NOTE: The following is an opinion column that will be in the Friday, October 6 issue of the Echo Press. I am posting the original column here as the one in the paper is just a wee bit shorter. I think it was edited down by about 400 words. Thank goodness for online blogs that don’t have space restrictions! Lol. I hope you take the time to read the entire post. I hope it’s worth your while.
When you look up the word “grief” on Google, you see that it means deep sorrow, especially caused by someone’s death.
The families of the people who were tragically shot to death last Sunday night in Las Vegas, in what is now being called the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, will undoubtedly feel that deep sorrow, pain, anger and heartbreak that is associated with grief.
I cannot begin to understand what those families are going through or come close to knowing how they are feeling after losing their loved ones so senselessly and tragically.
But I do know grief. Trust me.
I may not have lost a loved one in a manner where there are truly no words to accurately describe the situation. But I have lost a loved one. Two loved ones to be exact.
I am not here to compare in any way, shape or form my grief of losing my parents with those who are suffering after Sunday’s deadly shooting. But I am here to share what I have learned about grief and the process of grieving.
After my mom’s death, in my grieving stupor, I signed up to receive a daily grief support email from the funeral home, Lind Family Funeral Home. Oddly, even though I knew it was a DAILY email, I didn’t expect to receive one every day. Your mind doesn’t work well when you’re grieving.
At first, I didn’t even open them. I saw the words “grief support” and automatically they were deleted. It was a harsh reminder that my mom died and I would no longer see her, hear her voice or hug her. She really was gone. Forever.
In was in June, a couple of months after she died, that I finally opened one of those emails.
The first four words struck me like a dagger through my heart – “Grief can destroy you…”
I am not sure I have read anything much more true in my entire life. Grief can destroy you. Yes, I thought, it can. That was exactly how I felt. I was being destroyed, from the inside out.
There was more to that email. It was actually a lengthy excerpt from the Dean Koontz book, “Odd Hours,” and at the end, there was a summary of what the excerpt was about.
It said, “Look back at your friendship, your love, and your caring for the one who has passed on. Celebrate what made it great. Share your stories with those who knew that person and are feeling the loss as well. Look for online forums as places to commiserate with others who are grieving. Taking active steps to cope with your sense of sadness will help you to heal and help others to feel less alone.”
I have to admit, I didn’t buy it. Sharing stories, although maybe helpful, also hurt. Like hell. I may have been smiling and laughing on the outside, but inside, my heart was shriveling up and felt like tiny pieces of it were breaking off every time I said her name.
The next few grief support emails I received were again, instantly deleted.
Then, less than four months after losing my mom, my dad died. My world was utterly and completely shattered. They were BOTH gone.
It took me until August 3 to not only open one of those support emails, but actually read it.
And again, the words stung. This time, they came from the book, “In Too Deep” by Jude Watson.
“When you lose your parents, the sadness doesn’t go away. It just changes. It hits you sideways sometimes instead of head-on.”
The summary underneath nailed it: “Your loss may make you feel out of control. That can lead to a downward spiral across all parts of your life. To help, find a way to feel like you are in charge of other aspects of your day…making decisions and acting on them will help you take control of your healing and your life.”
I thought about this. Long and hard. I did feel like my life was out of control. To be honest, there are times, now, several months later, that my life still feels that same way.
But I have to admit. I bought into this tip. It made sense to me. To those feeling the loss of Sunday’s tragedy, I hope it makes sense to you someday.
Making decisions, as small as they may be, help. I decided to finally put the funeral stuff – the cards, the memorial books, the leftover thank yous and programs – into one bag and put them in my basement, out of my sight and out of my mind. It hurt. But at the same time, it felt good. I finally put all the photo albums away, too.
Slowly, I started deleting those emails less and less. Slowly, I started reading them; letting the words sink in. They are helping. I actually have learned quite a bit reading those emails. I have realized I am not alone. I understand that there is no shame in crying, that a few tears are not a sign of weakness or evidence that I won’t get better.
When people lose someone they love – tragically or not – it is still a loss and crying is indeed a part of the grieving process. Crying is OK.
Also, one of the emails said that pretending that you are “handling” your grief does not make it go away. Rather, ignoring it may make it grow until it is too tough to bear. Talking about it does help. It can also hurt like the dickens, like thousands of teeny tiny needles piercing holes throughout your entire heart. But talk it out. Share. Hug. Laugh. And yes, cry. It all helps.
Loss is something that everyone will feel at some point in their life. There are people in your life who have already experienced it. You are not alone. Grief is a universal feeling, a feeling that will fade over time. Lots and lots of time.
There was a quote in one of my daily emails from Elizabeth Gilbert from “Eat, Pray, Love” that I hope will help – especially those who lost a loved one Sunday in Vegas.
“Deep grief sometimes is almost like a specific location, a coordinate on a map of time. When you are standing in that forest of sorrow, you cannot imagine that you could ever find your way to a better place. But if someone can assure you that they themselves have stood in that same place, and now have moved on, sometimes this will bring hope.”
I have stood there. At times, I am still standing there, in that godforsaken forest of sorrow. But slowly, I am moving on. My hope is that they will, too.
(This is one of my favorite photos of my parents, who will always be the cutest damn couple I know!)