Each person’s grief is unique and life altering, but is also a necessary part of our journey through life.
Each person’s grief is as unique, life-lasting, and indelible as a set of inked fingerprints. Wouldn’t it be nice if our grief was more like snowflakes than fingerprints? Both are unique, but snowflakes melt away with the slightest human touch, leaving no indelible mark on our memory. It’s just not that easy, unfortunately, and in fact, grief will drop you to your knees and shake you to your inner core.
Combine grief with post-traumatic stress syndrome, a condition experienced by my wife and me as we witnessed and fought by the side of our 11 year-old son during a 3 1/2 war against his deadly cancer, and life will irrevocably take on new meaning and purpose. However, in spite of grief being an unavoidable outcome in this type of grave situation, we chose to grieve not a minute before our son’s spirit was called (demanded) to Heaven.
Our hope for a cure, and complete recovery, was as sure as our knowledge that the sun would rise the next morning. Most importantly, our son shared in this confidence that he would ultimately be healed, and that is precisely what transpired, albeit it happened in God’s WAY rather than our own.
Those who find or keep their faith in God and believe in a stage of life beyond our earthly existence are reassured that their child can continue to grow, perceive, learn, experience, and be comforted and cared for by souls of family members who have previously made the transition from the physical to the spiritual realm. Moreover, experiencing loss can make you more sensitive to the pain and struggle of others, which increases our empathy, and allows us to have fuller relationships with the people still in our physical presence. Ultimately, if we can get beyond the initial heart wrenching feelings of loss for those who have transformed, and appreciate that they are truly in a better place in Heaven, we benefit two-fold by continuing to feel our departed’s love while manifesting that love and compassion on this earth.
Why can some people deal effectively with their grief and yet others’ become stuck in their grief or even defined by their loss? Grief is not necessarily a bad thing — some have become enlightened by the darkness of their initial journey after loss. However, many are consumed by their sorrow, and darkness prevails. Most people who lost loved ones years ago, especially when they lost a child, still experience sadness for their loss on a regular basis. This is because our imaginations allow us to consider how that loved one would have grown and changed over time. We not only lost our child but also the future moments that would have taken place had our child not passed. We are constantly reminded of each successive lost moment when we witness other children experiencing a graduation, dance, romance, job, acting in a play, scoring a goal, etc.
Why does God call our loved ones home prematurely? And harder still, how are we expected to live with it? In the short temporal term, where we are all expected and encouraged to exist, answers to our burning questions will not be forthcoming. Our perspective needs to be changed in order for us to make any sense of tragedy. We need to be with God because without him, we cannot possibly hope to overcome grief on our own.
Writer, psychotherapist and bereaved parent Patrick O’Malley likes to tell his clients that “the size of their grief corresponds to the depth of their love.” Our love was as deep and full with Jeffrey as can be, so we can expect our grief to be intense, and possibly last a lifetime. However, our goal is to channel that energy into something positive, so he will be driving me to try to be the person he would have been if his body had survived the cancer.
“All sorrows can be borne if you put them in a story or tell a story about them,” said the writer Isak Dinesen. According to Patrick O’Malley, “When loss is a story, there is no right or wrong way to grieve. There is no pressure to move on. There is no shame in intensity or duration. Sadness, regret, confusion, yearning and all the experiences of grief become part of the narrative of love for the one who died.” Our story continues, as does our grief, but with hope that our experience will lead us to a fuller appreciation of the great gift of love that God has given each of us to share fully with one another.
Our friend Liz shared with us Patrick O’Malley’s essay from Couch, a series about psychotherapy from the New York Times, after a friend of hers posted the link on Facebook following the tragic loss of his wife in hopes that it would help others dealing with seemingly insurmountable grief. It helped me understand the complexity and uniqueness to each individual’s feelings of grief after the loss of a loved one. Since Annie’s and my love for Jeffrey had no measure, the grief and sense of loss is infinite. I will thus try to seek Jeffrey’s spirit out every day for the rest of my life. I think God wants us to do the same for Christ, or whomever you can identify as your direct personal connection to your creator. I certainly have room in my heart for at least both Jeffrey and my Creator on a daily basis, as well as my family and proverbial neighbor, which includes all of you.
Love and God Bless, the Hughes Family
Jeff Sr., Annie, Mercedes, Jeffrey Jr., Lincoln
To explore Forest Lawn’s online Grief Resources, please click here: https://forestlawn.com/grief-resources/