Thursday, May 18, 2006

Mom, Nerf-heads, and Help From Dr. Lewis

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I spoke with Mom again last night, as I have been doing daily ever since the day my father passed away. She’s doing better than before, both emotionally and physically, though of course it’s a long road ahead, and I don’t doubt some days will be problems for her. I figure to keep in close touch by phone, and to visit as often as I can; she really likes to see Jagan, who has lately been on her very best behavior, so that helps her feel better as well.

My Mom got some books from people to help deal with the loss. One thing which jumps out at me is how poor the available books on Grief are. I understand that it’s a complex issue, especially since it seems that everyone has to deal with grief in their own way, but the books out there today are, well, pretty much all dreck. This seems to be especially the case with books written by people who hold PhD’s. They understand the intellectual concept well enough, but they don’t seem to have a clue about talking to real people about their real pain and trauma. As an example, my mom is pretty religious. So she was less than impressed when one author holding a PhD, in a book intended to be read by the bereaved for guidance and comfort, suggested that it was a sign of weakness to “use religion as a crutch” when a loved one dies. While I can understand that someone who is not religious may not like the idea of embracing one’s faith in a time of trouble, it seems to me the height of arrogance to insult someone’s deepest-held beliefs at a time when they have already suffered a severe loss. Other books were not much better, treating the death of a loved one with much the same regard as they would a problem with the garbage disposal – oh, your husband died? Gee, that’s too bad, but he was getting old anyway, and now you have freedom to do whatever you really wanted to do – blah, blah, blah. Browsing through the books myself, I cannot say I found a single thing worth mentioning here – with the notable exception of C.S. Lewis.

As those familiar with Dr. Lewis know, he lost his wife Joy to cancer, after a long fight which the couple at one time thought they had won. I especially enjoyed the scene from the movie “Shadowlands”, where Anthony Hopkins caught perfectly the pain and frustration Lewis felt when person after person, all with the best of intentions, trotted out some banal exhortion. You know, ‘This was somehow for the best’, ‘It was meant to be’, and such useless words which do nothing for the moment or the need. As he was still coming to grips with his pain, and understanding that people needed something to address the pain they felt when suffering such a loss, and as therapy for his own loss, C.S. Lewis wrote “A Grief Observed”, far and away the best book I have ever read on the subject. It’s not an easy read, by any means, but it’s direct and honest, and it helps like no other book I have read on the subject.

It’s not surprising, really. Grief strikes all of us, but when it does, there’s few indeed who feel inclined to write about it, to wrestle with it, while the white-hot pain tears away at your own spirit and composure; even the best writers would be reluctant to invite that monster further into their own soul. It adds to my respect for Dr. Lewis that he was that rare courageous person, who understood that his own pain could serve to heal others.

8 comments:

MFG said...

I've suffered the deaths of two close family members in the last five years, I can certainly empathize with your and your Mom's loss.

I can't suggest a book either, I just tried to deal with everthing that needed to be done as it needed to be done.

I didn't berate myself for not "getting over it." I decided that it would take the amount of time that it takes.

Now, after five years, the wounds have healed to the point where when I think of my loved ones I think of the happy times & smile, I don't think of the hospital beds & cancer medications.

Give yourself permission to take whatever time it takes to grieve would be my advice, for whatever that may be worth.

pjaykc said...

I agree with mfg--take the amount of time it takes. In my own experience when my husband died, I didn't try to stop the tears when they came (usually when I was by myself). I felt they were healing me from the inside out. Another thing we did was to not avoid all the "firsts" that first year. Easter was the hardest. I do have a good book at home written by a widow, that was quite helpful to me. I will send the name of it tomorrow. One thing helpful it said was that sometime in the first few months you start looking for a "knight on a white horse" to swoop in and save you from all the decisions you have to make. That really took me aback, because that was exactly what was going through my head. It helped to know that was a normal thought. Still no "knight"--I've learned how to do it all myself--for better or worse!

Anonymous said...

As a paramedic for ten years and then an Emergency Room RN for another nine, I saw many people who had to deal with the death of loved ones. Some handled it well and some did not. My experiences helped me when my father died very unexpectedly and I was able to help direct the rest of the family handle their grief.

While I am dubious that I'll ever print it, I am working on a manuscript that has a working title of 'The World According To Me.' I know it sounds pompous, but it it a blue print for life I intend to give my daughter and my son as their families begin to grow. It basically explains how I choose to handle various everyday and emergent situations in my life.

My father was a 'folksy' kind of guy who always had some little saying or story for nearly every problem I ever brought to him. I use many of his stories and then add my own life experiences as a medic, a prison psych nurse (for two years!) and as a ER RN.

All of that aside, I just wanted to tell you DJ that what you are doing is the best way to handle the death of your father. Besides the fact you are giving your mother the emotional support she needs, it is also healing your own soul. The best thing I can tell you is that you need to look at this like a giant tearing of the body skin. It hurts immensely right at first and you can think of nothing else.

