Journey Through Grief
Life After Loss
eath is as much an everyday occurrence as birth. Why then, are we still so shocked when it happens to those we love? How can we live through the unbearable pain?
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Suffering loss is a uniquely individual experience.
So is the path to healing.
The Five Stages of Grief and Loss
Introduced in 1969 by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
1. Denial: “This can’t be happening to me.“
2. Anger: “Why is this happening? Who is to blame?“
3. Bargaining: “Make this not happen, and in return I will ____.“
4. Depression: “I’m too sad to do anything.“
5. Acceptance: “I’m at peace with what happened.“
Although universally accepted as a model, it is important to know that not everyone will experience loss in exactly this way.
Into The Valley of The Shadow
My Personal Journey
he beginning of that day is etched into my memory. February 28th, 1999. A beautiful Sunday morning. The phone rang persistently. It was my brother Richard. He told me that our mom had died. In an instant, my bright sunny day full of promise became very dark. The darkness remained, for a very long time.
My first reaction must have been terrible for my brother. I remember bursting into tears and screaming at him that it wasn’t true. I dropped the phone, ran upstairs to my bed and curled up in a ball of inconsolable misery. My husband and children rushed to my side, held me, loved me… and I felt so alone. Richard told me at a later time that he and my other three brothers had to decide which one of them would break the news to me. I asked him if he drew the short straw. He said,”Pretty much.”
I was the only sibling that lived out of state, so I flew home to be with my Dad and attend the funeral. I remember wanting to get there as quickly as possible. I remember not wanting to arrive. I don’t remember the trip. Walking into my parents’ home was so difficult. I stood outside for a long time, willing myself to go in. My father, who had loved my mother for nearly 52 years, opened the door looking frail and broken. When I hugged him, he held me for dear life and cried. I’d never seen him do that. I tried to sleep that night but couldn’t. And very late into the night, I heard daddy sobbing.
My mother was everywhere. Her presence permeated the house and my brother Don, who came to stay with Daddy during this time, was as shaken by it as I was. I remember seeing her tennis shoe next to the sofa, as though she had just taken it off. For some reason that upset me the most. I suppose because it made everything seem like Mom was just in another room. That this was just a cruel joke. Don took the shoe away.
lthough, I didn’t believe it possible, I actually did find comfort in Mom’s funeral. The church service was very moving and well attended by friends and family. It was touching to see how many people loved her and to hear the wonderful memories they had of her.
As much as I hated leaving my dad, my life was in Oregon. My three daughters were still young at the time and I missed them terribly. I needed to hold them close to my heart. So a week after arriving, I went home. Life was forever changed.
Even though I went about my daily routine, I fell prey to bouts of extreme sadness and despair. I found myself sobbing uncontrollably at random moments. I kept stopping myself from grabbing the phone to call Mom. The pain was deep and constant. I spent a great deal of time in prayer. I had lost my best friend.
I never got to say good-bye.
I called my father often. He was alone in that large house and I worried about his state of mind. My brothers tried to keep him occupied and Daddy and I were discussing a trip to Oregon to stay with my family awhile. He was looking forward to seeing his grand-daughters. Then… another phone call. My brother Richard must have the worst luck in the world. Once again he had to give me terrible news. Daddy had mentioned to me that he had a cold. Now he was in intensive care with pneumonia. I asked Richard if
he was getting better. I was told I had better come immediately.
I remember the complete disbelief, the cold numbness as I boarded a plane for the second time in just over a month. This was unthinkable. My dear friend Lea drove me straight from the airport to the hospital. My dad was aware that I was in the room but unable to communicate due to the oxygen tube down his throat. He had tubes all over and was gravely ill. Seeing him in that condition was a shock. My oldest brother Lee arrived so I wouldn’t have to be alone. It was the first of many long days and nights spent at Dad’s bedside.
arious family members and friends and I spent the next two weeks helplessly watching him continue to deteriorate. I rarely left, sleeping in the waiting room, afraid to leave even for meals. None of the treatments had worked and we knew deep down that Dad was not fighting back. He had no desire to go back to a lonely life without my mother. He wanted to be with her again.
The time finally arrived when we were told he was passing. Everyone raced to his bedside, my brothers and my two best friends, Lea and Pat who have always been part of our family. We watched his heart rate get slower and slower. The doctor gave him a large dose of morphine so he would not suffer at all… and he woke right up! His eyes opened, he was agitated and his heart rate returned to normal. The doctor was amazed and it was then that I understood.
Daddy’s strongest desire was to take care of his family. He doted on Mom and tried to meet all her needs their entire marriage. Now she was gone, but we, his children were still here. His job wasn’t over. My father lived on for a few more days. During that time I told him that he was the best Daddy. We were all grown and had families and we were doing fine. He and Mom had done a wonderful job. We could take care of ourselves and he didn’t need to worry about us anymore. I told him we knew he missed Mom terribly and wanted to be with her. I told him how much we all loved him. And I gave him permission to go.
