I am writing this 20,000 feet in the sky as I am on a plane heading back to see my family. Unfortunately, I am on my way to my grandma’s funeral. Her death has deeply affected me these past few days. Just two weeks ago, I was sitting with her having a conversation while she was completely conscious. I have been thinking about grief and what I can learn from losing a loved one. Here are three lessons that the death of a loved one is teaching me:
1- Embrace The Pain Of Vulnerability
We as humans tend to associate vulnerability with weakness; we shut down our emotions and convince ourselves that we shouldn’t feel pain, embrace the tears, express our emotions out loud, or even let ourselves think about it. We lie to ourselves saying things in our head like, “Well, there’s nothing we can do now” and “[He/She] are now in heaven so we shouldn’t be sad”. While those statements can be true, that does not remove the fact that there is pain of separation and that that pain is real and should be acknowledged and even felt. The truth is; to be vulnerable is to be courageous.
2- Forgive And Do It Quickly
I have seen few friends and family members in pain for losing someone they love. However, I noticed that there is typically two different reasons people grief; One comes for missing that person and knowing that you no longer can see, touch, and speak to them. Though painful, this is a healthy and necessary expression that helps with the healing process. The other type is the sadness that comes from regret. Unforgiveness causes us not to love well and when that loved person passes, it’s too late. The pain of regret can lead to shame, bitterness, and even self-hatred. Forgive and do it quickly so that you don’t look back with regret.
3- Good Memories Don’t Come Back By Themselves, You Have To Create Them
One of the most painful experiences people can feel when they lose a loved one is the pain of regretting not being there and wishing they had more time with them. Some of the most precious memories I have are with my grandma when I was a child. Being at her house with all of my cousins, sneaking into her room for candy, and being physically close to her. For some reason, even as an adult, I had this mindset that somehow these memories will naturally come back one day – I will be living close to my grandma and all of the family will surround her like it was in the past. Sadly, we will only be around her for the funeral. If you don’t want to deal with the regret of not being there, you need to make active decisions on who are the loved ones in your life and how you are going to be intentional on being there for them. Despite the circumstances life brings, there is so much we, as humans, can do to pursue the ones we love emotionally, physically, and mentally. The painful experience of losing my grandmother has given me a better preservative of how I want to be intentional with my parents as they grow. Good memories will not come back by themselves; make clear and practical decisions of how you will be there for those you love. We have to be intentional, and even aggressive, about pursuing those we love so that we don’t look back and realize it’s too late.
Don’t preach to someone who is grieving: We often feel uncomfortable and even awkward when someone we love is dealing with the pain of loss and there is nothing we can do. We start preaching and that happens often in Christian communities. We say things like “Why are you crying? They are now in heaven! You should be happy!” – Just don’t do that. That person knows that already so discounting their pain of separation only leads them to avoid being vulnerable. Often hugging someone and telling them “I know this is so hard and I can’t imagine the pain you are going through but know that I am here for you and I am praying” can be much more effective and fruitful.
I have been listening to Sufjan Stevens’ album “Carrie and Lowell” on repeat. Sufjan writes about the pain and regret he faced when his mother passed away. One of my last memories with grandma was this 4th of July so the song “fourth of July” touched me in a personal way. Though the album doesn’t provide much hope and it leaves us somewhat unsettled, it brings out very vulnerable emotions that we as humans need to be in touch with. It’s by far one of the most lyrically and instrumentally beautiful album I have ever listened to.
How did you deal with the pain of losing a loved one?
– Johnny Youssef