The Loss of Grieving

We are several weeks into a pandemic. We are separated from our jobs, our friends, and our families. We are struggling to understand and to find comfort in an ever-changing and never amiable world. Wrapped up in all of this our jobs, our friends, and our families are dying while we watch from a window far away. People are dying alone. Of all the things we might miss, grieving might be one of the hardest. 

Because of the risk of passing on a highly contagious and sometimes fatal virus, funerals are not being held. Health care and funeral home workers are doing their best to ease the discomfort of families and friends who could not be with their loved ones as they took their last breath. They are setting up teleconference devices to say goodbye. There are online prayer services and videotaped internment. They’re trying to create a likeness of what people once shared. But, for many this isn’t enough. People are grieving alone.

To those who are grieving now, I ask you to be kind to yourself. Be patient.

I was once in your shoes. No….that’s not true at all. This thing we are living through is not like anything before it. But I once was not allowed to comfortbally grieve for my family when they passed. It’s not the same, but it was hard for me at the time.

Ten years ago my grandmother passed away. She was 101 and a truly beautiful soul. I’d had my grandmother in my life for 42 years. She was not a physically affectionate woman, but she was graciously loving. She was filled with manners and faith and lessons. She taught me important things – like respect and ministry, giving and acceptance, following rules, standing up for what is right, and holding on when things go wrong. She never lectured or preached to us. She simply lived her lessons every day in quiet consistency.

What my grandmother detested and feared most was to be a burden. True to her character, she pre-planned her funeral and paid for it all up front so her children would not have to worry about it (I think she actually said it was so her boys wouldn’t fight about it). She wrote the obituary, chose her casket, planned every detail with the funeral home. When she passed, there was nothing for us to do. It may sound like that makes it easier, because the decisions have all been made. And, for some it might be. But, for the last 4 deaths in our family, I was the planner, the organizer. I made the lists and the phone calls and the decisions when others were too stricken to do it. It was how I coped – I needed to be the helper. This time there was nothing left for me to help with. 

When the time came for the wake – there wasn’t one. It’s what she’d planned. I didn’t understand. Where was family going to gather to support each other? When I asked what was written for the obituary, there was nothing. It’s what she’d planned. I didn’t understand. How would people know why her Christmas cards stopped coming or where to send contributions in her honor? When I asked if I could help serve communion during her service in the church I was told there would be no service. It’s what she’d planned. I didn’t understand. This is the church where she and my grandfather were married, where all 4 of their children were baptized. This is where the weddings were held for her two married children. This is where her two grandchildren were baptized. It’s what she’d planned.

I hated every moment of what didn’t happen for my grandmother. Every part of it felt wrong. This woman who’d spent her life quietly in service to others was lowered into the ground by a stranger who was simply hired to do a job. I didn’t cry for the longest time, except when telling my son that “GG” had died. I was angry about all the things that weren’t happening the way they’re supposed to when someone dies. Every time I was disappointed by another part I was missing, I kept telling myself “it’s what she wanted.” When friends and co-workers asked how I was doing, I struggled with anger and disappointment. That’s what came out more than grief. But, over and over I’d remind myself “it’s what she wanted.”

One day I finally broke and turned my anger to her. She got what she wanted, but her death was no longer about her. It was now about me and the rest of us left to go on without her. And she stole from us the last bit of our time with her when we could say goodbye. When I finally stopped interrupting my anger and frustration with “it’s what she wanted” and allowed myself to finish a thought and a feeling…that’s when I found my grief. This wasn’t how I wanted to grieve. She was my grandmother and I deserved a chance to tell her story to the world. I deserved time to weep by her side. I deserved a moment to look at her once more and remember 42 years of the way she brushed my hair and read me stories and introduced me to people and held my hand. I deserved MORE. 

It was 16 months after my grandmother died when I finally started grieving for her. It has now been ten years and the process continues. Grieving doesn’t end. Ever. But it changes. Always.

Because I didn’t have the opportunity to go through the motions of beginning to grieve, it took a long time for me to grieve the right way for me. You are not being given the opportunity to begin this process with the usual steps. I imagine you will find yourself tripping on many moments as you start grieving. 

As you begin to grieve, I ask you to be kind to yourself. Be patient.

It won’t go the way you think grieving should. Be kind.

It may come in fits and starts. Be patient.

Don’t listen to those who try to tell you what grieving should look like. This is a private moment for you. Give yourself permission to feel it and live through it your own way. It’s okay to be angry – at the situation, at people around you, it’s even okay to be angry with the person who died. The feelings are real and yours.  Accept them as they come, changing and expanding as your heart heals. It’s okay not to cry. It’s okay to begin crying without warning while sharing coffee with a friend. This grief is yours and however it happens is okay. There is no blueprint for what grief should look like. Especially now, when every blueprint we thought we had for life has been turned upside down. 

There is no timeline. There is no right way. In time I found the way to grieve that worked for me and my relationship with my grandmother. Not because I was looking for it, but because after 16 months it was finally the right time for me. Since I stopped making excuses for a death and funeral that cast aside my pain, I have been able to grieve for my grandmother in love. Random moments come when I miss her deeply and often cry. But the moments don’t last long and always end with a joyful smile. That’s where my grief journey brought me – grieving with joy. Don’t rush your time. Don’t let anyone choose your time.

For those who are grieving now, I wish you peace – in whatever way that comes to you. My heart aches for each of you and I wish I could hold your hand and sit in your sorrow with you. You’ll find your way, and peace will come much easier when you do. It will happen in your time.

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