The ringing woke me from sleep. I absent-mindedly hit the snooze button on my alarm clock. When that didn’t work, I realized the ringing was coming from the phone. I opened my eyes to the darkness of my bedroom. The time was 2:30 a.m. and caller I.D. revealed it was my sister. My heart skipped a beat. This couldn’t be good news.
“Dad’s condition is much worse.” She choked back tears as she spoke.
“I am on my way.”
I didn’t want to waste any time. I needed to hit the road and get to the hospital. Dad had been hospitalized for 3 weeks with pneumonia. Being seventy-eight years old and suffering from lung disease for the past twenty years, made for a lethal combination.
Three hours later Dad took his last breath. We knew the time was coming but still, when it happened the finality of it set off a chain of emotions that we could not stop.
That was seven years ago. What has followed is a dramatic learning experience that has touched every area of my life, including my faith. The hardest part has been learning to live with the pain and to move beyond the grief and mourning.
Grief and mourning are not synonymous. Grief encompasses thoughts and emotions. Feelings of anger, frustration, sorrow, guilt and loneliness are all a part of grief. Grief is unique; everyone grieves differently. Some may be more tearful, while others show more anger or frustration. Mourning, however, is grief in action. What we do with our grief is part of mourning. Expressing emotions, through tears, talking to others and even exercise will lessen the grief.
Often I have heard it said that when you are dying you see your whole life flash before your eyes. The same may be true for those who lose a loved one. When my Dad died, I did not expect to relive all the memories of my life with him. For weeks after his passing, I could not get him out my mind. Remembering moments I haven’t thought of for years. Reliving memories from the good times as a little girl when I idolized him, to the rebellious teenage years when I did not respect him as much as I should have. Recalling the young adult who judged him and most recently recognizing the time when I was finally able to forgive, love and accept him for the man he was.
I understand now that our temperament and our relationship with the person who passed away will affect the grieving process. Watching my family grieve gave me a new understanding. Regardless of the relationship we had with Dad, we all have memories that come to mind and we are faced with the reality that we will never see his face or hear his voice again.
Some well-meaning persons have offered advice. Unfortunately, some of the advice is based on myths. One myth involves the belief that discussing your feelings is unnecessary. I was also told that the best thing to do is get over it quickly. If you are still feeling sad after three months then you are at risk of suffering depression. In response to this I wondered about our first Father’s Day without him, or our first Christmas without him. These celebrations happened well after three months. Feeling sad and missing his presence on these days cannot mean I am suffering depression. In truth, the grieving process will take as long as I need it to take. Tears are not a sign of inadequacy or weakness.
There are days I feel like I am doing alright. I smile and laugh, and feel like I have a handle on the grief. Then it seems out of nowhere, I’ll have a day where I can’t keep it together. Memories come on strong, and feelings of loss are unbearable. At first these days would confuse me and leave me wondering if I was regressing. These moments are perfectly normal, and those in bereavement work call them “grief bursts.” The grieving process is filled with valleys and plateaus. During the plateaus prayer and reading scripture have given me strength and hope.
Two months after Dad’s passing; my mom, sisters and I attended a conference organized by Dynamic Women of Faith in Toronto, Canada. The conference included a speaker, who trained under Dr. Alan Wolfelt, the Director of Center for Loss and Life Transition in Colorado. Her talk was titled, “When Someone Dies”. Much of the practical advice I received came from this talk. It has also been helpful to me to read articles on the internet from others who have also experienced the loss of a loved a one.
The first few months after losing a loved one can feel like a daze. The struggle to accept reality, working through the emotions and physical ailments that may occur, brings many moments of sadness and despair. During this time, it helps to share emotions and allow the process to happen. I booked an appointment with my family doctor to rule out any physical illness, since my immune system was weak and may have left me prone to illness.
Grief can manifest itself in feelings of helplessness, guilt and anger. Irritability, loneliness, inability to focus and fatigue are also a normal part of the grieving process. Adding an exercise routine, talking to others, seeking help through bereavement support groups or writing in a journal can help to work through these feelings.
The greatest consolation I received came three months after Dad passed away when I became pregnant with my third child. It was providential as we had hoped and prayed for another child for a few years. This brought on a mix of emotions. While I was excited about the pregnancy, I was also sad that my new baby would not meet his grandfather. After my son, was born I remembered how my dad held and played with my older children, and imagined that he would have done the same.
The grief process helps us move from a relationship of presence to a relationship of memory. This can take years. We need to give ourselves permission to grieve. It is best not to make major life decisions during this time, and to set and follow a routine. Do the grief work, by perusing pictures and videos, listening to music, or writing a letter to the one who passed away. Accepting that tears and talking to others can and will help with the healing process.
The most valuable advice I have received is to take 5 – 10 minutes each day and allow memories and the tears to flow. Surprisingly this practice brought me hope, acknowledging that this process would get easier, and that someday in eternity we will see eachother again.
Though, I cannot ignore the fact that my greatest strength has come from my faith. God’s original plan did not include death; death is a result of Adam and Eve’s sin of pride and disobedience. This has given me a new appreciation for God’s love. He never intended for us to have to deal with the pain of grief because He knows how difficult it is for us. I know that He is grieving with me.
It took some time for me to sincerely open my heart to Christ, to spend time crying with Christ. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to stop. Doing this made me realize that I am not alone in this grief, and He gave me a new hope.
The sadness is still there and the vulnerability, but the reassurance that Dad is at peace and the consolation that has come from knowing my friends are praying for me and my family has been a tremendous help.
It is my hope that in sharing my experience and what I learned through this process, will help those of you who have experienced a death of a loved one. As a good friend reminded me, “We can never be ready for death, it comes like a thief in the night. We can only hope we are spiritually ready for it.”
Emerging From Grief – helpful resources: