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.

If you would like to be notified whenever I post something new, please enter your email here.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

I Have Seen Enough

I have seen enough DEATH, with its ragged canyons, to be weary of life and what shoe might fall next. The deaths of a wife, friends, parents and beloved pets have made we wary of letting myself care too much.

I have seen enough GRIEF to know that almost everyone is mourning some loss, almost everyone is struggling to make sense of a death that has taken away someone they loved, almost everyone is weary and want it to end.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Grief's Fractured FairyTales

Grief and fairy tales aren’t obvious dinner companions. Not the Disney versions, anyway.

When we’re grieving, we would dearly love for someone to ride in on a great white horse and rescue us. This seldom happens with grief, and if it does, it happens in an unexpected way and it’s a guide instead of a savior, like the coyote that appears on the trail.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Swearing and Grief

Ludwig Wittgenstein nailed it:
“The limits of my language set the limits of my understanding.”

People think that swearing isn’t polite, especially in public. Some of us can’t even swear at home without feeling guilty. People also think that talking about grief isn’t polite, so those who are grieving have to limit their emotions to what is nice.

But death isn’t nice, and when someone we love dies, trying to stuff our grief into the Polite Language Box doesn’t work. Grief’s emotions are too big.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Community of Compassion

When someone we love dies, we are left with great structures that are now hollow of life. Memories avalanche down around us, and our dreams for what might have been lie scattered on the floor.

In our struggle to survive a death, we need a community to help us through grief. If left on our own, we would curl up in the corner until our hearts desiccated into a walnut. We need people to help us crack grief’s nuts open.

We need the compassion of people. Yet many people do not know what to say to help those who are grieving, so you see the problem. People will send cards, flowers and well wishes in the first month. They will bring food, and then go back to their busy lives. We need a few people to hang around.

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

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 explain her grief to others 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. Someone’s spirit left their body here, and 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, 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. If they were not at peace, do their spirits linger in this place?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Giving Someone Breath

Organ Donation

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 their 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 matter 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

Three 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 and not spending enough time with Ev. 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 years ago on April 6. Was she still present, or had she departed and now existed somewhere else?

Neurological tests that were done yesterday indicated no activity in her brain. The doctors said the 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 said paramedics were working on her, 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 in ways for which we aren't prepared, not that we are ever prepared for death.

We expect that our parents will die someday, and we expect this will happen before us. Yet we don’t know how we are going to react to their passing 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 lose ground, rally, 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 up 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.