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My Divine Note #48: The face of grief: 40 years later - John 11:33-36

February 20, 2010
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.

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.

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. 

Sort through your memories and address pain, anger, guilt and other feelings. Get help. 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. 

  • Ack
    nowledge your pain and seek professional counseling to help you deal with loss. Don't allow loss to ruin your life.