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Good grief, Charlie Brown

Good Grief.

Sounds like an oxymoron – Good Grief.(An exclamation expressing surprise, alarm, dismay, or some other, usually negative emotion.)

This journey of grief has really propelled me into a world that is unfamiliar, unknown and unwanted. I would rather not have learned about anything in this sad world. I’d have preferred to remain ignorant to what it is to ‘grieve’. It’s not that I have never lost anyone special and dear to me – Bernie’s niece, Robyn, a sweetheart taken way too early. She gave me a look into grief that caused me anxiety for years – the idea that someone can be pulled away so fast so quick so without warning – was beyond comprehension. My grandparents from both sides are gone and though it was sad and I cried, the deep grief that I feel now was not there – this is new.

As I contemplate grief, so many thoughts come to mind and there are so many things I want to share. Partly because I am confused by them and hope others have similar views and partly because maybe it will help someone else feel like they are not alone in some of their, perhaps, ‘out there’ thoughts as they deal with grief.

I can’t explain what that deep cutting hurt feels like – to each that feeling will be different. I can’t begin to compare my grief – with anyone’s – not the parent who has lost a child, a sibling who has lost a sibling, a best friend who will never see their best friend again. I think that is one of the things that I have witnessed and take as a learning moment throughout this time.

  1. We all grieve differently. We all have our ways of walking through the pain of losing someone close to us. While I watched and continue to watch our different forms of sorrow, it starts to make sense how the statistics for divorce after the loss of a child are so high. When something hurts so badly we want others to understand how bad it hurts and to understand, without us saying a word, how to deal with us. Some of us want to withdraw, not be with people. We don’t want to share our news or sadness or have people enter our precious space. No announcements, no public cries for prayers, just time to ourselves. Others want to scream and yell and let everyone know so that people can listen, touch, pray, sit. Some of us cry – real tears, a lot. Some of us don’t cry – no tears – but the same deep hurt. Some talk, some don’t. Some get on with life. Others sit and stall in life. Some drink. Some eat. Some starve. Some people want to get rid of all reminders and some want to hang on to all of them. Some are afraid to wash the sweater that their dad wore and now I wear – because then some more of him will wash away.

As I watched these things transpire, I thought of all of those who had lost precious, precious people before me. I wondered how they had travelled through their grief. Then, the hard question, how did I walk through it with them?

I have seen many posts on Facebook and on other sites or blog that have been placed there by people in mourning. There are “The 10 things NOT to say to someone who is grieving.” There are “the 10 things TO SAY to someone who is grieving.” I confess, I have read through these in the past and have been filled with remorse at knowing that I was guilty of at least the top 8 things not to say! Then overwhelmed at trying to remember what to say the next time I meet someone grieving a loss.

I remember being so overwhelmed with what to say or not to say or to just listen that I LITERALLY ran out of a room where a young mom was mourning the sudden death of her two-year old. She was sharing her story and I totally couldn’t deal with it (because it was all about me!!! Not.). But I didn’t know what to do.

Another friend lost her dad only months before I even knew that losing mine would be a possibility. I was overwhelmed with the pain I could only imagine she was feeling and I didn’t know what to say or do so I gave advice – yup – I went there. I suggested all this lovely logic that I felt was compassionate and caring. But was it? Really, was it? Probably not.

I guarantee that if you are someone who knows me and you have had a deep loss that I probably said something dumb to you during the funeral or after. I am sorry. However…

Yes… I believe there is a however.

As I have listened to people pass on their condolences to my mom, our family, myself, there have been things said that would be on the top 10 don’t say list – no doubt about it. A couple of times things hurt – and I talked with Bernie about them. A few things made me defensive for my mom. HOWEVER. HOWEVER.

Who the h#!! am I to get mad or hurt at someone’s attempt to offer me their condolences and love and support. Who am I – the running girl – to take offence or to hold it against someone because they didn’t ‘say’ it right or ‘act’ right. What the hell IS RIGHT when it comes to death to grief to pain. (sorry for the language, I am taking artistic license!)

Jesus knew that Peter would deny him – that Peter would probably say or do something dumb in his time of grief and fear. Jesus knew that in the moment of such intense emotion that we just won’t always get it right. We will say dumb things. We will bake stupid food (not sure what constitutes stupid food but needed another example!). We will run out of the room. Jesus knew that people are people and our minds just can’t wrap themselves around death and loss – especially in the heat of the moment. He knew that offering grace was the very best thing he could do. He still used Peter and Peter became one of his strongest proclaimers. Who knows, that person who said, ‘God must have needed your dad for some important heaven work,’ might become your strongest ally, confidant and friend – AND may make the best brownies and bring them to you at just the right time.

My dad would have taken all the love, the condolences, the words said right or wrong, the hugs, the crying, the food – and treasured them because he would know that each of those people wanted to help. All the comments, all the good ones and all the bad ones – I have to believe came from the heart and came from a place of love.

Whether it was a simple emoji or a personally written card – each came from a place of caring. We are human people – people who are overwhelmed, kind of dumb, and without the full knowledge of what is beyond us – what that heaven place really is. So how, in the world, can we know what is right to say – how do we pull those magic words together during moments of crisis? I already can predict that I will once again same a dumb thing to someone in crisis – even after this experience – because I panic in calamity. AND then there is this fact that the words that I treasure and want to hear may not be what you want to hear – how are we to know?

