In New Orleans we are very aware of the power of great waves pushed up by hurricanes. Driving along the coast recently I was reminded of this power and how much had to be rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina.
The loss of a loved one can be compared to the power of the hurricane tidal wave: it drags off someone we love and leaves devastation in its wake; the landscape of our life is forever changed. We look around and we recognize the pieces of our lives but they are all scattered, out of place. Some are damaged beyond recognition. Some merely broken. And the realisation that we have to rebuild everything again feels overwhelming, impossible, unreasonable. We just want to sit down in the midst of the devastation and quit. But we can’t. There are other people who have been made emotionally homeless along with us and we have to pick ourselves up for their sake and begin to build a new shelter, a new emotional home, a new sense of safety.
So we gather the pieces together, we reclaim our foundation and we start to rebuild.
It has been 12 years since Katrina and the coast boasts new construction on higher foundations. But in between the new houses are empty lots still unreclaimed, whose owners barely manage to keep the grass under control. Having given up and decided to rebuild their lives somewhere else the owners don’t even want to visit any more.
It has been ten years this March since my oldest son, Malcolm, died. My husband and I are still together, our emotional home has been rebuilt. We have hope and joy; we share holidays with our youngest son and extended family; we build new memories. But in our emotional house, as in our physical house, remains a room full of scattered pieces of Malcolm’s life. We visit the room, using it for hanging up shirts and holding boxes of Christmas items until they return to the attic. And on the bookshelves and in the locker remain pieces of Malcolm’s life that don’t fit anymore but we can’t part with. And that’s just how it is.
Originally written for my Traces of Hope blog, tracesofhope.wordpress .com
Posted in grief, hope, losing a son, loss, Moving on, Rebuilding, sadness, suffering
Tagged grief, Loss, Rebuilding, sadness
How do I process my grief?
Does suffering have any meaning?
Do we live in a random chaotic universe?
Is it time to re-evaluate my understanding of “God”?
This book is for anyone who has suffered a loss – of safety, of one’s home, of health, of a loved one or a relationship, or of one’s faith … and found themselves asking, “Why?” And then wondering, “Who am I asking?” and hoping they were not alone.
Posted in anger, anniversaries, depression, doubt, faith, God, Grace, grief, hope, letting go, losing a son, loss, meaning of life, Moving on, pain
Tagged anger, Anniversaries, cycles, death, depression, doubt, faith, God, Grace, Gratitude, grief, healing, hope, letting go, losing a son, Loss, meaning, mourning, moving on, pain, sorrow, suffering, suicide, surviving suicide
When grief is cyclical you visit the grief over and over again. You face the same questions, the same guilt. Sometimes it seems to feel as bad as the first few months, or maybe you just don’t remember how awful that was anymore. Depression has a rhythm, too. The lows seem to get lower but the recovery and equilibrium seem to last longer.
After coming out of my recent depression I had the opportunity to accompany my husband to a retreat center. The truth was I wasn’t ready to be alone for three days and two nights. He was working a high school retreat, but I had the weekend to myself. I brought my memory stick containing my book on grief and loss and thought I might give it a look again. It had been stuck for quite a while on the issue of hope. The book had morphed from the theme of grief and loss to the theme of meaning and hope. The trouble was that I wasn’t sure what hope I had and what shape it took. For two years I had been thinking and reading and, yes, praying, even though I wasn’t sure to whom or for what purpose. Then I sank into depression and hope mocked me from the sidelines of my life. But now I was on the other side of the depression and something had shifted. What I had been reading began to take a meaningful shape. Quotes I had highlighted began to organize themselves, and I found at last I was able to get my head around the possibility of hope. I hoped for hope, and that was closer than I had been in years to actually being hopeful.
So for two full days I wrote. I got to know my book again and began to develop greater coherence. And I worked on the last section, the section that was now giving the title to the book: Traces of Hope. Those were a powerful two days. I felt invigorated and, dare I say it, hopeful that my book might make sense and might prove useful. I wasn’t sure how long these feelings would last but it felt really, really good.
Since that weekend I have sought out and enrolled in a program for Pastoral Care; I have begun attending a Christian church (The United Church of Christ) with a friend of mine, and I have begun a practice of daily reflection or meditation, usually at night because I am not worth a damn in the morning.
