Handling grief when a loved one dies
All About Heaven Blog Grief part 1
Then came the day. One of my daughter’s had called in the morning to say it was looking likely that my mother was going to die imminently. She and her sister were going to try and get there in time to be with her. I rushed home from a business meeting but didn’t make it in time. As I sat in our lounge at home, there was a knock at the door. Both of my daughters stood at the door with a few of my mother’s possessions at the very moment that my eldest son Joel, called and told us through his own tears that he had cancer. A few days later Joel, called again to say he had months, maybe only weeks to live. Seventeen exhausting days later, he was safe in the arms of Jesus, and we were bereft.
Grief in those circumstances can come like an express train, or it can seep out through tears like barely imperceptible drops of sap from a tree’s bark. It can cause you to shout, to cry out, to bury your head into a friend’s arms. It can descend like a mist of perpetual darkness and it can catch you out when you least expect it. It can leave you in shock and disbelief. It can fill your mind with anger. It follows you to bed and fills your sleep and dreams. It plays back pictures to process the trauma and tries to help your mind make sense of it all. All these things and much more belong to grief.
Occasionally you may get caught up in a virtual tsunami of grief where, for some reason, from deep within erupts a tidal wave of emotion that you weren’t expecting, don’t fully understand, and certainly can’t resist. There are moments which professionals call ‘readiness,’ when a number of contributing factors are in place and an unexpected tsunami of grief might positively take place.
Gill and I had the privilege of staying with Alasdair and Eleanor Fulton. Eleanor is a retired clinical psychologist. They housed us while Joel was in his last days and helped us facilitate the 24-hour family care. When Gill and I rang the doorbell at their home in Hilton, in the North of England, we both crumbled, and for several hours our unstoppable tears provided the river along which we could push the boat of our questions, pain and uncertainties. Gill would say afterwards that it was if we handed Eleanor all the broken pieces of the vase of our life and within those first few hours, she had glued them back together sufficiently to enable us to carry on.
Psalm 23 tells us that ‘though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.’ The Hebrew rendering of that phrase is ‘the valley of deepest darkness’. Eleanor explained to us that grief is like a long black tunnel, pitch-black and with no apparent light visible at the end. Occasionally, she suggested, just occasionally, you may see tiny pinpricks of light that last for a moment, a second or two.
The last chapter of the book All About Heaven unpacks this in more detail