Grief lasts a lifetime
By Sharon Simpson
You already know this, but I’m going to write it anyway. Grief stays with you for your whole lifetime. It doesn’t matter that you were a child when it started or if you were elderly. It’s so very sad to hold the loss of someone you love and carry on through the very hard days into the somewhat normal days, until you are moving along again, now with a limp. And as you do carry this grief, you transform. You are now a different person and that different person makes their way through the minutes, days and years into the now.
At my cousin’s funeral recently, I spoke with so many people about remembered grief – how his father and later, his first wife both died prematurely. My cousin was young by today’s standards to pass away – only 66. Cancer finally got him, so there was time to process the end. Still, the processing wasn’t easy, nor was it simple.
One elderly man talked with me about how my cousin’s father, my uncle, died in a tragic accident on Mt. Slesse in Chilliwack. He told me he has the original newspaper article about my uncle’s fall down a cliff. I was astounded and asked if I could read it. He brought it to me and I read the facts around this tremendous loss as if it were yesterday. But it wasn’t. It was 1957. That is the year that everything changed for my cousins and my aunt. It was a forever loss whose grief tendrils impacted my cousin at age 10 and in many ways changed or set the trajectory of his life.
In my work at Menno Place, I often meet people who knew my relatives many years ago. I’ve had people tell me that they knew my other uncles – who died on Gladwin Road in a tractor accident. They died suddenly at age 15 and 17 when they lost control of their tractor. Trapped in the shallow ditch, they both drowned.
Often, as others tell their memories of that accident, tears well up in their eyes. Last month, an elderly gentleman told me that he was a pallbearer in their funeral. “I was only 16”, he said, “I’ll never forget it. It’s like it was yesterday. I lost my best friend.” But, it wasn’t yesterday. It was 1954. Still, the grief holds. Yesterday, I took the back roads to work as I tried to avoid a major accident on the highway. I was late for a meeting and grateful that I didn’t get too caught up in the accident. Now, I’m grateful that I didn’t have to see the carnage that took the life of a dear young woman from our congregation. She died in her car while I was navigating and sometimes cursing the backed up traffic. I am so sad.
As a part of my job, I interview and write about the lives of the elderly members of our seniors’ community. In one interview, an 86-year-old was sharing his family photo with me. He was pointing out the beautiful people who have found the highest place of affection within his heart. He pointed out sons, daughters and the in-laws. He pointed out the oldest grandchild, the pianist and the soccer star. He pointed to his dear wife who suffered in her old age. And then, his finger dropped to a darling young blonde girl sitting cross-legged in the front of the family photo. “This one is gone”, he said. His voice broke and his breathing became heavy and labored. “After my wife, she was the first one to go.” He dropped his head and grief overcame him.
I wish now, that I had a platitude or simple “tip” to help all those who are reflecting on a loss of a loved one. I wish I could patch it up and make it better. I wish that it was easy to fix the heartache that comes when a loved one is no longer present.
Instead, I’ll take Paul up on his invitation recorded in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 – to reassure those of us who are grieving that we do not grieve as ones who have no hope. We do not believe that the grave is the end. We do not believe that God has abandoned us or that Jesus left his followers with nothing. Instead, we grieve with faith in the home that He has prepared in advance for us. We grieve with faith in His acceptance of us through the salvation work of Jesus Christ. We grieve with anticipation that there will one day be a huge family reunion (The Message).
Today, I’m going to drive past the very location where this dear young woman was caught up into God’s Spirit. On my way home, I’m going to see Mt. Slesse, in all its grandeur and remember the tragic loss of an uncle whom I never met. I’ll remember my cousin whose wounds were rooted in his 10-year-old heart when he lost his father that day. I’ll remember my uncles whose deaths together impacted an entire community that continue to feel the loss 62 years later. I’ll pray a prayer that God will open my eyes to the hope given by Paul in 1 Thessalonians – that we do not grieve as those who have no hope. We are different – we believe in eternal living in the presence, affection and awesomeness of the Creator and Sustainer of it all.
Sharon Simpson is the Director, Communications and Stakeholder Engagement at Menno Place in Abbotsford, BC