Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Acknowledging Grief

This morning I finished reading a book on grief. It’s the fourth one I have completed on the subject since my Mom passed away six weeks ago, and the third that has specifically discussed understanding and coping with grief and change after the death of our parents. The Orphaned Adult by Alexander Levy has been the most helpful of the four texts. Its conversations and shared insights are gently presented with compassion, humor, and wisdom. The book has explored the journey I am taking and it has provided me with reassurances on the subjects of the redefinition of identity, relationships, and faith. The necessities and techniques (for lack of a better word) of grief itself shared in its pages have offered me both comfort and motivating challenges. 

Still, I find myself turning the book over when someone approaches my desk at work. I forgot to do this a few times and caught the awkward expression of a student who read the book’s title before asking me a question about homework. I’ve tucked my book into my bag instead of carrying it into a doctor’s waiting room as I normally do with a novel. 

So, this is why I am writing this note today. I want to be forthcoming about what I have been reading lately. For I am not willing to accept that I am at all ashamed that I have needed to hear the ideas, thoughts, and words of another who has been here before, another who has realized that “grief cannot be done skillfully, artfully, or beautifully”, who sees that “the bereft earn no points for style or difficulty” (Levy 170).

Truthfully, the subject of grief intrigues me—no, not in some morbid manner, but rather from the perspective and reflection upon how our society or our culture approaches the emotions and the pains that come after a loved one’s death. I have read accounts of grief in books of fiction and have compared those to what I have witnessed first hand. In my role as a teacher I have worked with teens who have successfully pushed forward through grief to stay afloat academically. I have watched others crumble after a parent’s death. I have thought, read, and written about grief for several years now. I began my journey with parental loss well over six years ago, when I lost my Mom to the dementia of Alzheimer’s. I grieved heartily back in those earlier years and I shared some of that pain quite openly in discussions with close friends and in my writing which I published to my blog. My Mom was alive but I’d lost her just the same. I needed others to keep me afloat and my cries were heard and good people were there for me. My grief wasn’t comfortable for some and that’s okay— the grief was mine to do with as I wanted and needed, and I did the best I could to take one step at a time through this time of my personal despair.

Losing my Dad so quickly and unexpectedly to a heart attack in 2013 ripped me to the core. In losing him I lost the hold I had to the life I’d enjoyed with both of my parents for all of my 45 years. And although, growing up, Mom had been my greatest confidante, it was Dad who I’d realized I’d had so much in common with—I’d grown to understand him and to understand myself so much more in my adult years. And it was Dad who was the most influential and inspirational role model in my work to learn and to gain acceptance of my changed Mom. My grief for the loss of my Dad was complicated by the matters at hand to help my ailing mother and to clear their home and to tend to other necessities following Dad’s death. I learned many valuable lessons in the aftermath of my Dad’s passing and in the three years that my Mom lived without him. I grew and found the grace that comes with learning to embrace unfamiliar emotions and in finding the support needed to navigate life’s most difficult obstacles. 

I am proud of the growth I’ve made since Mom first lost her memories and through the deaths of both of my parents. But there has been one thing which has nagged at me. I haven’t been able to share these learned lessons with my parents. I have so wanted to tell them how, after they were gone, I started to catch up. I am seeing it all so much more clearly now. That barrier between generations has grown smaller. I now encounter events in life that I once saw them live through and I now have this shared experience, this understanding of life that I want to talk about with each of them. I fully comprehend behaviors and attitudes and our own lives so much more now. As Levy says, “Reality is no longer an orderly sequence from the past through the present and to the future…(it) is much more complex, much richer, that that” (189). For someone who shared nearly everything with Mom and Dad for much of my life, this is such a precious lesson that I wish I could talk to them about now. I do talk to them, actually. I have these philosophical discussions as I step outside and take in the sight of the setting sun or the moon as it rises in the night’s sky. I talk as I close my eyes before bed or as I drive home from the grocery store. And every so often I find that I’m given a sign that they’re listening, and that they both understand. They truly do. I know it, for they too were in my place before—they too lost their parents. 

Levy’s book offered me support and validation of all that I’ve gone through and continue to go through now in my most recent bereavement—it’s tough knowing that I can know longer go visit my Mom, hold her hand, see that twinkle in her eyes, and be satisfied with making her smile. But I do accept the loss and I know that my dear parents are reunited again, as it should be. I am going to take Levy’s advice to continue moving through this grief, to take time to breathe, to make strides to caring for myself more properly, and to acknowledging the fresh and raw pain of missing my Mom and the grief of several other losses I’ve endured over the past five years. I am going return to writing, to reading, to resting, to crying, to exercising, to laughing, to talking, to taking more adventures, to doing anything that I want or need to do. I’m not going to diminish my feelings nor my experiences, instead I’m going to open my arms wide and say to Grief, “Here we go. Let’s do this. I’m ready when you are”. I’m also going to refuse to turn my book over on my desk, because I want the next generation in our culture to see that grief is nothing to hide from.