The Other Side Of Grief

griefFor the first time, I have been directly impacted by the death of a loved one.  It has been an eye-opening experience for me.  While I can’t say that I have been overcome with grief, it has had its moments of difficulty.  I have been amazed at the things that have to be done and how people respond to you during these times.  Let me give you my view on this side of it:

How People Respond

This one is all over the place.  Everyone responds differently.  I have had people text or call me directly to let me know they were thinking about me.  This has meant a lot to me.  I have had flowers sent to me which touched me deeply.  While people really don’t know what to say, just acknowledging it helps a lot.  Some people say nothing or ignore the subject completely.  I think I can understand that because they simply don’t know what to say and they don’t want to make me sad.  However, having been through this, I think I would rather people say something than nothing at all.  Co-workers have had an interesting response as well.  I have had some who just said they were sorry for my loss and then others that lead with that and then into what they need me to do.  That’s pretty tacky in my opinion.  At least send separate emails.  People are funny and you really don’t know what to expect from them.

Funeral Preparation

Who came up with the idea of the traditional funeral obviously had no regard for the ones grieving.  I’m amazed at the decisions that need to be made even if the deceased had planned their funeral.  Do I really need to decide on what color scheme the pallbearers should wear?  What color does the casket need to be?  Do I prefer a flag or no flag on the casket?  Opened or closed casket?  These are some decisions I never thought I would ever have to make.  I can’t imagine if it were someone totally overcome with grief doing this.  I’m sorry but I also don’t not like funerals.  The visitation seems to be more like a family reunion.  The funeral service itself and then yet another ceremony at the cemetery.  A grieving person has to go through this over and over again.  People like to use the words “closure” or “paying your respects” but it is torture.

The Will

I was not made the executor of my loved one’s Will but let me caution you to be totally informed of what you’re getting into if you are ever asked to do this.  I would highly advise to have a neutral person who is not related to the family to carry out the responsibility.  It is much too overwhelming for a family member to do regardless of the size of the estate.  If you are making out a Will, make it easy as possible to disperse things you wish to give to those left behind.  Don’t make it a burden.  The execution of the Will only prolongs the process.  It is difficult to move on when you are having to deal with what’s left behind.

Family

I have been surprised with the response of my relatives.  Their reaction was not what I had expected.  I have lost contact with most of my family over the years and regardless of that, they responded and have been very supportive.  I’m still not ready for a family reunion but I have added several to my contact list and hope to remain in touch with them.

The Grief Process

Although I can’t say that I’m overcome with grieve but I can tell you that it’s a strange feeling.  There are moments I will have a flashback with no warning or cry without notice.  How someone grieves is not the same for everyone.  There is also no time limit.  I know most people expect you to get over something in 30 days or so but it really depends on the individual.  It also doesn’t help to ask continually “What’s wrong?”.  It helps much more to ask “Are you okay?” or “How are you doing?”.   Believe me.  There is a difference.  I have moments of sadness but also times of anger over what could have been or things that could have been different.  It helps to do things and to keep living your life.

Like I said in the beginning, I’m new at this.  This is my first experience with grief and the experiences that goes with it.  I think with everything that happens in life, you learn from it.  I think that I have learned a lot better in how to respond to others when they are going through it.  If nothing else, just knowing people care mean a lot.  You know that you are not alone.  My wife has been through this herself and she has been a rock for me.  She can relate and she is guiding me through this new area for me.  That means a lot.  You’re not always capable of thinking clearly or keeping your focus so it is important that you have someone you can lean on when you aren’t totally yourself.  We all need a little help don’t we?

No, I don’t like being on this side of grief but it is comforting to know I am not alone.  I will get through this and I will press on.

 

He’s Finally My Daddy

I am watching my daddy die.

I haven’t called him daddy for a long time. For most of my adult life, our relationship has been strained and estranged for long periods of time.

Yet here I sit by his bedside watching him fade away to the heaven he has preached so much about in his sermons and believed in for many years. Some have called it “slipping into eternity” or going into the “presence of the Lord.” Whatever you want to call it, he’s almost there.

