Grief, that thing, it seems, hardly anyone wants to talk about, but everyone goes through at some point in their life.
It seems strange to start an article by apologizing, in advance, for what you are about to read, but I do apologize if any of this offends you. Please understand my intent is to help, not hurt.
I am not a grief counselor, nor do I want to be one. My insight comes from losing my son, Kevin, to alcohol poisoning, a little over ten years ago.
I clearly understand that everyone grieves differently, but, by the same token, I don’t believe anyone should wear grief like a chip on their shoulder, and get upset when they perceive someone is trying to knock it off. Ninety nine percent, (probably more like 99.9%), of the time when someone mentions your loss, they are not trying to hurt you, they simply want to say something, anything, to try to help you and let you know they are thinking of you. Notice I am not saying 100% of the time. I know a woman who lost her husband to cancer. Someone, from her church, told her that he probably died because she wasn’t a good enough Christian. Not cool, not nice, not a friend and not Christian.
For me, a big part of my struggle with grief, was trying to get back to the way I was. I wanted so desperately to feel the way I used to. The way I felt the day before my son died, when I was whole, my family was whole and he was alive. The sad truth, is that when you lose a loved one, the old “you” dies, along with your loved one, and as hard as you might try, the old “you” is gone and isn’t coming back. This basic truth is not something that is easy to accept, especially in the near term. Difficult to accept, but accept we must, if we really want to begin the healing process. Truth is, in the beginning, most of us don’t want to begin the healing process, myself included, because we don’t want, or think, we will ever get over this. Which gets me back to my point, we can never get back to the way we were, so in that sense we will never “get over it.”
The good news here, is that while the old you is gone, a new “you” is born. This new “you” can actually be better than the old you, someone who realizes that the most you can hope for is to make “something very good” come from your personal tragedy. Often people who have lost a loved one will find themselves volunteering and doing all they can to help others. I personally find it very therapeutic, (pretty big word for an old hillbilly!), to share my son’s story. Not easy, at times, but therapeutic none the less.
The second path, sadly, is often one of anger, hate, self-pity, divorce, blame, depression, addiction, etc. Not to be too harsh here, but the path you choose will be the path you chose.
Forgiving is also a very important part of the grieving process. At least some of you are thinking, my loved one wasn’t murdered, or didn’t die in an accident, so what does forgiveness have to do with me? The answer is, everything. We play the coulda, woulda , shoulda, game. I could have stopped by that time they asked me to and didn’t, I should have told them I loved them more, I would have been there that day, but…
Without forgiveness, you are allowing yourself to become a victim, and the world doesn’t need any more victims. Don’t allow yourself to become collateral damage. You will never be able to begin the healing process until you forgive. It is as simple, (and complicated), as that. My mom used to say, “Forgive and forget.” I submit that there is a big difference between forgiving and forgetting. You can forgive, but that doesn’t mean you forget.
In my case, my eighteen-year-old son, died on the day he moved out on his own. I have long since forgiven those that were at the party with him, and of course, I could forgive my own child. But the hardest person of all to forgive was myself. As his dad, there had to be something I could have done differently to prevent this needless, and all too common tragedy.
In an effort to raise awareness about the dangers of binge drinking, I walked, from Arizona to Montana, with his ashes in my backpack, speaking at numerous schools along the way. Walking 1400 miles gives a man a lot of time to think. Somewhere on the open road between Arizona and Montana I found a way to forgive myself, for “letting my child die.”
Honor your loved one by creating a new, better “you” and forgiving.
Editors note: I started this article over a year ago, but today, after the recent death of my Uncle and a few days on the Yellowstone river, I felt compelled to finish it.
Hope it helps someone! ☺
Something very good will come from this…