Every Wednesday

Every other Wednesday, I will post a reflection on grief as I continue to explore its landscape and listen to your experiences. In the sharing of our stories with each other, we find encouragement and build a community of support and understanding.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Accidental Grieving

It’s unsettling to read about someone who is in anguish and coming apart at the seams. At the same time, Maryanne Pope’s book A Widow’s Awakeningis a heartwarming story of her spirit’s ability to endure one of the hardest experiences we will ever face — the death of someone we love. 

Her particular despair: 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.

There is a particular grief when someone dies accidentally doing their job. Kate Braestrup’s husband was a Maine state trooper who died when an oncoming driver lost control. Sarah Wheelan’s brother died after a live power line fell on him when he was clearing the brush underneath. They were healthy, young, and now they are dead.

These were preventable deaths, and they leave a sick feeling in our stomachs.

Maryanne not only talks about the major decisions she had to make in a short amount of time, like whether to donate John’s organs, the funeral arrangements, the flurry of forms to fill out, and worries about finances, she also shares her inner journey of trying to stay emotionally afloat without his love, and trying to comprehend what doesn’t make sense — how someone who was vibrantly alive a moment ago is now a cold body that doesn’t move.

She shares the struggle to maintain her precarious balance between giving up and hanging on when there seems to be no point, of pushing through weeks and months of despair in hopes of reaching brief moments of neutrality. Yet in the midst of the hard days, her humor surfaces, like when she wonders if her husband is sitting in Heaven’s waiting room with billions of other souls flipping through outdated magazines as God decides who gets in.

My friend Beau works as an electrical lineman and says that he operates in an environment that is one large, calculated risk. While every precaution is taken, sometimes something goes wrong and people are seriously injured or die. Others who work in public service occupations also face physical risks—those who drive snowplows, work in fire or police departments, ambulance services, as well as smokejumpers and highway workers. People who were doing their jobs for the common good of the community are dead, and they shouldn’t be.

Besides the heavy feelings of grief that come with any death, these deaths hold a layer of anger, more than the sadness of deaths when someone makes a mistake like swimming too far out on the ocean, or getting too close to the edge of a cliff while taking a selfie. It has some of the rage when someone deliberately causes the death of our loved one.

No death is good. Few deaths are easy. If your loved one died doing something heroic and saved a life, then it can feel like a noble death. A death that had a purpose, and we can hold on to this to help us get through the grief. To die because of someone’s oversight is hard to swallow for a long time.

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