No matter how the night may weld
It’s chain of grief with longing new,
No power is stronger than the passion
That also pulls our lives apart. ~ Boris Pasternak
I had premonitions. Fears. Dreams. But it was still a shock, hearing those words, “Yes, he’s dead.” Irrevocable words.
He was 21 years old. Forty years later, he is still 21 years old. Never older, not wiser. Gone forever. He didn’t return from that trip to the west coast.
The sight of his body in a casket is a more vivid memory at times than the ones of him alive when he was laughing, strong, vibrant.
We weren’t really broken up but we were apart. It was complicated. In 1975 there were no cell phones. He didn’t call me on the telephone but he did write once. I had a terrible feeling when I read his letter that I’d never see him again. I didn’t.
The relationship was abusive. It was before the words domestic violence became commonplace. The abuse was alcohol-related. He was different when he was sober. Smart. Funny. He was mean when he was drunk.
We met in high school. His best friend was shot and killed in a random act of violence, something that was much less common then than it is now. The killer was never found. Casey’s golden eyes were filled with pain and sorrow. I was a goner for the wounded boy in a man’s body.
Four years later, he was gone, too. I remember the gut wrenching agony, the broken-hearted sobs, the chaos that ensued for years as I sought comfort in drugs, alcohol and doomed relationships. I had the physical sensation of a cannonball-sized hole in my chest for a long time. Nothing could fill it.
When I remember his death, I feel sad but it’s not painful any more. Most of the time, it’s a distant memory of a first love. And an awareness of the many things I learned about life and myself.
Because I was very young when this rug was pulled out from under me, I decided to stop making plans. What was the point? I was going to die anyway. It was years before I realized that maybe I wasn’t going to die soon after all.
My search for spiritual answers to questions about life began. It’s an ongoing quest to this day. No one talked about grief. No one I knew, anyway. I didn’t know how to ask for help. Nobody offered either.
There were all “the firsts” – holidays, birthdays, anniversaries – that occurred without him. There were thoughts and feelings I wanted to share but I couldn’t. Then over time, as the intensity lessened, I realized how much he wasn’t going to experience, what he didn’t know, couldn’t know, would never know about life on Earth.
Back in the day when I lived in Idaho, I trained in Korean martial arts. It was a revolutionary act of perseverance for me. I became close to my instructors as friends (and even married one of them!)
This summer in an unlikely chain of events, Vern, in Pennsylvania, and Kelly, in Idaho, passed away within days of each other. Even though we were no longer close, it was a reminder of the past and the fragility of life. Their memorials occurred on the same day.
Partly because of the reminder about how short life can be, my husband and I decided to go on what I called a #3G adventure – great, grand and glorious. We cruised the Baltic Sea before heading to Africa on Safari. Dreams do come true. I was looking forward to telling my friend Esther that I was going to be in her “neighborhood.”
Esther Garvi, lived in Niger, Africa. She helped farmers grow indigenous plants for food. She also started a school for orphans, fulfilling her mother’s dream. She was on her way home from Sweden in August when the car she was riding in rolled over and killed her. I thought I’d contact her after she arrived in Zinder, but she never made it.
In September, as we were returning home from Zimbabwe and Botswana, a young and successful entrepreneur, Scott Dinsmore, was killed while climbing Mt. Kilamanjaro. His sudden death triggered so many old feelings of grief. It took me some time to realize that in a strange way I was reliving my past.
Recently I heard the Toto song, Africa, on the radio and thought of Scott posting Instagram photos. He and his beautiful wife were traveling for a year around the world after having sold everything. He was setting an example, walking his talk. His family, friends and online community are still reeling. His wife, Chelsea, and the Live Your Legend Team are providing an incredible amount of support to each other. It’s wonderful to see them reach out in spite of their own personal pain.
My sense of loss has not been as intense as what I experienced forty years ago. I’ve had to learn healthier coping skills. I know that recovery from loss is a long process. I can still get knocked over by waves of emotion when a death occurs.
The Process of Grieving
Grief is a multifaceted response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or something that has died, to which a bond or affection was formed. Although conventionally focused on the emotional response to loss, it also has physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, and philosophical dimensions. ~ Wikipedia
Grief is not the same experience for everyone. The 5 stages of grief described by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross were actually based on interviews with terminally ill people, not people who were grieving the loss of a loved one. Validating studies were never done. either. Fortunately, theories about grieving are improving along with our understanding of the process.
Grief is like a moving river, so that’s what I mean by it’s always changing. ~ Michelle Williams
It is now recognized that grief is more than sorrow and emotional turmoil. Five dimensions are receiving particular attention in the mental health community.
- Stress reactions include changes in physiological function that can increase one’s vulnerability to illness and exacerbate preexisting physical problems.
- Perception and thought are also affected, with the increased possibility of making impulsive and potentially harmful decisions and becoming more at risk for accidents.
- A spiritual crisis often occurs, in which the guiding assumptions and values are called into question.
- Family and communal response to loss, often neglected in the past, is a significant factor in grief and grief recovery.
- Although the pain of loss may be universal, cultural heritage and influences and current support systems have much influence on the way one expresses and copes with stress.
The longer we live, the more likely it is that we will lose family and friends. Death is an unavoidable part of life. What happens is that over time we develop a grief history. How we deal with each loss is based on cumulative experience. Every loss triggers thoughts and feelings related to the past. If we learn how to cope with grief in a healthy manner, it becomes a valuable life skill. Grieving is a process. It’s important to not only respect the process but to allow feelings to surface, not to push the feelings aside or try to numb them. Reach out for help. It’s available.
Friends and family have continued to die over the last 40 years. We’re born. We die. If we’re lucky, a lot happens in between. I don’t believe we should be so surprised by death. It’s going to happen. Yes, it’s a shock when it’s unexpected, but it’s also inevitable.
It’s more of a challenge to know how to cope with increasing episodes of mass violence. Claire Bernish wrote, “The fact is, grief on this scale is exhausting. And I’m very nearly out of tears.” I have to agree and leave it at that for now.