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, 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 today. Was she still present, or had she departed and now existed somewhere else?

Neurological tests indicated that Evelyn’s brain had died a short time before. Machines were keeping her body alive until they could repeat the tests in 24 hours to confirm the finding. I felt that Ev had waited for me to arrive so that she could say goodbye before her spirit left, but this may have been 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 in 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. But 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 need their advice and support.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Grieving For Society

The Call to Be Creative

When I was swimming in the minestrone 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 was no longer 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

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 faces 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 is in her early 30s, married for four years to John, a policeman in Canada. Because there is no safety barrier, he falls through a false ceiling while investigating a break-in, hits his head and dies. She does 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.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Blessings of Grief

Even In This

It took me a while to wrap my head around this one. And before someone starts yelling, let me be clear. I am not saying that grief is a blessing that we need to experience. No one needs to die in order for us to understand anything.

When someone we love dies, we lose so much that it can feel like nothing is left. As the weeks and months go on, we are left with a new understanding of life and of ourselves. We approach each day differently because we know how quickly everything can change.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Breast Cancer, Never Give Up

At a benefit for breast cancer in East Peoria, world-famous Sylvia McNair sang music from Broadway and opera. Between songs she spoke of her battle with cancer and how crucial her community of close friends had been to her recovery. 
She did not lecture about the disease, nor did she tell us how we had to fight the beast of breast cancer. She simply talked about her struggles and shared what enabled her to get through the chemotherapy, surgery, doubt, and despair. She did not hide from how hard the battle was, or how scared she had been when she thought she was going to die.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Hospice and Parents

It was hard watching dad in his chair, tucked under a blanket, eyes closed, mumbling, “Help me,” and not know what kind of help he wanted. He hadn’t talked much in the last week. Was he thirsty? Hungry? Uncomfortable? Perhaps he was afraid of dying?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

When Everything Is Not Okay

Book: Everything is Not Okay is an audio book by Megan Devine that invites the newly bereaved to enter their grief and see where it leads them.

Devine notes that everyone has an opinion about how people should grieve, even those who have never lost someone. Ignore them, she says. No one can tell you how you need to grieve; only you can determine that. We also have our own guilt trips to deal with, the “shoulds” that we pile on ourselves. Getting beyond the shoulds and oughts is one of the first tasks that grievers face so that we can hear what we actually need.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Grief: What You Can Say and Do

What we can do for those who are grieving is a matter of compassion, of kindness that comes from concern for the wellbeing of the other person. Whatever you say or do, do it with compassion, with kindness that goes beyond politeness. Let your heart respond to the person who is grieving.

Be honest. Your inclination is to want to find the right words that will take the pain away. You won’t. The pain is going to be there no matter what you say. This frees you up to be honest with the person who is grieving. You can say things like, “Look, I don’t know what to say, but I care about you.” or “Grief really makes me uneasy, but I want to help. I don’t want you to feel alone in this.”

You can say, “I’m sorry for your loss.” This bridges the gap between us. It acknowledges my grief and it tells me that you care.