a life well lived

Friday, March 7, 2014

Good Grief, Charlie Brown! 03/07/00

A discussion group that I have been part of for some time has included some interesting thoughts recently about grief.  Seems a lot of people (including minsters and doctors) feel uncomfortable addressing the idea of grief over the loss of a loved one.

Why is it that people think it's comforting to tell someone in the freshness of loss that they should be happy because the loved one is "in a better place." 

Grief, in my experience is not frivolous.  It is an important part of living.  Well, yes, people who grieve like Queen Victoria did - in an all-consuming fashion - do seem to be going overboard and forgetting the living.  But normal grief at the loss of a loved one is an important growth step.

This was recently brought home to me by something Elsa told me.  A very young friend's grandmother died after a long and sad illness.  The little girl was, naturally, feeling desolate and was unusually somber in school.  Instead of just letting the little one feel the sense of loss, her teacher – with the best of intentions - said, "Don't be sad!"  in a light and caring tone.  In my book, having a beloved relative die, especially a grandparent, is good enough reason to feel sorrow.

When Pete died at the relatively young age of 61, a doctor friend of ours, someone I respected and whose opinion I valued, said to me at, "Well, Kay, it's been six months since Pete passed away.  Time to be getting on with life."  Luckily, I just thought he was bonkers. 

Life would never be the same,  just as it was never the same after Ian died.  Oh, the sun came out and happy times returned, but the sky was never quite the same shade of blue.

Peter said to me several years about Ian died, when tears welled up in my eyes over some small reminder, "You still miss him, don't you, even after all this time."  He just couldn't get over it.  When his own son turned 11 years old, Peter told me, "I understand now.  I cannot imagine what I would do if anything happened to Reynolds."

For weeks after Pete died, I just sat in the big chair in the living room and felt at a complete loss.  I had just lost my heart.  The grief was not for Pete.  

How many people do you know who grieve on behalf of the person who died?  Not many.  I grieved for a loss beyond my comprehension.

When parents or siblings have a terminal illness or injury, the adults discuss what to share with the children.  Truman Capote was permanently scarred by his adored grandfather's death - not wanting to traumatize the child, the adults told him his grandfather "went away."  Unimaginable.  Then again, I have heard some strange tales from friends within my own church about how adults in their lives handled what they were told or not told about a loved one's death.

There are different forms of grief: 

 >  There is the personal grief when a loved one dies. 

 >  There is family grief, like ours when Ian and Pete died.

 >  There is community grief, as when a young person dies in war.   I remember the sadness that swept over Bryn Athyn when Richard (Pat) Walter and other young men from our little borough died in World War II - it brought us together and many of his classmates called their sons Richard in his honor.  Including, I believe, Richard Simons, whose death in Vietnam brought Bryn Athyn together in grief.

 >  There is national grieving, as when Charles Schultz and Jim Henson passed away.

 >  There is even international grieving.  FDR,  JFK,  and Diana come to mind.    Cynics labeled as hysteria the response to Diana’s death, but total strangers coming together in sadness, leaving bouquets outside wrought iron gates or tossing flowers at a passing hearse, can be healing.

Did you grow up thinking about grief as a normal part of life or were you like me, believing it is better for everyone to "be happy" instead of feeling the loss?   It is 41 years since Ian died and I still miss him.  It is 26 years since Pete's death and I will miss him every day. 

How do I hope my family and friends will grieve when this Ancient One finally shakes these mortal coils?  With a sense of loss, longing for the good times we shared, forgiveness for the rotten stuff, and partying,  hopefully lots of partying.  I remember asking Gerry Timlin, a family friend and fine Irish musician, about his mother’s funeral back in  County Tyrone for her funeral, he replied, “It was a FINE wake, with plenty of good drink below for our acquaintances and plenty of the best upstairs for our friends.”  When I go, I hope you all enjoy a FINE wake and that there is plenty of the best upstairs for one and all.  

It is very, very late (almost midnight EST) & I must hie this tired body off to beddy bye.  Love to you all – Mum

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