: Not acceptable!


What is it about crying that make so many of us so uncomfortable? What is it that keeps us from expressing the deepest hurts and agonizing grief through tears? It is, after all, a very human thing. Yet, for many of us, myself included, it is an indulgence and a show of emotion I would do almost anything to avoid.

I remember being in the “family room” as my mother lay dying in her hospital bed. My younger sister began sobbing uncontrollably and I, hanging onto my composure by the thinnest of threads, nearly lost it raising my voice as I commanded her ‘to stop it – right now!’  Thankfully my brother came to her aid and intercepted the exchange, admonishing me with body language as he sought to comfort her telling her it was okay to cry. Of course it was!  I just couldn’t bear to lose control.

A few days after my mother died my two little finches also died and I cried copious tears over them – the tears I would not allow myself to shed for my mom! Yet I was okay with it – why? I have no idea. It just seemed acceptable to cry over my feathered friends. Tears over my mother’s death were shed in private, as much as possible. Part of this was due to the fact that I didn’t want to distress my three children who were very young at the time.

I remember my father’s admiration for my older sister’s stoic response to pain – she rarely cried in public, or in front of any of us that I can remember. And I worshipped her. She was my hero. She still is. I emulated my hero as much as I possibly could and she did not cry. So, I determined at a young age that I wouldn’t either.

I have made some progress with my war on tears – I do allow them now where I wouldn’t in my younger days. There are things I have learned about tears. For example, tears are healing.  Did you know that science has shown that the tears from expressing the pain of grief are different, for example, than the tears shed in response to frustration or anger? Interesting!

I remember going to the funeral of my best friend’s father. I remember her mother’s admonishments to ‘be strong” which I interpreted to mean ‘don’t cry’. My friend and her mother sat dried-eyed through it all. How is it socially acceptable to laugh out loud with delight, but not acceptable to cry?

This is all rhetorical, of course. But life is short – so laugh out loud with delight, but don’t be afraid to weep either for tears truly are healing.

What is a life worth?


Several months ago I wrote a victim impact statement, unfortunately it was not usable so today I sat down to write another. It has been fifteen months since my younger brother was stolen from us in the most heart breaking and totally senseless way. It has been fifteen months of anguish. Fifteen months of being unable to truly lay him to rest as the criminal trial loomed and then began with each day a day from hell as we were all submerged into the depths of grief anew. And it is not yet over. On the 4th of May my family will meet once again in the coldness of a court room to witness the defendant being sentenced. On the 31st of January the defendant agreed to a plea bargain, which says he will be incarcerated for 4 ½ years and will have a 10-year driving ban. This is the human cost of one person driving under the influence of alcohol.

Was it worth the beer he drank I wonder? Was it worth incarceration and being banned from driving for a decade? Was it worth my brother’s life? Was it worth the agony he put my family through or the long-standing painful memories it has wrought?

What is a life worth?

 

Thoughts and Prayers


I have been thinking a lot about thoughts and prayers after the backlash following the horrific shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. It is not hard to understand the anguish and the anger that follows such a senseless and tragic catastrophe.  My heart goes out to the people in this community and to the American people as a whole. “Thoughts and prayers” have become a terrible cliché after so many mass shootings. It seems trite and useless, I am sure. The phrase that is meant as an expression of sympathy; as an expression of unity and empathy has been viewed as an insult to many when government action is not taken.

I am a child of the 60s and well remember the student protests in regards to the Vietnam War; to racial segregation; to injustices in general. I remember the sit-ins that were met with armed soldiers in some cases. The movie, ‘The Trial of Billy Jack’ springs to mind. We were the generation that wanted real change – and many of us still do. Sadly, violence is too often the response to a peaceful demonstration for change in many places in the world.

Yet, we are God’s hands. However, we have to agree to be just that. We have to ‘put our money where our mouths are’ and take concrete action to give legitimacy to our thoughts and prayers.

I am Canadian, but the coverage of the most recent school shooting has been massive here. It has eclipsed the very real issues around human rights that we face in our own country. When a farmer can kill an indigenous youth and be exonerated something is terribly wrong. My heart aches for the American people, but it also aches for all Canadians and for humanity in general, for all those who are living with injustices of every kind.

“More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of” – Alfred Lord Tennyson. I believe in the power of prayer; in the power of positive thought; in the inherent goodness of humanity. But our prayers must also incorporate the will to do something, to be God’s hands in this world.

The Scourge of Diabetes


I have learned a lot about diabetes over the past number of years. It is an insidious thief, stealing good health bit by bit – eroding it much like a river erodes the banks that attempt to keep it in. I have had many people tell me to “make” my husband eat this healthy food or that. First of all no one can “make” another person do anything they do not want to do. If you think you can you are seriously mistaken. Secondly diabetes is also affected by the ravages of stress on the body. I have seen my husband’s blood sugar levels spike time and again due to stress and unwelcome, and unanticipated events – like my brother’s sudden death.

Diabetes attacks every major organ: heart, kidney, lungs. It also attacks the eyes, the stomach; in short diabetes can be a death sentence, but only if it is not managed. Food is one thing we can control, life events we cannot.

We are not simply biological. We are emotional, spiritual, and psychological as well, and all these realities interact in ways both helpful and not. If one aspect of our being is affected by illness every aspect is.

Enough said!