Lots of changes. I don’t know how long-lasting this sense of equilibrium will be, but for now I am appreciating the emotional peace. I have written about positive insights and shared positive postings on Only Good Things, http://wholiness.wordpress.com. And I have begun reflecting on pieces of my book on Traces of Hope, http://tracesofhope.wordpress.com. I invite you to visit. I hope to have an ebook ready in a couple of months and, who knows, maybe a real publisher. But that’s a bit too much to hope for, probably.
Posted in depression, doubt, faith, God, grief, hope, loss, meaning of life, Moving on, sadness, suffering
Tagged cycles, depression, grief, guilt, hope, Loss, meaning
Whatever theory of grief I might find useful at any particular time, one thing is clear: the process is never as tidy as the theory – there is no linear journey through grief. Six years after Malcolm’s death a bout of severe depression brought me back to the very beginning of the grieving process: Denial.
I entered the hospital in a state of suicidal depression and found myself fantasizing about being with Malcolm. I began to speak about him in the present tense to other patients. So one of the first goals of my healing became overcoming denial and accepting his death, then once again letting him go. In order to let him go I needed to work through my guilt once again. But this time around I moved to a new place in the grieving process: I began to get angry with him.
Using a process of psychodrama in which someone sat on a chair and took the role of Malcolm, I began to tell him how much he had hurt his dad and his brother. Then I spoke from his point of view and told myself that Malcolm would not expect or want me to follow him, instead he would want me to stay with his dad and his brother. I am home now and mending well. As I look back over the last six weeks I am reminded how tenuous one’s grip on serenity can be and how arduous the process of grieving. But, despite the re-cycling of the cycle and the stepping backwards in the stages, I can clearly see a forward movement and a deepening of acceptance.
I know I will see Malcolm again, whether it is in the fleeting seconds of my death or in some future eternal moment of new life. For now the most important thing I can do is be “in the moment.” Not in the past, not in the future, just now. And be grateful.
It is time. I want to officially move to the Hope stage of survival. Of course I will still be posting here as well, because I need a place to write about the Grief and Loss too. They don’t go away, but they can make room for Hope and that is what I want to focus on in my next blog. This will be a place to share more pieces of my new book. The blog is called Traces of Hope.
Today Malcolm would have been 29. Actually yesterday, as it is now 1:00am. I was just re-reading some of my posts and looking for words of hope … hope in something, hope in something more than nothing, hope in the future or just the now. Then I think of my son, James, and I think of Flint Creek, and I think of my wonderful, crazy family celebrating at the Bulldog just a few hours ago, and I smile. Tonight, that’s enough.
Grief, like spring cleaning, is all about baby steps. Last week I decided to sort through a desk drawer and made piles, what was important enough to keep and what I was willing to part with. And then my husband sorted through the discards and pulled out a map of Austria, Malcolm spent a summer there, and a pair of nail clippers, Malcolm cut his nails with those. I know, that might seem morbid – nail clippers. But after those first horrific hours passed and it began to sink in that we would never see him again, I collected his hair from the drain in his shower; if I had found nail clippings I would have kept those too.
It has been four years, as of yesterday. Four springs when we have asked ourselves, are we ready yet? Is it time to clean out his room? Timing is very delicate here. When my husband washed my son’s sheets a few weeks after he died, it nearly put me back in the hospital. How could he decide to get rid of any of Malcolm’s smell. How could he? I was hysterical, hardly able to breathe through my sobs. Now only traces of his musky odor linger … a camping jacket, a knitted cap. And our younger son’s friends have slept in Malcolm’s bed during Mardi Gras visits, and I have replaced the sheets.
Going forward there will be hundreds of decisions to make. Every article of clothing, every note, every memento. His desk contains fragments of the life of the boy and the man, from grammar school to graduate school. Every one of them precious, every one of them a tenuous connection, every one of them holding out the elusive hope of an answer. What if there’s a letter hidden between pages of a book, a note in a pocket? Some revelation of a broken heart or a paralyzing fear. But did he really know why, on that day in March, 2007, just three hours after handing in a paper to his professor, he took a gun and shot himself through the heart? I’m not sure any more.
I think this spring what we need to let go of is our need for an answer. Maybe then we will be able, finally, to let go of Malcolm’s things. But not this year. Not yet.