You think a lot about “the other side” when you are sitting here watching someone die. Some people don’t believe. I can see how hard it is to believe it but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. There are many Christian beliefs about what happens when we die. Some think you immediately go to heaven, others think you go to an in-between place and some think we fall into a “soul sleep” until the return of Jesus Christ as prophesied in the Book of Revelation.

As far as things on this side goes, dad and I have resolved our issues. Neither one of us can make up for the lost years between us but things are settled. At this point the petty differences we had before doesn’t really matter much now.

I now declare that our relationship resolved.

We are both winners. It was never a competition. It was a prideful standoff for way too many years.

We all make hard decisions in life. It’s easy when we are young and can blame decisions on our parents but when are adults and make the hard choices, it’s all on us. I was forced to make some of those hard choices which significantly impacted our relationship. That’s what happens sometimes in life. You don’t always get the Norman Rockwell painting. Many times you get the dysfunctions that would be too difficult for even Dr. Phil to resolve. You have to make choices that allow you to live your own live. It is sad, but these choices can hurt people and cause divisions.

I won’t sugar coat it, my dad was strict. He was a pentecostal preacher and that led to a lot of conflict between us. Whenever he said I was going to get a whipping there was no parole. It was gonna happen. Of course today, he would be accused of abuse but it was a different time then. That’s all he knew. I’m not excusing it or condoning it. I’m just explaining it. I seem to think I turned okay in spite of it. We all do our best. It’s easy to be a critic.

As the breath of life gets harder and harder for him, I sit here understanding this man more now. Over the past few days we have had the father-son moments that never happened between us. He was never the mushy type who talked about feelings. Death tends to force it out of our pride.

Dad was a preacher for over 40 years for a church organization which was very much a cult of people who mistreated him and church leaders betrayed him. The only reason he left this church group is that church leaders ignored improprieties and because of his integrity, it forced him out. The so-called leader whimped out and caved into pressure. Now that person is the leader of the cult group. How pathetic. Because of this, my dad had to find another way to support himself and my mom. Even though this church burned him badly, he still held onto their ridiculous teachings to the very end.

My dad was never a slacker. At many of the churches he had to work a secular job in addition to pastoring a church. He never had a college degree but he was always very intelligent and often figured things out for himself. The church seriously limited his talents and abilities.

I never followed in my dad’s footsteps. I asked him about that recently. It never bothered him because he said that being a minister wasn’t hereditary, it is a calling from God. I see too many who follow their father’s into the ministry as if they were continuing the family business. I’m glad my dad never felt slighted about me not becoming a preacher.

For the first time in my life, my daddy needs me. I am here without any hesitation.

I don’t recall him ever telling me that he was proud of me but that’s okay. He doesn’t have to. I resolved that issue many years ago and I don’t need that affirmation.

At this moment, none of that matters. Death humbles us all.

There Are No Words

wordYesterday I learned that the wife of a friend of mine had passed away.  I can’t imagine what he’s going through right now.  After I watched the tribute he posted on Facebook for her, I sat there watching the blinking cursor in the comment box wondering what I could possibly say to him.  I typed one thing then deleted it. I typed something else.  I deleted that too.  I finally just typed that I had no words to express which was the truth.

It’s hard to know what to say to someone that has lost a loved one.  There is no words we can say that makes it any better for the person who is grieving.  We try though.  Somehow we all think we can say the words but words are so inadequate in a time like this but we feel like we HAVE to say something.

I’ll will just fess up and tell you that I fail miserably here.  I, too, feel that I have to say words.

Sure, there’s that old “my thoughts and prayers are with you” thing we like to say.  Although it is usually true, it’s a very worn-out phrase.  And don’t EVER make the mistake I made once when I told a mother who had tragically lost her daughter that “I know how you feel”.  Yeah, I know now.  I just opened my mouth and words came out.  It was a dumb thing to say.  She gave me a pretty sharp lecture I won’t forget.  Even if you have an IDEA of how someone feels, no two situations are exactly alike.  So, never, ever say that.  Trust me on this one.

I think the best thing, if possible, is just to be there.  Give the person a hug.  No words need to be said.  If you can’t be there, just do the best you can with your words.  Saying something is better than saying nothing.