Slowly the skin begins to heal but it is always front and center in your mind.As time goes by, the hurt begins to lessen and only comes to mind when you 'pick at it' when some one who hasn't heard asks you, 'So, how's your Dad doing?' The pain flares for a while but goes away after a time.

Soon the pain is gone but you have this big old scar that is there to remind you of your loss but remember that as time passes, the scar lessens and becomes a part of you. Instead of all the hurt and pain you felt, the happier memories begin to come forward. It will seem like an eternity but there will come a time when your father comes to mind, all you will recall will be the good things and the times you spent together.

My Father died on June 5th, 1994 and It is very rare that I recall the pain of his death. Even now, I am smiling as I recall some of the jokes he used to tell... over and over again... but that is one of the things that made him special to me.

I hope you find your own way to peace in the next few months and years. Expect some bumps but know that the road soon smooths. I wish you well my friend.

Big V said...

Sorry, the above was from me. I typed that all in and it didn't 'take' the first time and when I hit submit, I didn't notice it had changed modes on me.

Republicanpundit said...

DJ,

I am sorry for your loss

As one who has lost both parents, a Sister and a close step-son, I can state that grief is something that must be dealt with in your own manner.

You may get advice and it is helpful, but you will find that you will be the only one who knows when it is time to set aside your grief.

God Bless

Rich said...

The book is out of print but I would recommend A View from the Hearse by Joseph Bayley. It's very much like the C.S. Lewis works you cited, Christian but honest of the pain.

Almost six years ago our daughter, Valerie, died as a full-term stillbirth because of an umbilical cord accident. What follows is what I said at her funeral. I hope that it gives your mom honest comfort, letting her know it is OK to hurt and it is OK to hope. The Lord bless you and your mother.

Our family wishes to express our heartfelt thanks for the overwhelming support we have received from our family, friends, and our church. It means more than you can possibly imagine. What I am about to say is the most difficult thing than I ever have had to say in my life. When I have been to other funerals, families and friends talk about their experiences with the person who has died. I have had no such experience. All I have is the experience of loss.

But this experience has caused me to ask myself several questions. Our daughter Hope after she found out that Valerie died told us that she would die for her. Would I do the same? Yes, I would. Would I be able to accept my loss with what some have called Christian resignation? I don’t know how right now, but I believe with the help of the Holy Spirit and my Christian friends I could some day. But now the final question. Would I voluntarily give up my dear little Valerie for someone I do not know? No, I could not do that. I simply do not have enough love. I want to cling on to her, even right now, but I can’t. The only reason I can do what I am doing now is because I have no choice.

Having lost my child has given me new insight into the incredible love of God our Father. How many of us glibly quote John 3:16? I will do so but more slowly. For God so loved the world that he GAVE HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN SON, that whosoever believes in him shall have eternal life. God love’s is not my love. Again, GAVE HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN SON. I would not give up my second daughter, let alone my only son. But that is what God does. The Apostle John not only says that God loves but that He is love. God was willing to experience the loss of his only begotten Son to save us from this sin-sick world -- the kind of world where Valerie dies in the womb and our family is left with empty hands and empty hearts. God loved us so much that he sent his Son to die so that Valerie might be saved immediately from this world of sin and misery. Later, we will be re-united with her, where Scripture tells that all our tears will be wiped away. Not only is God’s love more pure than ours it is also more powerful. My desire is not that I want to be made stronger or that I might be comforted. I want my daughter back! You know that. And if your love for my family and me could make it so, I WOULD have my daughter back. But this is not Oz. We do not click our ruby slippers three times and find ourselves back in Kansas. God’s love on the other hand accomplishes what it sets out to do. The love that He bestows on us WILL lead us Home.

I do not claim to have all the answers. In fact, I know very little. I do not know why this happened. I do not know how my family or myself will get through this. But, I do know the character of my loving, heavenly, Father. He experienced far more loss than I am feeling right now when he sent his Son to die for me. And it is to that loving, fatherly, care that I entrust the soul of my dear little Valerie.

Anonymous said...

DJ,

Again, my thoughts are with you. I can't know how you feel, but I can say I've been there and it will get better. Since '92, I have had to coordinate the funerals of my Father (46), Uncle (43), Grandmother (77), Grandfather (76) 2nd Grandmother (74). It has not been an easy time, but one thing that has really helped through them all is. "No major life decisions should be made within the first year” Moving, Vacations, selling houses etc...will cause undue stress within that first year which will compound any existing issues. I realize this might not be possible, but please consider it a priority and watch it closely. Hang in there!

~B

RFA said...

I found peace in my faith when my father and 1 year later my mother passed away.

I know they are at peace and am convinced that God need a couple more angels to do his work.

Time heals and the good memories will ease the pain.

Each person deals with this in their own way and towrite a book trying to tell others how to do it just seems od to me.