On April 13th, he died. I held his right hand, Pat held his left. My brothers, Richard and Tim stood at his head and we all talked to him and prayed. And this time… I got to say good-bye. It was incredibly sad but at the same time indescribably beautiful. As his heart began to beat more and more slowly, his skin seemed to become translucent. His face looked increasingly smooth, relaxed, and peaceful until finally… so softly… he went out. Like a candle.
Reclaiming the Light“On Golden Pond”
lost Mom and Dad forty-four days apart. I experienced such a roller-coaster of emotions that it was physically exhausting and mentally draining. I could not have gotten through it without all the support from family and friends. Without my faith I would not have had the strength of spirit to endure the pain.
There are many things for which I am grateful. My parents were never old people. Yes, they were in their seventies but were not in failing health or incapacitated, mentally or physically, at the time of Mom’s death. They lived in their own home where they loved visits from friends and family. They loved gardening, music and always, games. Dad still drove the car. They enjoyed simple pleasures and they were very much in love. That is why Mom’s death by massive coronary was so unexpected. And why Daddy’s death, so soon after… wasn’t.
In the midst of the heartache, my brothers and I grew closer than we’d ever been growing up. We hugged and cried, laughed and reminisced, supported and loved each other. We shared a bond unique to us. We were family. That means the world to me.
I realized how very precious and amazing my friends are. How many people would spend hours of their time in an intensive care unit, at a deathbed, anywhere or anytime they were needed? What a comfort, what a soft place they provided. When I returned home I had dear friends here as well, that had cooked meals for my own family, helped with my children and embraced me by phone daily during my long absence. I treasure them all.
My parents have been gone many years now. The sadness never completely goes away. It can be triggered at random. A smell… a taste… a season… a sight… a sound… a memory. Yet other times, these same things bring me joy. I order a certain food at a favorite restaurant because for whatever reason, the smell and taste remind me of Mom. I bake apricot bread while listening to the Messiah at Christmas time because that’s what she always did when we were growing up. Countless reflections and memories sustain me. Memories I have had the joy of sharing with my own children. Traditions… Legacies… I have been blessed. And life does go on.
Play it Again
om played “Last Date” a lot when I was small. She’d put on the record (remember those?) and she and Daddy would look at each other and smile.
This one is for you, Mom …
Retracing The Steps
A Fresh Sorrow“There you’ll Be”
y brother Richard has always called me on my birthday. I would purposely set aside a huge chunk of time for his call because we would talk for hours. This birthday, July 13th, 2010… the call never came. Instead I received a different call from my brother Don. Richard had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away that day from undiagnosed hypertensive heart disease.
I loved my brother deeply. There is a new wound in my heart. My tears seem unending. I am still trying to grasp the fact that he is no longer here. I am desperately trying to understand why his wife not only has to deal with the horrendous pain of losing her husband without warning but also losing her brother from cancer on the very same day. Her grief is unimaginable.
Richard left behind his loving wife Delia and a teen-aged son and daughter, Aaron and Michaela. He and his children adored each other and he was so proud of them and all of their accomplishments. They also made him laugh and he would share those stories, always accompanied by his unique giggle. He was completely devoted to Delia and told me how blessed he was to have her as his wife. The love of his family was imprinted on his heart.
No one that knew Richard did not love him. Richard had spent much of his time recently, driving Delia’s brother back and forth to cancer treatments. He was always reaching out to meet the needs of others. He was always available to help. He was passionate about his faith and his opinions. He was a dreamer, an explorer, an inventor and a risk taker. He was a peacemaker… our common thread. He loved life. He had a wonderfully bizarre sense of humor and an infectious laugh. He loved all outdoor activities. He was naturally talented in so many areas, music, carpentry, wiring, cooking, gardening, electronics… so many things. He took on all challenges. What he didn’t know or understand, he learned and he always wanted to know more.
From the time Richard was a little boy, he told me, he dreamed of flying. Not in an airplane. Really flying. Soaring through the air like a bird. He tried many ways including an ill-conceived sheet jump off the roof of our house at age ten. Then, when he was older, he discovered hang-gliding and a whole new world opened up to him. He said the feeling of riding the air currents was indescribable. The view from the sky was amazing. He felt exhilarated. Light as a feather and full of joy. And that is how I picture him now.
Grief Support Groups- Learn. Cope. Share. Heal
A Healing Place for those Dealing with Grief
-GriefNet provides online support those dealing with grief and loss. issues on either a personal or professional level.
Caring, supportive grief support discussion forum.
Reflections of the Heart