This post has been rattling around in my head for a few months, but I just wasn’t ready to write it. It needed to ‘marinate’, until I reached a point where I simply had to write it before I could move forward myself. I felt compelled to write this for YOU, dear reader, in hopes that sharing my journey will give you strength. Because if you’ve suffered a loss, you need the comfort of knowing that your journey to healing is yours, and yours alone.
I’ve been thinking about grief a lot lately. Many people, some I know and some I don’t, have suffered significant loss in recent months. My heart hurts for them.
As humans, we all share the suffering that comes with a loss, regardless of whether that loss is a human loss or a beloved pet. And we all share in the ability to comfort and lift up each other…or not.
I learned a long time ago that even when it’s expected – such as parent or someone who’s had an extended illness – it may make it a little easier to bear. But even then, it’s still a shock when it happens.
And then there are the losses whose circumstances are so sudden and so tragic it leaves us struggling for answers and wondering why and questioning our faith in God.
We all share in the cycle of life. The cycle of loss. The cycle of blessings and joy. The cycle of struggle.
I wonder if we would appreciate one without the other.
When my mother passed away, the loss was bittersweet. On the one hand, I was relieved that she no longer had to suffer or miss my dad. Yet, I missed my mother terribly. Part of the curse of being the baby of the family is having to say ‘goodbye’ to both of them well before my 50th birthday.
I was blessed to have enjoyed my parents as an adult, and to have had the wonderful opportunity to spend a lot of time with them. Before their health limited their activities, they were a lot of fun. And they had a lot of fun.
I had a great childhood. Growing up on the farm was a wonderful experience, and I miss it terribly.
I have no desire to go back, my life is the here and now. But that doesn’t mean I miss it any less.
My memories are full of my favorite things: listening to the whisper of the Chariton River as it moseyed downstream. The wonderful smell of the earth during spring planting after what seemed like a long winter. The smell of new-mown hay or fresh-cut silage.
Baby calves, baby pigs, and baby chickens.
The peace of the countryside, and the beauty of a peaceful sunrise over the Chariton River valley, or a quiet sunset over rolling green hills.
The roar of big power as the equipment rolled out to work the land. The controlled chaos of working cattle or moving them to another pasture. Counting cattle with my dad or brother from the two-seater 1946 Old Champ airplane, back in the cattle-rustling days.
The hours spent riding my bike or 3-wheeler among those hills. Lunches in the field (food never tastes as good as when it’s eaten outside), all the trees my mom planted, her flowers, picking berries, the large garden we had.
I said my first swear word on that farm. I was fourteen or fifteen, backing my parents car up to the barrel tank that held unleaded gas. I went to brake and my foot hit the accelerator instead. The car shot backwards into the tank, sliding the framework back into the chicken house, and the gas barrel fell down in between.
“DAMN”, I said. 😀
We chuckled for weeks remembering the panicked squawking erupting from the chickens following the “BANG” of the tank stand on the side of their house.
Picnics in the pasture with just my dog and Miracle Whip sandwiches. All these memories are so much a part of the tightly woven fabric that is me that it’s impossible to separate them. It’s part of the framework through which I see everything.
That is why I can’t go home again.
To drive down to the farm just makes the loss feel more significant.
My parents house is gone now. Nothing is the way it was.
Buildings and structures don’t live forever. But the pang of loss is so sharp, so painful, the loss of so much feels so deep that it hurts too much to go.
In recent weeks I attended my cousins’ sweet vow renewal and anniversary party in my hometown. It was really nice to see them, and I saw some people I hadn’t seen in years.
As I got in my car to leave, I thought about driving out by the farm or the cemetery. Instead, I turned around and headed back home. It was a beautiful day, and I wanted to end it with happiness. Not the lonely feeling of loss.
In the almost six years since my parents passed away, I have only been to the cemetery 4 or 5 times. And two of those times were for my parents’ burials.
I know for a fact that there are those who judge me for this. Personally, I believe that the right to judge belongs in the courtroom or to God (or simply a Higher Power, depending upon your beliefs.)
But as we’ve all witnessed and been subjected to time and time again, there surely is no judge or jury harsher than the Court of Public Opinion.
My friend Dianne and I were talking recently. I don’t even remember the topic.
“I don’t go back to my mother’s grave,” she said. “She’s not there.”
And she’s right.
I feel my parents’ presence in a lot of the things I do, in the memories I carry with me. I feel my mother especially when I make her noodles or am cooking for the holidays. I feel my dad’s presence when Jimmy and I are talking business or about life in general. Sometimes random, funny thoughts will come up about my dad and silly songs he used to sing.
For instance, recently I took a silly quiz on Facebook which told me that I should live in El Paso, Texas. With great pleasure, I shared with Jimmy the story of a memory that had been long forgotten.
“He’s an a..hole from El Paso,” my dad might suddenly sing, straight-faced, in a melodious voice. Jimmy and I busted up with laughter, and I can still see my dad doing that. August 10th would have been his birthday.
These are the kinds of things that make me feel close to my parents and cherish their memory.
Rather than placing flowers on their graves, I choose other ways to memorialize them. This year, I gave money to the cemetery. There’s nothing prettier than a well-maintained cemetery, and my mom would be pleased that theirs looked nice.
I have plans to create a Serenity Garden at the cemetery behind their graves, but I’m just not ready yet. Someday.
Grief is a personal journey that has no timeline, no specific route, and no destination. We have become such a schedule-focused society built on get-it-done-yesterday deadlines, I think grief can be challenging. It’s easy to feel an unseen pressure to move on, squash it down, pretend it isn’t there and put on a happy face.
We can schedule nearly everything else, but you can’t schedule recovery from grief. Time can work miracles, and healing happens sometimes almost without being noticed.
The best thing we can do for loved ones who are grieving is offer them quiet support and the freedom to grieve how they need to. The route and process is different for all of us.
Grieving requires patience. And support. And kindness. And forgiveness. Be patient with yourself. Reach out if you need it. Be kind to yourself. If you know someone who’s grieving, be patient with them. Be your best self, for however long it takes.
Forgive yourself if your journey to healing is different than someone else’s. And forgive those who judge. They do so out of reasons which are their own and have very little to do with you.
“The very things that held you down are going to carry you up.” Dumbo
There were many dark days I read that quote over and over, because it gave me hope. It still does. And it’s true.
I leave you with this prayer ( I don’t know where it came from to give credit):
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circling flight;
I am the soft star that shines at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry
I am not there. I did not die.