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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Good grief

I know I promised to come back with a more positive attitude after Monday's mini-meltdown. I assure you I am in a much more positive mood. While the post that follows may not seem entirely uplifting, I hope that it does at times. Mostly, it's an honest account of my experiences with grief, my hopes for the grief process, and the lessons one book has been teaching me.

Earlier this week I started reading a book called Father Loss, a book about how sons of all ages cope with the death of their dads.

I wondered before starting it if I’d find it at all helpful or interesting, given that its primary audience includes several things that I am not—a male (and thus, a son) and someone whose lost a father (to death).

But I went into it with an open mind. I’m unfortunately all-too-familiar with losing a loved one (though never someone as close as a parent). And honestly for me, losing Sean’s dad did feel like the loss of a parent. If nothing else, being so close to him and his family through such a devastating loss brought me closer to this grief the book was going to explore.


I started reading it on the bus on Monday. In the introduction, the author explains that he wants readers to find the book to be a “helpful, hopeful companion” in the struggle that is coping with such a tremendous loss. By the time I arrived at work on Monday and had finished the first 25 pages, I found myself wondering when exactly I’d get to the “hopeful” part.

Surely any discussion of death and dying and the internal struggles children face in the wake of losing a parent is going to be a sad one. Not surprisingly, the book unearths memories and feelings from Sean’s dad’s death that seem to sit heavy in the pit of my stomach.

But I forged on. And I have to say, I’m glad I have. While I’m only about half way through, I’m quickly approaching the chapter the author says women (companions and mothers of sons who’ve lost their fathers) will find most helpful. I’m looking forward to it.

The book is largely the discussion of how real men across the country, at various ages and relationships with their fathers, dealt with (and continue to deal with) their father’s death. Some stories are more hopeful than others. What’s important is that they’re real.

I know that Sean and his brothers are a unique story, because no two families or loss experiences are the same. Though I’m not done with it, I have found the hopefulness I was looking for. I know that Sean and his brothers have an incredibly strong mother who has done, in my eyes, everything right in supporting her sons and helping all of them—as a family—to cope with their grief. They have an extended family that is not only wise but simply supportive. I know that there will always be ups and downs. It’s a life-changing experience.

It is scary. There’s no way to know how any of us will cope with grief in the long term, whether over the loss of a parent or other loved one. Loss becomes a part of who you are, and it can manifest itself in ways we can never expect. But knowing more about the journey of grief, for some reason, gives me comfort in the path that is ahead.

Perhaps because of my rather significant experience with loss in my relatively short life, I’ve always been somewhat awed by death—certainly not in a positive or morbid way. Rather, dumbstruck by it. I’m captivated by the ways in which it can profoundly impact and shape our entire lives—who we are, how we behave, and how we live the remainder of our lives.

If I could turn back time I would change a thousand things, the deaths of our dearly departed most of all. But I can’t. And because I can’t I am determined to find a way to let grief be a part of my life in a very healthy way.

I want, for me and for anyone who has lost a loved one, to know that just because a person is gone, their legacy and the imprint they’ve had on our lives goes on. I want to remember them fondly. I want to cry every once in a while (or more than that). I want to get angry sometimes and ask “why.” I want to be sad when they can’t be here to share in life’s most important moments. I want to smile when I think of them. I want to tell my kids and grandkids about them and how special they were. I want to do good, even big, things with my life. I want to make them proud. I want to remember that they’re with God, a belief I truly couldn’t get through such pain without.

I want to find a way to let grief be a part of me, but not all of me. Somedays it feels like it is all of me. That’s ok, too, because I don’t want it to go away either. As much as our loved ones were a part of our life, the grief will be, too.

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