I never like visitations either.  It becomes too much like a reunion for folks who want to laugh and catch-up.  Sorry, I’m not a fan.  That’s why I don’t want one for me or my wife.  I don’t want people showing up that haven’t been in my life and wanting to make it into some gathering.  I won’t have it.  Have the reunion while people are alive.  Don’t wait until someone passes to get together.  I had this ongoing thing with a relative once that we would see each other at the next funeral.  We were being funny but it was true and I saw him two more times…all funerals.

And the things people say at a visitation….the classic one is when they look at the one who has passed and say “they look good” or “they are in a better place”.   I’m sorry but I don’t want to hear that crap.  No, they don’t look good and if they are in a better place then I want to be there with them.  I know we mean well but words fail the situation.

Then you have the ones who want to quote the Bible.   I’m not even going to get into this except to say:  Save your sermons when I’m hurting.  We don’t need a preacher at that time.

We don’t like to feel helpless.  We all want to console our friends who are going through a loss.  We want to DO or SAY something to make them feel better.  We want to fix it but unfortunately this is something we can’t fix.  Communicating isn’t always needed in words.  There is no magic healing in words during this time in someone’s life.  We have to realize this and if we use words, just speak from your heart.  Sometimes just a simple “I am so sorry” may be all that is needed.

Here are some suggestions from etiquette experts on other things to say:

  • “There are no words to tell you how sorry I am.”
  • “I am so sad to hear about your loss.  If you feel like talking, please don’t hesitate to call me anytime.”
  • “(Deceased name) brought so much joy to everyone.  They will be missed.”
  • “My favorite memory of your (deceased name) was….”
  • “If there is anything I can do for you please let me know.”

It’s good that we all want to comfort the person who is hurting.  None of us likes to see others in pain.  Words can help but only if we use them wisely and if we’re really at a loss on what to say, give them a card.  In every situation, it is the thought that counts the most.

 

What Are We Doing With The Dash?

dash

I just finished reading the obituary for one of my aunts who passed away earlier today.  As most of us do, I looked at the dates of her life.  Date of birth and Date of death.  In the middle is where all of us are at now.  The dash.

What are we doing with the dash?   That’s our present.   We have already been born and we don’t know what the date we will finish with.   We only have right now to live.   Are we making the best of it?

Life is full of unknowns.  We can make plans but somehow something or someone happens that changes the course of what we had thought our life was headed.

When I left home in 1982 just a few weeks after graduation, I would have never imagined I would be doing the job I am doing now in Nashville, Tennessee.

The dash.

Some people live in one place their entire life while others move from place to place.  Life is full of adventures and unexpected happenings along the way.  Time and chance happen to all of us.  Decisions determine the course of our lives but the good and bad ones.  When we make good decisions life seems good and we think everything is right with the world.  When we make bad decisions and think we have really screwed up our lives, we really haven’t.  The important thing is to adjust to the course.  Much like our GPS maps do when we make a wrong turn or going in the wrong direction.  We adjust our course to get on the right road.

It’s easy to get down on ourselves when we think life hasn’t worked out the way we wanted.  We all have dreams but sometimes we never achieve those things we dreamt about.  Does that mean we have wasted our lives?  Absolutely not.  Does that mean we can’t have a happy life?  No, it doesn’t.

Live the dash.   Live right now.

When I left home I was intent on making the military my career but after eight years I made the decision to leave active duty and pursue other things.  I went through several twists and turns before I have ended up here today in Nashville, Tennessee.  I am happier than I could have ever imagined.

It isn’t about a job.  It was certainly not about money or plans.   It is about the dash.  The now.  While I am not particularly fond of working to pay the bills, it is a necessity and someone has to be the responsible one.   But, even in doing this, you can still live a good life.  I don’t like bills, owing the IRS or dealing with incompetent people but I make the choice of whether or not that affects my happiness.

How are you spending your dash? Does your life reflect who you really are? Do you fill the hours in your day with people and things that make you smile? If not, is there one small thing you could change to move in that direction?

You know the date you were born.  Don’t obsessed over the ending date.  Look at the dash.  What are you doing with that?  The dash is what you will be remembered by the most.