John 11:33-36 33 Then Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34"Where have you laid him?" he asked. "Come and see, Lord," they replied. 35 Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, "See how he loved him!"
Saturday, February 7, 1970, will live in my memory forever. That was the day I found out that my father had passed away the previous night at the age of 36. My father’s passing changed our family forever. Not until I embarked on my spiritual journey, did I realize the high price that I paid by not dealing with my grief. In addition to the loss of my dad, my grandfather passed away on the day that I left home for my freshman year of college in Aug. 1975. His death changed the course of my education journey.
I spent my freshman year away at college, but returned home to attend college in my hometown because my grandmother’s health declined. I don’t think she ever recovered from the grief of the loss of my dad or grandfather. She passed away in 1977. I’m dissolving into tears as I write these sentences. I loved my grandparents and I was very close to them. Moments spent with them are the moments of joy that I cherish from my childhood.
My dad was a professional musician and he never held a day job that helped pay our family’s bills. Instead, my grandparents on both sides of our family helped take care of my mother, me and my four siblings. I am very proud of my mother, even though I can say that it’s only recently that I am able to see her side of the story. She took a job working as a sales clerk at J.C. Penny and put herself through nursing school. She is one of the most caring and skilled healthcare professionals I know. She influenced the development of my caregiver’s heart.
EXPLORING THE GRIEF
After my dad’s death, a huge invisible cloud of mourning settled over our lives. We would regularly go to the cemetery to take flowers and my grandmother would cry – it broke my heart. They did everything they could to maintain a sense of normalcy for their five grandchildren by continuing to acknowledge holidays, birthdays and ordinary days. But my grandparents lived with broken hearts and grief over the loss of their only child. I cannot imagine the depth of their despair.
My dad was a spectacular human being with a heart of gold combined with a larger than life personality, good looks and a loud, spontaneous laugh. His laugh, his smile and the music still live in my heart. He was a professional pianist. I feel a deep sense of pride for my dad when I remember his talent. I recall spending time in the “music room” at the home of my grandparents listening to my dad and grandfather play. He was a classical pianist but he also played a variety of instruments – just like my grandfather. Music was important to my family.
Even though my dad was not the model husband or a good provider for his children, I cherish the love that he freely gave our entire family. In living my own imperfect life, I cannot judge the way my father chose to live his life. Today I understand that I can love freely and in a big way because my father set the example for me. My grandparents set the example for him. There was never any question that they loved each other, my dad and the grandchildren unconditionally.
LESSONS I’VE LEARNED ON GRIEF
In learning to be an effective pastoral caregiver, I have had to face the fact that I had never really honored or worked through the loss of my beloved family members. My lessons below apply to different types of losses especially relationship losses.
- You must sort through your memories and address pain, anger, guilt and other feelings. Help your child do this at their own level.
- Understand that our society does not encourage awareness of powerful loss feelings. Now I appreciate the sanctity of the Mass of Remembrance tradition in the Catholic Church. There is something very special about honoring the anniversary of the death of your loved one in community.
- You are human, you have a soul and you must grieve so you can move on.
- You move on to a different life because nothing is ever the same after a loss. Loving implies caring deeply. Honor the fact that everything has changed.
- I now see loss as a lifeline drawn between BEFORE ║ AFTER. Before the loss, your life had a certain ebb and flow with that person. After the loss, if you move on successfully, you reinvent life without the person. But understand that your life is never going to be the same. I learned this from my ministry educator.
- Honor your own personal grief stages and the time it takes for you to get through them. But don’t get caught up in grief stages because your journey will reflect your soul. Ten years after--you may feel like the loss happened yesterday. Honor that about your heart. It is OK to grieve through your lifetime because I believe that love lives forever.
- But if you are to live the life that God created you to live, you should strive to move to the place where you can live with and acknowledge your grief and not become frozen in time by it. You must move to live life on the AFTER side of the timeline and not allow your loss to color every moment.
- Acknowledge your pain and seek professional counseling to help you deal with loss.
Divine Note #1 written in Dec. 2008, was one of the ways God helped me move through my grief journey. If Jesus Christ wept for his friend Lazarus, (John 11:35) then I can certainly mourn my losses. I found great comfort that the Savior of my Soul could cry openly. He set a beautiful example for us.
It took my personal journey of allowing the God of the universe to love me, in order for me to understand the depth of the grief that had weighed down my heart for many years. The unacknowledged losses that I suffered resulted in my inability to become a whole person. Instead, I covered my heart by attempting to control all persons who wanted to come near me. If I allowed people into my friendship circle, I still kept them away to a certain degree due to my inability to open myself. I am still working through that hang-up.
I resisted loving because it hurt when people died or moved on. When I look back at the rough start in my closest love relationships and friendships, I can see the pattern. I could not give of myself because I could not handle the idea of loss. My ex-husband once said that I would sabotage the good times because I could not handle the idea of things turning out well. Geezz…This pattern repeated itself throughout my life and it resulted in a vicious circle of loss of self-esteem, depression and an inability to achieve the things that God had put in my heart.
It was devastating for me to care deeply about others and yet that is the gift God gave me. I frequently found myself withdrawing from my friends and family because caring was extremely painful. But I am great at caring! My friends are drawn to me because I care deeply. Even my daughter complained about that I didn’t love her. Now she knows that after God, she is the person who has my complete devotion.
MY HEART NOW
A few years ago, my mother wrote me a note telling me how proud she was of me for being such a caring child. I was genuinely surprised, it warmed my heart, but I really didn’t believe her – now I do. As I’ve matured spiritually and as I listen to God, he has changed the way my life operates. I needed to deal with my grief issues because I am a caregiver or a wounded healer as one of my fellow lay ministers says. These days I am in tune with my feelings more than I have ever been. I’m learning how to reach out for help when I need it, but I still have work to do.
I was made to care for others and I am finally living the life God meant for me to live and I will no longer close up my heart. I am free to focus on and give my full attention to the person who needs me. They can feel safe knowing that I am available and that I care deeply. I hope this message inspires you to get help if you are dealing with any type of loss in your life.
Big God Hugs.Blanca