I went to a really difficult funeral yesterday, a memorial for a couple who died in a terrible accident, long before their time. There are deaths that seem in keeping with nature’s way, and those that are not. It is not nature’s way for a child to die before a parent or parents to die so young that their children are not settled well into their adult lives.
I cannot presume that my grief – losing Mom in 1999, and Dad this year – is anything like what that family’s grief is and will be. But it has taught me some things.
I have learned that grief has a lot to do with forgiveness. I wrote last month about coming to terms with some of my complicated feelings about my mother, and how facing her terminal illness gave me the opportunity to understand, forgive and embrace those differences.
Forgiveness has also been urgent and recurring theme in the immediate wake of loss. I was deeply disappointed by someone that I was counting on to be there for Dad and me during his final weeks. As warmed as I was by all of the people who reached out to me in the days and weeks after Dad’s death, I was sad not to have heard from one particularly important old friend who sent several messages saying he would call, but didn’t. I was and am still irritated every time I hear someone voicing their belief that a grieving person “has to let go.”
In our discomfort with death, we are too quick to seize upon Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ model of the five stages of grief. It lulls us into thinking there is a purpose and an order to the messy business of grief.
Sometimes death just sucks. Sometime people just suck because they can’t be what we need them to be when we are caregiving or coping with loss.
Although it seems like I share so much on this blog, there’s plenty I haven’t shared. When I have been the most upset, I haven’t touched my keyboard because I am afraid of scorching the earth with words.
That break from July 16, 2011 to January 6, 2012? Not an accident. I was so deeply angry about something that happened that I couldn’t write anything publicly.
All of this is probably making me sound like one angry woman.
But I’m not. My husband figured out a long time ago that when I act angry, what I really am is hurt. And when I am the most angry, I have learned to wait. Slowly, over time, I begin to understand, empathize and finally forgive whoever set me off.
I can’t find my experience in Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ model, perhaps because it was developed from the perspective of a terminally ill person rather than a person who loved and supported someone on their journey from this world.
I accepted the inevitability of my mother’s death due to terminal cancer, and my father’s from congestive heart failure. But even with that knowledge and acceptance, my caregiver and survivor experience included some moments of fierce and poisonous emotions.
I have even been angry with God. It still seems cruel to me that nature’s way is for people to degrade when they reach very old age. Why can’t dying of old age be a pinnacle of a life well lived, with a glorious exit?
I don’t stay angry. Neither did my mother, as quick as she was to raise her voice. Like her, I move on to forgiveness.
I understand that we all tremble in the face of death and loss. People I hoped would be there at my moment of need weren’t because they just couldn’t face it. Some I hoped to hear from in my immediate grief were too reminded their own losses and didn’t know what to say. People who insist that there is a schedule to moving on may be afraid of emotions that are not in control; they misguidedly think they are helping when they urge a grieving person forward.
In the weeks before and after Dad died, I felt as if I kept bumping the same vulnerable places, making fresh purple bruises on top of the old fading ones.
Four months later, I am healing. There is no schedule to grief, nor should there be. It took my Dad 96 years to come and go from this life, and he is worth considering still.