Grief. Google tells me that it means “deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone’s death.” It can also mean “trouble or annoyance.” 2019 seems to have served up a heaping helping of grief. It has also, at least for me, served up a little bit of trauma and some serious opportunities for personal growth. I would be remiss if I didn’t try to tie all of this stuff together somehow because they are definitely related.
I’m thinking about this today because this weekend we laid my father-in-law to rest. When he died it hit me WAY harder than I expected it to. We’ve known this day was coming for several years now, but that didn’t really make it any easier. One thing that really set me off was telling our 6 year old daughter that Grampa had died. A few days earlier she had created him a get well card and put it together with a Moon Pie. Grampa loved Moon Pies. She had been asking us about taking him her letter over and over and over. She wasn’t old enough to go into ICU so she wanted us to take it to him. She kept asking and asking and finally my wife just told her that Grampa had died. It was heart-wrenching to watch her process what my wife had told her. By default I would like to spare my children any grief. I would like them to grow up with all sunshine and happiness and never have any negative experiences. But as I watched my daughter cry I realized that we all need these experiences. They are part of life no matter how much we would like to avoid them.
The Doctors knew that my father-in-law wasn’t going to make it much longer so they told my mother-in-law to make sure the family got to the hospital as soon as they could to say their goodbyes. My wife called me, I left work and we went to the Hospital to see him. As soon as I walked into his room my heart started racing and I became overwhelmed with anxiety. I was having these crazy flashbacks to being in the Hospital in Canada and my experience back in May. This was completely unexpected, but I immediately recognized what it was. All of these machines and heart monitors were reminding me of a traumatic experience that my body did not want to have again. I stepped out and focused on my breathing and quickly got myself together. It was a very odd experience that I thought a lot about over the following days. I had a traumatic experience in Canada that could have easily spun me out of control and sent me into a downward spiral. Instead, I decided to use it as a catalyst for growth. I decided to analyze it and see what I could take away from it to make myself better.
When we experience terrible things it is very easy to crawl inside some kind of internal pain cave and just set up camp there. Living every day in sorrow and pain. In fact, I think that’s probably the default reaction or result for most people that experience something terrible. We ask, “why did this thing happen to me?” or say things like, “I don’t deserve this thing that is happening to me.” We have to learn to shift our perspective and ask ourselves better questions. How am I reacting to this experience I’m having right now? What can I learn from this experience? What opportunities do I have now that I didn’t have before I had this experience? Those are the kinds of questions I think we should learn to focus on as our experience unfolds. Whether it be a positive experience, a negative experience, or even a very traumatic experience.
Grampa got his letter. He was buried with it and his moon pie right in his hands. The funeral director assured my daughter that he would put it in Grampa’s hands in the casket. Then my daughter got to help with releasing doves at the graveside service in the cemetery. It would have been easy to shield her from all of this sorrow and pain. We could make up stories about death to tell her, keep her away from the funeral, any number of responses could be thought up. However, I think we were pretty direct and truthful with her. Was she sad? Yes, but allowing her to have that experience on her own will likely teach her something down the road. What that something is I don’t know, but I know it was necessary to let her experience that sorrow and answer her questions honestly.
My wife’s niece and nephew live with my mother-in-law. We were all in my mother-in-law’s kitchen after the funeral and her niece said, “you know, grandmom, this is a great opportunity for us to learn how to cook.” My father-in-law was a fantastic chef that cooked for everyone all the time, and now they will have to figure out how to make dinner for themselves. This statement is a humorous example, but I’m happy that my wife’s niece was able to make it. I think that when we experience hard times and difficult situations it is imperative that we look for the opportunity for growth. How do you do that? Meditate on the experience, write about it, talk to people about it, and do all of that from a growth minded perspective. It may seem hard, but one thing I am sure of is that we aren’t ever going to make any progress setting up camp in that sorrow filled pain cave.