If there is one true lesson I have learned on my own journey through grief, it is that everyone, absolutely everyone, grieves in their own way. As hard as it may be, our journeys’ are ours alone. My journey is different than my kids’ journey. Losing my dad means different things to each of my brothers and sisters. Grief is as individual as we are.
Before Dave died, I was much braver in the face of death. I was able to walk beside someone, listen, and just be present to them. My heartbreak for them was great, but I really didn’t have a clue about huge personal loss. I was aware of this too. I knew that I didn’t know how they felt, I could barely even imagine. Unfortunately or fortunately, however you want to look at it…I met grief before Dave died…as I think most of us have before we have our own loss.
As a youth minister, several young people I knew through ministry died. I knew each of them differently. Some I knew well, some I didn’t. Each of their deaths has touched my life, just as their lives enriched my own. Losing young people has a distinct sting to it. Watching other young people mourn and deal with the thoughts of their own mortality is difficult…or at least it was for me. My heart was heavy for each of them. Many days, I would come home from work so drained I had little left to give my own family. I’m not sure if every youth minister has similar experiences…but they might. When you build relationships with others, nurture them and watch them grow…especially with lots of folks, I think the odds are greater that you will have to say goodbye to some of them…forever.
So, even before Dave died, I was involved with and sought out grief resources. I did this for myself because I was ministering to others. I did it for those I ministered with, to and for…because, well, I needed a place for them to go when I couldn’t help them. So, when Dave died I had a strong base to seek out help for myself and my kiddos. For this, I will be forever grateful. Those kids I knew and loved, who died too soon, helped me prepare for my own survival of grief and I am forever grateful to them. I already was grateful for knowing them and their families for many reasons, but for their sacrifice, for their family’s sacrifices, I am profoundly grateful…not for losing them of course, but for the journey with them through their lives and death. Observing their grief, their recovery, their tears, their smiles helped me put one foot in front of the other through my own heartbreak.
Everyone walks differently through grief…it’s just the way it is. I find myself much more tolerant and much less judging of anyone’s journey since experiencing my own loss. Even though my spouse died and maybe your spouse died, we are allowed to do it in our own, individual way. I have learned that there is no one, right, healthy, expedient or certain way to do it. Here’s the rub though – even though your way may be very different than mine, we can help each other. We can be present, tolerant, and listen to and really hear one another’s story. When I sat with those parents and kids all those years ago, I had no idea how that part of my life would affect the next part. I had no idea that their loss would help me survive mine. I had no idea that as I observed a mother as her child was lowered into a grave that it would hold me standing as my husband was lowered into his. I had no idea that the strong sense of faith that a mother spoke with while eulogizing her son would be mirrored in my own as I eulogized my husband. I had know idea that while I sat silently with a teenager as they cried and missed their friend that it would empower me to let my own emotions free with another person…but it did. Each step brings me here. Each tear, my own loss or someone else’s has given me a map of sorts. I don’t think it happened consciously, but it did happen. I can see it now. Did I see it in the midst of my sorrow? No, not every time. Did I think of those people as I grieved my husband? I did. It helped me “walk the walk” so to speak. It gave me the courage to embrace losing Dave as fully as I could because I knew it was the only way I would survive it. There were days that I really didn’t think I would survive. There were days when I truly thought my broken heart would kill me…but it didn’t. I remembered. I could playback experiences I had with others…both during the midst of immediate loss and then reconnecting with them years later…and they were still standing. They were still breathing. Their journeys inspire me. Their journeys give me courage. Our journeys shared are solidarity…in the deepest part of my soul, I believe that it is this solidarity that saved me from my heartbreak.
Different journeys, yes…
Individual grief, yes…
Our shared journey…if we are willing, may be the rope that someone clings to as they face their own tragedy.
I know it was for me. I know it saved my life. I know this with every ounce of my being. So, for all of you, who were brave enough to share your journey with me…thank you…thank you for throwing me the rope I needed to cling to…I survive and begin to thrive again because you were part of my journey…for this I am forever grateful.