Grief: A Journey

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Lao Tzu

 

Have you ever gone on a journey—a hard journey—not knowing or understanding how to navigate or find your way, hoping for or needing someone to travel with you? Maybe someone you love and trust to help you when the road gets rough, and someone who may need your help, too? Recently, I read a true story about a youth leader who sacrificed his first few days of marriage to accompany a high school student on a journey to Yosemite National Park. The student planned to drop out of school to become a rock climber, and because he had intended to travel alone, he was surprised that his friend wanted to go with him.

The student knew nothing of the youth leader’s marriage; but because the youth leader saw that his young friend had made up his mind and could benefit by having someone with a bit more life experience go with him, he chose to go on this journey—knowing that most likely his friend would realize on his own that this idea probably wasn’t the best. Within a couple of days on the trail, he did just that, and the younger man decided on his own that he wasn’t cut out for rock climbing and that perhaps quitting school wasn’t the best idea.

Life Journeys

Like the story above, where the two friends took an actual journey—and the younger man had his own journey learning some valuable lessons—there are different types of journeys in life: when we travel to new places, take a walk or bike ride, visit our grandparents or friends across the country, fly on a plane or ride a train. There are also the kind where we learn new lessons, change the way we feel or think, and the kind where we need help from others to understand our emotions. We often don’t understand that this kind of journey may not end in just a few days; the journey of grief has no stopwatch, and we don’t always know where we are going.

A Journey of Grief

Andrew Lindwall lost his dad when he was only four years old, and he needed help learning how to navigate the feelings and questions he had. Someone I Love Has Died: Grief is a Journey of Discovery is part of Andrew’s story. He and his grandfather take a walk—a journey—through woods, hills, streams, and valleys, and together they share thoughts and feelings that help them both travel a path toward understanding grief and a very difficult part of life.

“If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run, then walk, if you can’t walk,
then crawl, but by all means keep moving.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own.
But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward  to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 13:13, 14

Grief: No “Right” Way

Grief: deep sadness caused especially by someone’s death. : a cause of deep sadness. (Miriam Webster)

… the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.

When someone important to us dies, it represents an end to what has been familiar for us, and we must adapt to that new—usually unwanted—reality.

I would add to “usually unwanted reality” surprised and possibly shocking reality.

When I was 17 and my brother was 14, our dad died suddenly. He had just started work for a new company, we were starting our Christmas decorations for that year, and life seemed to be rolling along well for our family—until it wasn’t. Suddenly and shockingly, everything changed.

My First Grief Experiences

As a 17 year-old, the only death I’d experienced—the first true grief—was that of my grandfather the year before. He lived across the state from us, and when he died, our family went. At least, most of the family; I stayed behind. I didn’t want to remember Granddaddy any other way than how I last saw him—so my parents let me stay home. Maybe they figured I’d need to work out my grief in my own way.

So when my dad died almost a year to the day later, I began to experience grief in a whole new light. I watched my strong, independent, “drill sergeant” mom fall apart; over the next days and weeks, she didn’t sleep, she had phantom illnesses, she stared into space for hours. My brother—who up to that point had been a fairly happy-go-lucky guy—over the next several months, became angry and rebellious and would often rage over small things.

Grief—there is no one way or right way to experience it.

As for my reaction to Dad’s sudden death—I pretty much remained calm and strong for everyone else. Because Dad was a WWII veteran, there would be no funeral or service for several weeks (his body was cremated) until our family could get to the National Cemetery. So for me, life went on. I picked up the slack around the house, I tried to calm my brother down, I went with Mom to the hospital when she thought something was wrong. My school choir was in the middle of rehearsals for a Christmas performance, so I went to rehearsals. I stayed busy with school and at home, and I spent a lot of time in my room, alone with my guitar.

There is Help.

Someone I Love Has Died: Everyone Grieves and No One Grieves Like Me  is a book where children can read about how grief is personal and individual for everyone; that there isn’t one way to grieve or to feel, that it is a process each person walks through differently. The coloring pages are available for filling in or doodling or writing, showing how unique grief is to each of us.

Karen Lindwall-Bourg also gives parents and care-givers tools with which to help guide children through their own grief process. “Written for grieving children, ages 3-99, and for those who walk this journey with them,” this little book will help people of all ages understand that grief isn’t static and that each person grieves in his or her unique way.

 

What to pray?

“In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Romans 8:26

I got a message yesterday from an old friend. I love hearing from old friends, but this time it was about “one of those things”; he wanted to tell me that our mutual friend’s wife died suddenly in the morning.

I feel great sadness for my friend. He was one of my best friends in college, and since then he’s been through more heartache then most people go through in a lifetime. Some years ago, he lost both parents and a grandmother in a tragic, hard-life scenario. But he picked up the pieces, and although I never met his wife, I’m sure she was the biggest helping-hand God used in his recovery.

All day yesterday, I thought of my friend and the shock he must be feeling. All day, I thought of his son, now a young adult, who must be at a loss to know what to do, what to feel. All day long, I asked God how to pray…what to pray. I really had no words. Still don’t.

But I know there are times when words just don’t work. Sometimes I think they get in the way. Sometimes there are only tears, only groanings. This is one of those times of trust, trust that the Holy Spirit will do the ministering to my friend and his son. God knows what I certainly don’t. They don’t need my words – or those I lack. I know we are here on this earth for each other, to help one another and be a support. But in times like this, the best support we can give is just to be.

Lord, help me to just be – be a vessel to cry out to You for others in their time of need. And when I don’t know what or how to pray, may I trust in your comfort and goodness and mercy.

Saying goodbye…

I went to have a cup of coffee with my mom this morning; instead, I said goodbye—for the last time. I went to see her, knowing that she hadn’t been well, and when I arrived, she was unconscious and couldn’t be roused. I know she could hear me, because when I called her name, she tried to answer—and when I told her to “wake up” she groggily said “I’m awake.” But she couldn’t open her eyes or even move her head. I didn’t know at the time that she was saying goodbye to life as she’d known it for 90 years.

The other day, a friend asked me how I want to die. I hadn’t expected the question, so my answer was somewhat thoughtless; “Quickly” was my response. Not that I necessarily want to die soon—but when it’s time, I want to go quickly, not linger knowing what’s inevitable. He gave us (his class…I was visiting a favorite professor from college) a challenge by telling us the story of his dad—how when he found out that he had only a couple of months to live, he decided to spend the time “saying goodbye” to friends and loved ones, drinking coffee, catching up—maybe doing whatever was necessary for him and the others to feel as if they were finishing well with their relationships and enjoying what time was left.

I thought about that a lot, and I like it. I also thought about my response to his question, and I think I’ll stick with my answer. But I think I’ll amend it a bit and take up his challenge this way: I hope that before I die, whenever that is, I’ll feel as if my relationships are healthy and enjoyable and as caught up as possible in today’s fast-paced world. I hope I can be a blessing to those around me, and in turn be blessed because of others, whether I see them regularly or never again. I hope I’ll be able to live and finish well with each of them, whether they’re a mile away or a continent. And I hope I’ll feel “comfortable” with death knowing that I’ve lived as unto the Lord and that I’ll go to a better place.

I guess I just want to have the confidence of knowing that all is right with the world in my relationships. I want the people I love to know how grateful I am for each of them and that I cherished every minute with them—and that those cups of coffee we shared meant more than just having a hot drink.

So I said good-bye to my mom…not over coffee, as I would have liked—but I hope she was ready, with enough pots of coffee behind us to know that we were all caught up and finishing well.