As far as any of us can remember, we’ve all lived through the loss of plenty of loved ones because it’s obviously the natural cycle of life. There’s absolutely no escaping it’s existence. Thinking back, my most vivid memory of my very first experience with death was when I was 6 years old and my eldest sister passed away. I obviously was too young to understand what it really meant and as I was made to understand that she had gone to heaven and wouldn’t be coming home, my rationalization of grief in my very young mind was a feeling of sadness because I had created a bond with her and I couldn’t imagine not seeing her for a while. Unfortunately, she died on the same day as my Aunt, my Dad’s sister, and the entire situation which had been simply sad to me quickly turned extremely frantic and scary as I watched with horror the events that followed and tried so hard to figure out in my young mind why so many people were flocking to our house and everybody that burst through the door was crying so hard! As I went looking for my Mother, to get some sense of what was really happening I finally realized that it must be especially serious as I stood in complete shock watching my extremely strong Mother as I knew her, looking absolutely broken, helpless and lost with tears just rolling down her cheeks and unable to even dress herself! I now know that this is grief! I had never seen her like this before and as I looked helplessly at her, my child like mind finally realized that whatever had happened was a very deep and crippling situation that nobody could reverse and it was going to affect us in a bad way but I couldn’t work out how long this bad situation was going to last. Little did I know that it lasts a lifetime!
As I grew up, I obviously started fully understanding what it meant when someone passed away. And as I watched the grief of those who lost their loved ones, I kept being reminded of that picture of my helpless Mum. As I too, experienced the loss of my close relatives and friends, I thought that I had fully grasped what grief really was and I felt that I most certainly could handle it. Little did I know that I had absolutely no idea because when my Mother passed away, I realized that nothing ever prepares us for that level of grief! I finally got to understand that helplessness I saw in my Mother when my sister passed away! It became very clear how incredibly excruciating the pain of grief really is and I didn’t know how in the world I was going to ever overcome this debilitating feeling that I couldn’t escape!
One of my Aunt’s took me to a private room so that she could speak to me privately. She told me that this pain I was going through would never go away. She went on to explain to me that with time, I will learn to live with the pain. And she emphasized that if I choose to wait for it to go away, it will overwhelm me and plunge me into a very deep depression that would be so hard to overcome. As I looked at her and tried to rationalize what she saying to me, I just couldn’t imagine how anyone could choose to live with this kind of pain! I just wanted it to desperately go away and I was trying so hard to figure out in my mind how I could escape being in this horrible situation! Knowing what I know now, it’s without a doubt the most important advice you can ever give to anybody that experiences this level of loss for the first time, even if it’s the last thing they want to hear considering that level of grief. I obviously didn’t listen to my Aunt and indeed, I hit depression in the worst possible way! I couldn’t climb my way out of the bottomless pit that I found myself in; it’s without a question of a doubt exactly how that depression really feels! There’s no end to the fall as everyday creates another level of bottom like you haven’t already hit the bottom enough times! I had to seek professional help to overcome it and I’ve never allowed myself to enter that bottomless pit again!
The good thing that came out of it is that it’s helped me become extremely conscious of never allowing myself to let grief take over in such a negative way. Last week my brother-in-law passed away and the depth of grief it’s brought on is that same debilitating feeling that makes me want to runaway from myself! But having experienced a few more deep losses in the last few years in the passing of my Dad, and my two best friends I’ve learned that grief as painful and uncontrollable in the moment as it is, does not necessarily have to create a negative existence. It’s very much a necessary process that we cannot avoid and if we allow ourselves to understand it’s significance, we can turn it into a healing process that teaches us how to live with that depth of the pain of loss.
What’s helped me learn to cope with the pain is understanding that grief is a like a wave in a stormy sea. When the wave of pain comes on, the force is as excruciating and uncontrollable as a sea wave in a storm. And if we don’t fight it and let it ride, the force of it passes and brings on a calm that feels like we never even had any pain whatsoever! It gives us room to breathe and enjoy a normality that seemed unfathomable during the wave of pain. When we’re in the calm moments, it’s hard to even imagine why we thought we couldn’t cope because we feel a relief that is unexplainable. It such a peaceful feeling that enables us to function without a problem. Unfortunately when the loss is still so fresh, the waves of pain are so much more frequent than the calm moments, but when we understand this and begin to accept each moment for what it is, the significance of time begins to make sense. As time passes we eventually start to notice that the moments of calm have become more frequent than the painful ones and as life continues, those painful moments practically become only moments for anniversaries and birthdays that unfortunately try as we may, are unavoidable. We finally learn to accept the pain for what it is and we’re able to live with it. This is what they mean when they say that time heals.
A couple of years ago, I watched a Dr. Phil episode of a woman who couldn’t get passed her daughter’s murder. She had been stuck in grief for over 10 years and was missing out on the lives of her other children as she just couldn’t function because of the grief. When I heard Dr. Phil tell her how sad it was that she’s stuck on that one day that her daughter had passed and she wasn’t giving significance to the 15 years she had lived, it was an absolute wake up moment for her as the light finally came back into her eyes! Her daughter had lived 15 full years of bringing her family absolute joy in the person she was and the difference she had added to their lives. This was most definitely a huge wake up call for me too! It made me realize how extremely unfair we are to our loved ones when we choose to only focus on that day that they pass away and choose to remember them sadly, ignoring all the fantastic moments and precious memories that they leave us with. Those memories can never, ever be taken away from us. They’re without a doubt the very lifeline we need to overcome grief! Life shouldn’t merely be moaned, it should especially be celebrated!
One of the bible verses that brings me so much peace whenever I feel that deep level of grief is Revelation 21:4. “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more, neither shall there be anguish (sorrow and mourning) nor grief nor pain any more, for the old conditions and the former order of things have passed away.” Remembering the level of pain that my parents and brother-in-law endured through their illnesses, as painful as it is that they’re no longer here physically, I now choose to fully embrace their spiritual presence because their souls are finally free of the bodies that were causing them unbearable pain. It’s one of the things that helps me find peace in their passing. Jesus told us in John 16:33, “In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.]” This verse is an excellent reminder that death too, no longer has a hold on us, thanks to the sacrifice of our Lord. We therefore have a choice! If we choose to understand grief for what it truly is, we can use it positively as a healing process and find peace in the death of our loved ones. We also must always remember that whether we like it or not:
“To everything there is a season, and a time for every matter or purpose under heaven: A time to be born and a time to die.” – Ecclesiastes 3:1-2
We therefore also have to accept that there’s no getting away from the fact that, we all have an appointment with death. But thank God that He’s the only one who knows exactly when that time is!