Perhaps, the best we can say is to say nothing at all. (Hmmm, those would be good lyrics to a song!)

I am not saying that some phrases that come out of people’s mouths don’t hurt – but I have to remember where it comes from. Maybe there is not just an onus on those who say things to the bereaved – perhaps there is also some onus on me on how to deal with it. How I handle the good and the bad also says a lot about me and my ability to be gracious.

  1. How are you doing? How is your mom doing? These are tough questions. I don’t want people to stop asking them – because as long as they are asking, they are remembering dad – however, I don’t know how to answer them.

Good grief. What does that mean? A friend shared something many years ago that really stuck with me – so much so that I had to ‘message’ her and have her re-explain it!! (My body tends to lack B12 – which apparently affects the memory – Yay! I have an excuse!)

She messaged back, “Something I just thought of is how we often ask the question of people who are grieving, or people who have just attended a funeral..."how is the family doing?" Answering that question is so difficult. Typically, we hear people say "Oh, they're doing really good. She was so strong." And on the opposite side "I don't think she's doing very well...she cried a lot’, etc. So...we CAN have the tendency to equate good with strong and bad with emotional....I have questioned that "formula". We all have ways of coping for sure, and healthy and "normal" looks so different for each person. When my husband lost his dad in spring, the week or two during and after was obviously very intense, and a lot of stuff was processed. About a month in he said "Dear, I just don't want to talk about it right now." Some people might say that's unhealthy...and maybe it is....but it was genuinely what he felt he needed and articulated. We let it sit for a while (hard for me!). The way he grieves is definitely different than me.”

Maybe good grief isn’t an oxymoron after all. Maybe good grief is a combination of things. Anger, pain, yelling, crying, laughing, joking, cleaning, visiting, meditating, drinking (ok, that might not be as healthy as some of the other examples), moving forward, stepping back. Good grief might be the healthiest way to walk through the pain of losing someone.

  1. These are only my experiences and my thoughts – these are not meant to constitute another list of do’s and don’ts. I lost my dad – a totally different experience than losing a child (no matter the age). A totally different experience than losing a husband or wife. A totally different experience than losing a mom or dad at a younger age. Those feelings of grief will be different – different because of the experience, different because of the age, different because of suddenness or long term, different because each experience is unique and yours. Not mine. Yours.

  2. The things I have learned I believe were meant for me to learn.

  3. You may not view my thoughts the same as me – that is ok and makes sense.

  4. Your pain and your loss is yours individually – as mine is mine. You may have lost someone suddenly, I had weeks to say good-bye. You lost someone younger, I lost someone older who had lived a good life. The pain is still my pain and yours is yours.

My dad was an ‘older’ man – 77 – but active and involved. He was busy with curling, golfing, building, renovating, planting and more. He still helped carry couches down the stairs a few months before he passed. I used to think that losing a parent when they were older would be easier because they were ‘old!’ Little did I know that they may be older, but the relationship we have developed was also older, fuller, and deeper. My dad was my biological father – but he was also my friend. He was my coffee buddy – we were famous for our extra-long coffee breaks. Well, anyone who was a friend of my dad’s was part of the famous coffee break legacy. Yesterday, at work, I looked up at the front doors – which I can see from my desk, and it just struck me that dad would never again walk up those steps with a cup of coffee from McDonalds or Tim’s (never Starbucks – he didn’t go for that high-end stuff!) to share with his daughter.

Moments like that feel like the air all gets sucked out of the room and I audibly gasp for air as my heart feels like it may stop beating and I shake my head to try and clear the reality from it. I don’t want to live in that reality in those moments. From there the day just got worse and I couldn’t turn off the pain or anger. I wanted to shout and scream that this wasn’t right, ‘God, you took him too soon – we were supposed to have months, not weeks!’ Bernie suggested that I don’t do that at work! So I did that in my car on the way home and in the kitchen while making supper and drinking wine.

How am I doing? Last night looked angry and it sobbed and it drank and it cried some more. Last night I hurt so bad… and I let myself.

The beauty is that my sister face-timed me to see how I was. (She did audibly gasp when she saw my face!) And we talked. We laughed. I cried. We smiled. We moved forward.

Today there are still tears… as there will be tomorrow and the day after that and so on and so on and so on. But I went to work. I laughed at jokes. I ate my lunch. Caught up with a friend whose husband just had heart surgery. Moving forward.

How am I doing? I think I am doing good grief. My mom? She is doing good grief differently, but I think she is doing good grief. My sister? Husband? Kids? I think we are all doing good grief – each in our own way.

Keep asking. Keep listening. Remind us to listen. Let us cry. Cry with us. Remind us to laugh. Ask us to laugh with you. Hear us. Ask us to hear you.

Remind me to be gracious – as you will be gracious to me – as God is gracious to us. THANK GOD that he is gracious to us – it allows us to continue to hope in the heaven that my dad (your _______) resides in today and that someday, we will get to see it too.

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