Deep down, we know that death is a part of life. However, when the time comes for a loved one that we depend on, it is still surreal.
According to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (https://grief.com/the-five-stages-of-grief/), there are five stages of grief. However, I can tell you from personal experience that the stages do not always fall neatly in order and one does not end when one begins. Grieving, much like life, is messy. Like life, it is also group and individual oriented. There is no time limit and no designated way to grieve- no matter what you have been told.
My grandmother, who was like a mother to me, died in 2018. She had Alzheimer’s disease, so we lost her a little bit over time. It was hard seeing the charismatic, gentle, yet firm and loving soul who had been the backbone of strength for the family, in that condition. About 15 years ago, God instructed me to send for my grandmother to honor her and to hang with us for a while. We were living in Arizona at the time. She was so much fun. We went shopping, visited Tombstone, made salmon croquettes and she got a chance to see me perform in the park as well as lead worship at church. She was there the day that my daughter started kindergarten. My mother’s heart was tender because my daughter was headed to school that day, but it was so awesome to have my grandmother there to comfort me. Little did I know, this visit would be integral in my healing and ultimately, my acceptance of her departure.
Grief Begins: A few years later, she visited me as we transitioned into Memphis, TN. Her daughters had been talking about her slight decline, but she seemed okay. Deep down, I could see what they were talking about in terms of her memory. This is where denial started for me. She remembered my name, her great grandchildren’s names, and even cracked a few jokes. The denial phase was a blur and was simultaneously running with anger for me. I was in denial and I was angry that God would allow her to suffer the same fate as her mother. Why? That’s all she wanted. That was her prayer. As she continued to wane, I vacillated between anger and denial. It would seem that the ENTIRE cycle would repeat itself, including one daughter taking the charge of being the full-time caregiver complete with siblings that didn’t do the work, but wanted to dictate how it should go. I am sure that is not what she would have wanted for her daughter either. However, I am appreciative that she took on that role despite the challenges that came with the care of a parent. It is my prayer that God will bless her, restore her, and redeem the time beyond what she can think or ask for her years of dedication to our grandmother.
Bargaining and Depression: I could see that God was NOT going to answer my prayer the way that I wanted, I began to enter the bargain and depression phase with a side of anger. Whenever I had something go great or go wrong in my life- it was my muscle memory to call her. After I visited her a few times, she did not remember me. It was at this point that I entered acceptance, but before experiencing sweeping bouts of sadness that I spoke to no one about. It would be a while before my kids would know that she could not recognize them because I was trying to shield them from the pain. They were pretty young, but I felt guilty about that too. Because I had experienced death so early in my life, I wanted them to be far from it as long as they could. In my thoughts, she would want them to remember her the way they saw her when she hung out with them at Tombstone. This added to my own pain in a way that I could not begin to describe. I began to bargain again with God about taking her into her rest. I felt guilty about the prayer, yet strangely relieved because at this point it was not coming from what I wanted- it was the peace that I wanted for her.
Acceptance: The most important thing that I have learned about loss is that we all grieve differently. We have to understand that for us and others. Take the time you need and do not feel bad about it. Grieving can be moment to moment and day to day. Be sensitive to what you need and for what others may need if they have lost someone. Feel the pain and heal- do not just try to skip over it and keep going. Coping with loss and taking the time to heal are two different things. The first glosses over the process and buries it so deep that when it finally spills out, it has disaster written all over it. Find positive things to do. It has been a year since her physical departure from this world and I am writing this to share with you, which helps me too.
Acceptance began when I began to think of what she would want and expect from us. She would tell us to remember the good times. She would tell us to remember the bad times….To feel our pain, our glory, our strength, and our tears. Then she would remind us to always tell us to tell the truth, continue to learn and to use our gifts to help others. She would tell us to get back to work, to serve, to be kind, and to have a soft answer- although I wonder if she gave on me with that last one. She would tell us to love hard and live our best lives because tomorrow is promised to no one. She would tell us to start new traditions.
The quote below is a makes a poignant point about loss:
Today, for a million reasons you might very well find yourself observing the absence of someone you miss dearly, and though it will be a rather uneventful day to the world around you, it will be a National Day of Mourning in the center of your own aching heart. John Pavlovitz
You will always miss your loved ones, but you will go through. Though it can be hard to see, there is life and love after grief. Most of the things that I speak about with my grandmother above were not necessarily told to us; she showed us in the life she lived. May we all do the same.