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.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

After the Funeral, There's the Quiet

Today I’m thinking about Emily Rapp’s experience after her two-year-old infant son Ronan died, as well as about people I’ve loved who died in April — my wife Evelyn, John’s wife Anne, and Judy’s husband John. I hold them in my heart, along with those I don’t know who also lost loved ones this month. Each year, this month of death makes us moody, sometimes snarly, when we think about what could have, should have, been.

After the funeral, Emily came home to a place now quiet of the bustle to keep Ronan alive. Friends continued to drop by to chat and see how she was doing, but there were fewer of them because some people were more comfortable with the dying than they were with death. 

They invited her out for yoga, a walk, dinner, and sometimes she went. The diversion from home was good, even though she may not have felt like it. To stay strong for Ronan now seemed pointless.

They brought food, washed dishes, and helped her with chores. They asked questions, held her, and listened to her cry, listened to her hesitant responses as she searched the air for answers. As they comforted her, they learned what it was to mourn a child.

They felt her sorrow and rage, and her fear of the despair that was descending. When they didn’t know what else to do, when the roughness of words had sanded themselves into dust, they sat in the silence around her and let their presence hold a heart that had been broken. 

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When you come home after the funeral or memorial service of someone you loved, as you begin to put away their possessions and box up their clothes, the quietness will hit you. Someone you love is gone forever.

You knew this in your head, of course, but now you feel the leadened truth of it in your bones. It feels primal, raw, and too much to bear. But you bear it because there is no other option. Sometimes the despair will be so great that you will wonder, as you gnaw grief’s dry crust, if you will survive. 

As hard as it is to be alone with this stark reality, you want to be alone with it. You want to feel the sinews that bound you to each other so that they don’t fray. You want to proclaim to all who can hear that they were life to you and you will not forget them. 

For a time you will not want to speak to others about what grief feels like, or what this means, because you don’t know what it means. For a long time you will carry around everything that has happened because you don’t want to forget any part of it, not even the last days when the light was fading from their eyes. You want to dwell in this place of darkness and face death directly, to feel it as deeply as you can, and then, when it is time, you want to leave and never come back. 

This is your time to grieve. Give yourself to it. The quiet around you opens a space for this.

One day you will pick yourself up and restart your life, but it will be a different life. Your path will no longer head deeper into the dark forest of death. It will lead you back into a land of warmth and light.

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April is National Donate Life Month.