We all deal with loss differently. Oh, I know all about those stages and steps, but there are still differences.
This morning, a body was found at a local elementary school. It was an adult and the death was determined to have been from natural causes, but classes were cancelled at the school and the children were taken to a nearby middle school to have their parents pick them up. My husband text messaged me that he hoped that none of the children had seen the body. I told him I hoped so as well, but I was sure counselors would be on hand tomorrow just in case.
He then text messaged me that only liberals would want counselors and his solution was to take the kids the funeral home and the baby hospital (the mother-baby floor in a local hospital) to show death and life as natural things.
Now this really boiled my blood here are the three follow- up texts I sent to him:
1) Having counselors is not a liberal vs conservative thing. And I don't suggest that taking children to a funeral home is a good thing for kids because those people don't "look" dead.
2) Both birth and death are traumatic experiences for those who witness them. Counselors help facilitate for children that it is okay for them to have mixed emotions or happy or sad ones at such an event and how to express those emotions. (In short, we have to learn to grieve and work through our grief. Children often need the assistance of a counselor to walk them through this process.)
3) I agree that birth and death are natural processes and should be treated as such but that should not negate that they are emotional processes as well.
His response was a message saying I was right. What was that? I was right?
A recent thread I was reading on a blog was about loss, specifically miscarriage.
Having suffered a miscarriage, I knew greatly the sadness of losing a child one loved so much but had not met. The woman who started the thread had just suffered her second miscarriage in less than six months. Many women responded to her fears that she was too old (39) to have children. Many more responded to her sense of loss. I suffered a miscarriage at 24. Most women don't get a reason. I got one. I was born with a defect in my uterus which prevented the baby growing. The doctor also suspected I had had several other miscarriages that were early and for that reason not detected. The only thing I could do was undergo surgery. Surgery we couldn't afford until I switched jobs and got better insurance. I was then blessed with two children. I hope, someday, I may be blessed with more.
One woman very insightfully noted that the original woman who posted should take adequate time to grieve each of her children. It was a sentiment that struck me. After our loss, I sought out guidance from my priest. A wonderful man, he asked me how I felt about attending a "Mass of the Angels." I had never heard of this, but it is a beautiful mass the church created especially for this type of loss. I was touched by the number and range of women I saw at the mass. The church was crowded. Instead of a homily, our priest asked a woman to come forward and speak about her loss. The woman who spoke was in her early seventies and lost her first child as a twenty-year-old. She talked about how not a day in her life goes by that she doesn't think of that child. How, with each child she gave birth to, the whole in her heart became smaller, but never fully went away. She talked about teaching her children of their brother or sister in heaven who was looking out for them, and helping their guardian angels watch over them. In her voice, I could hear the strength God had given her to overcome this loss. And I also heard the sadness of a child she never knew, but would one day meet in heaven.
She also talked about how unrealistic the views of healing from this type of loss were fifty-odd some years before. How her family expected her to, "snap out of it." How friends didn't know how to react. She spoke of how, when speaking to her niece recently who had also suffered a miscarriage, her niece asked for guidance when people would say things to her such as, "Well, at least you know you can get pregnant," or "you can always have another one." Comments that were well intented, but well off the mark. Every woman seemed to nod, we had all heard them. It made me think to one of the few comments that had comforted me early on, a male co-worker, hearing of my loss, said, "I want to tell you how sorry I am, but I really believe God has something else planned for you and that baby. I know that's probably not what you want to hear and doesn't make the pain any easier, but I had to tell you and I know I wouldn't be your first choice to talk to, but I'm always here, and you'll be in my prayers." It was a clumsy attempt, but it was genuine. He wasn't searching for the "right thing to say," he was just saying it.
The woman giving the "homily" was giving the advice to pray for the person saying these things, that they were just trying in their imperfect, human way to acknowledge your loss.
In her book, A Catholic Woman's Book of Days, Amy Welborn relates a similar lesson, when after the loss of a pregnancy a friend said to her, "It's too bad, but I guess it's better than getting a broken doll, isn't it?" Welborn doesn't relate her response, but offers this prayer, Lord, forgive me for the times I have hurt others with my words, even unintentionally.
These are lessons we could all apply regardless of the type of loss.
1) Give yourself time to grieve.
2) Do not put a time table on healing. God works on His time, not yours.
3) People's human responses are just that, human, and therefore, imperfect.
4) Don't expect to never feel sadness, that whole in your heart may grow smaller, but it will never disappear.
5) Sadness is an emotion, God gave us these emotions and they are good.
6) Loss is natural, it is also emotional.
7) You cannot prepare for a loss, the finality is only real when you've experienced it.
8) Trust that God will have different plans for you although you cannot understand it.
9) We must respect the pain that others go through in their losses.
10) No loss is small to someone experiencing it. Don't roll your eyes at the neighbor whose cat has died. That cat may have been all they had.
"For I know the plans I have for you says the Lord..."