Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Death By Accident

There is a particular grief when someone dies doing their job, and they shouldn’t have. (People we love should never die for any reason, of course, but that’s a different post.) What comes to mind is the husband of Maryanne Pope, a Canadian policeman who died after falling through a false ceiling while investigating a burglary, Kate Braestrup, whose husband was a Maine state trooper who died when an oncoming driver lost control, and Sarah Wheelan, whose brother would die after a live line came down on him when he was clearing brush under power lines.

These aren’t deaths where someone deliberately causes someone to die. These are preventable deaths that leave a sick feeling in our stomach.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Creative Grief

Book: This Angel On My Chest, Leslie Pietrzyk, University of Pittsburgh Press

Creative Grief. Two words you don’t often see paired together.

Leslie Pietrzyk’s book is a collection of stories based on the real events of her husband’s death at age 37 to a heart attack, but it’s told in the guise of fiction. She speaks about the concerns of grief in 16 different ways using an assortment of characters.

Making the account fictional frees Pietrzyk to add in details that she wished had happened and include dialogue that she wished people had said that would have helped her understand and deal with grief better.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Retiring Into the Forest

I am not happy with my parents. Or my wife’s parents. Or with your parents, even though I’ve never met them, because they’re probably like mine. Throughout our lives, we’re always planning ahead for what comes next. Getting our ducks in order. Then we retire and stop making adjustments. We settle into a comfortable routine, and let life go on without us. Except that life doesn’t stop changing.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Stupid Things People Say About Grief

Many people, especially the caring and thoughtful, want to help the grieving, but they haven’t experienced grief and often say the wrong thing. These are some of the phrases I heard after my wife died. If you’re inclined to say them, don’t. Just, don't. Instead, ask how the person is doing, and then listen.

You will be okay. It’s better this way.
Really? My wife is gone forever. That will never be okay with me.

Time heals all wounds.
Grief is not an illness like the flu that will go away on its own. You can’t kiss this boo-boo away. Grief will hang around until we face it.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Geography of Death

When I notice a bouquet of flowers along the road, I feel a moment of sadness because I know that someone died here and that the people who knew and loved them grieved their loss. If I’m not late to be somewhere, I try to figure out the cause of the accident — sharp curve, bad weather conditions, hit by a drunk driver — and then I check to see if any of these apply to me. I don’t want to die here.

But someone did. Someone was lying on the ground here and looked around at the grass, at the empty beer bottles and candy wrappers, up into the sky, and knew, in all probability, that they were going to die here and this would be the last image they would see. Someone’s spirit left their body here. If they were not at peace, do their spirits linger in this place?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Giving Someone Breath

We don’t like to think about death or grief. Most of us feel uneasy being in the same room with a dead body. And if that dead person is someone we loved, then we might not be able to look at them at all, let alone touch the body one last time.

As squeamish as it may feel to some, and horrific to others, donating the organs of a loved one can be a sacred event because we are physically giving life to people who will die in a couple of days without the organs. They have run out of options.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

We Gather

We gather with others who understand suffering and endurance, who understand the devastation of heart, who feel the bone-weariness of soul.

We gather together and bring food. We share our lives with each other and find encouragement.

The darkness does not do away with light, but completes it. Just as grief completes our understanding of love.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

3 Sequoia Cones

In the early morning light, held tightly inside by the death of someone I loved, I sit on a log in the transparency of the sun. In the vibrancy of fresh air. In the clarity of the mountains. The trauma of death has shaken me.

I think of my failings — working too long on tasks. Not loving freely from the heart. Not slowing down often enough to be present to the suffering of others. This is who I’ve been. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

When the Spirit Opens

“I don’t know when the spirit opens itself to the river.” Kathleen Dean Moore

I wondered about this movement of the spirit when I sat by Evelyn’s bed in the ICU sixteen years ago on April 6. Was she still present, or had she departed and now existed somewhere else?

Neurological tests done yesterday indicated no activity in her brain. Machines were keeping her body alive until they could repeat the tests 24 hours later. I felt that Ev had waited for me to arrive so that she could say goodbye before her spirit left, but this may be wishful thinking. When I received the call at work that the paramedics were working on Ev, I sensed that our connection had been broken.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Death of a Parent

“The journey of walking with a dying parent has no roadmap,” my friend Beth said. “It’s uncharted territory.” Our parents often die in ways that we don’t expect, and ways for which we are not prepared, not that we are ever prepared for death.

We expect that our parents will die someday, and probably before us. Yet we don’t know how we are going to react until the time comes and reality knocks us off our hinges. Some parents die from a car accident or heart attack, and we have to deal with their sudden loss. Some parents die slowly, with our hopes rising and falling as they rally, lose ground, and then succumb to diseases like cancer. Some parents die from alcoholism, and some die when we are young and needed their advice and support.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Grieving For Society

The Call to Be Creative

When I was swimming in the minestrone soup of grief, one of the realities that helped me cope was the sameness of life outside my house. Everyday I could mindlessly commute to work, do my job, come home, watch TV, and sleep.

Then 9/11 happened, a few months after my wife died, and my grief was swept into the larger grief of the world. I had no sanctuary from death. Because I didn’t have cable, even TV wasn't a refuge because of its unrelenting coverage of the terror and destruction.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Hiking Through Grief

When men grieve, they often need to do something physical to help them along. Some men build things. I go hiking for a week in Yosemite.

My goal each day is to reach a scenic viewpoint, but I also want to find a place along the way where I connect to something solid and real.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Grief Dinners

What if you threw a potluck dinner for friends, and everyone who came was grieving? Cool, right!

Well, cool if you had lost someone, because there is little support in society for those who are grieving. Otherwise, you might look for an excuse.

An organization called “The Dinner Party” invites people who are grieving to potluck dinners. Gatherings have been hosted in cities across the country. Currently there are 140+ tables in more than 60 cities, with a few smaller towns in the mix.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Being Real

Book: A Widow’s Awakening, Maryanne Pope, Pink Gazelle

It’s unsettling to read about people in anguish who are coming apart at the seams. At the same time, it’s also a story of the human spirit as the person confronts one of the hardest experiences that she will ever have to face — the death of someone she loved more than life. After reading Maryanne’s book, I feel that we could sit down and immediately begin sharing heart-to-heart.

Her particular hell: she was in her early 30s, married for four years to John, a policeman in Canada. Because there was no safety barrier, he fell through a false ceiling while investigating a break-in, hit his head and died. She did not have the chance to say goodbye.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Delayed Grief

There are good reasons for not dealing with grief. The children have to be assembled and taken to school. We have to go to work. We have to go shopping, cook meals, and wash the dishes.

We have to do the laundry. Pets have to be walked. There is yard work to be done. Bills to be paid. Cars repaired. And somehow we have to find enough time to sleep. We don’t have time left to grieve.

Grief doesn’t give us that option.