Life is full of good-byes, but some are much more difficult than others. Saying the final farewell to a parent, child, sibling, spouse or dear friend is one of the hardest things in life. Letting your loved one go brings them peace and comfort as death approaches.
Although death may be peaceful for your loved one, the winding journey of grief is not easy for those left to mourn. Hospice services are offered to caregivers and family members for a year or more following the death of a loved one. Many hospice services also sponsor bereavement groups for anyone who has experienced the death of a friend, family member or loved one. These services can be very helpful, but the biggest part of the grief journey is done on your own.
Much has been written about the stages of grief: shock and denial, pain and guilt, anger, bargaining, depression, reconstruction, hope and acceptance of your new normal.
However, grief isn't a straight path with a visible start and finish. Grief is a winding journey with no real beginning or ending. You may feel upbeat and happy one minute and feel deep pain, sorrow and depression the next minute.
Each person's grief journey is different. Each person handles the many emotions associated with grief differently. For some, the easiest way to deal with the pain of loss is not to think about it at all. Others can't stop thinking about the loss in an endless cycle of "what-ifs" during the day, fitful sleep at night and waking each morning to the harsh reality of the death.
For most of us, the grief journey is a combination of all of the above. My parents' deaths last month still don't seem real sometimes. I pick up the phone to call Mom as I did so many times, then remember that it's not possible anymore. I look at smiling photos of my parents and realize that I'll never see those smiles in person again during my lifetime, although I know they will be waiting for me when my days on earth come to an end.
Childhood memories blend with more recent memories into a memory collage, not unlike a photo collage. I remember Mom washing my hair with a pan while I knelt on
the floor beside the bathtub.I remember
Mom’s fuzzy robe.I remember sitting on the beanbag chair wearing Dad’s headphones to
listen to music and singing with it.Mom would throw pieces of candy at me and tell me to quiet
down. I remember coming home late at night and eating midnight steak with Mom as we talked together. I remember that Mom always cried
when one of the kids would leave, to go back to school.I didn’t understand why then but years later,
when I was the one leaving to go back home, I cried along with her.
I remember going fishing with Daddy in the canoe when I was younger.He taught us how to row the canoe and how to bait a hook, but we rarely caught anything. I remember Dad giving us pennies to put in what he called
“the goofy machines” when he took us downtown.I remember Dad
helping me learn to ride a bike.I
remember Dad teaching me and the other kids how to swim and taking us for rides
in the pool on his back.He never warned
us when he was going to go underwater so I always got a mouthful of water.I remember
Dad teaching us how to play tennis, starting with the most important
lesson: shagging balls.I also remember
Dad teaching us to bowl.Instead of
making fun of us for rolling a gutter ball, he would say, “I’ll give you a
dollar if you can knock down the one on the other side.”
I remember Mom sitting on the front porch on warm days, can of Coke in her hand. On cold days, Mom enjoyed sitting on her davenport in the living room, working word search puzzles with her collection of stuffed Snoopys behind her. As we sat and talked, Mom would pull out cards, letters and photos from her kids, grandkids or friends to share with me.
I remember walking into Mom and Dad's house and always finding Dad in his recliner or at the computer working on a project or playing Solitaire. Dad never talked much about his military years when we were kids, but he was always willing to answer questions or share a few stories with us as we got older. I turned to Dad when I wasn't sure what to do or how to do it, always knowing he would have a good idea or suggestion.
God called Mom and Dad home, but left all of us here for now. Mom told me that sometimes she looked up toward Heaven and asked, "Why?" Although it's not ours to question, it's human nature to ask and to wonder what if...
Life goes on and life is good. Mom and Dad lived good lives and are now enjoying their rewards. We all push forward, just as they would expect us to do, even as we miss their daily presence in our lives. The winding journey of grief continues.
Until the next time, I'll take what I can get when I can get it and do the best I can to face each day with a smile on my face, a prayer on my lips and a song in my heart.