I, and many of my friends, have reached the age when, if we had no experience with grief when we were younger, we are getting it now.
Most likely we have lost grandparents when we were younger, but I didn't have that experience, as 3 of my 4 died before I was born, the fourth being estranged from our part of the family, so his passing had little effect on me.
More recently, I have lost my mother and father, who blessed us for 86 and 90 years, respectively. On my wife's side, my father-in-law passed at 89 in 2006, and my mother-in-law left us two years ago at 95. To say that our parents lived long, distinguished lives is an understatement.
When my mother passed in 2013, it happened, in my view at least, very suddenly. Although we had moved them out of our longtime home in Weymouth to an age-qualified senior community just a few months before, as preparation for advanced old age, I didn't think anyone was leaving any time soon. They had had some health issues, but I didn't expect them to pass away. I wasn't being realistic.
So when Mom passed, I found out for the first time what it was like to lose someone so close to you. And I felt...confused.
Of course, I was very sad, because my mother was the best person I've ever known. She was consistently sunny and upbeat and was a constant bright light for all of us.
Her loss, which seemed sudden at the time, in hindsight looks more predictable. But I didn't predict it, and in dealing with it, as Mom would have said, I 'didn't know if I was on foot or horseback.'
My brother and I and our wive took turns looking out for my father, whose grief was the most obvious. He had lost the love of his life, his partner in crime and his bourbon partner at the end of a long day of work, when she would entertain him with stories about her day. He worshiped her.
He, too, was unprepared for her loss, even though he worried about her for years. He told me later that he never expected to live longer and that he thought he would 'obviously 'go first.'
But he didn't. In fact, we discussed this several times, during which I was starting to find my spiritual groove, and I told him that God apparently had more things for him to do. He took that to heart and began caring for his fellow residents who were experiencing similar losses to his own. Just as one nice woman said to him when Mom died, 'We've all been through it,' he began to comfort others.
He didn't brag about it, but it made him feel great. I only knew about it because people would stop me and tell me about how great he was.
For most of his remaining 25 months, he performed this role for many of his friends and neighbors. He probably did more thoughtful, kind things for people outside our immediate family in that time than he had done for most of his 90 years.
He was doing great. He was content. He was satisfied. He had, for the first time that I could remember, stopped worrying. He used to say that he was, 'Playing with house money' and that he was relaxed and at peace.
On his last day, he went through his normal morning and midday routines, seeing his friends for breakfast, reading the news, getting a little exercise, bantering with the girl in the fitness center, then having his lunch and lying down for his nap. He died that afternoon, without waking up.
Again, his loss seemed so sudden. Again, I was confused.
We are blessed in our family that we were in a 'good place' when both Mom and Dad passed. Nothing important was left unsaid, and any conflicts we had in prior years had been resolved. The torch was ready to be passed to my brother and me.
What I learned about grief, was that despite many, many books on the subject, the only time people read them is after they suffer a loss. I don't think anyone 'prepares' for grief. It only seems like a good idea in hindsight.
Even those dealing with extended and terminal illness aren't fully 'prepared,' but instead they hold out hope that a miracle might happen, or at least, they will have 'more' time.
My mother and father, 2 exceedingly practical people, did make preparations for their funerals several years earlier, and my brother and I rolled our eyes, thinking that sounded pretty dramatic. We didn't want to hear any of the details and for the time being, that was that.
When Mom passed, and we were preparing for her services, we found the quote she had selected for the cards that visitors to her wake at the funeral home would receive. It was a scripture verse, John 14:1-4 in which Jesus comforts his disciples the night before he is to be crucified:
1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Ma didn't want our 'hearts to be troubled.' She knew she would see us again. She knew where she was going.
This passage, and my lingering, grief-driven confusion that led me to look it up, read the verses around it, then the whole chapter, then the whole Gospel according to John.
I started reading the Bible from the beginning at the start of this year and I'm just into the New Testament. I never really 'got' the Bible, but was blessed with good resources and a good reason to dig into it and figure it out.
When Dad passed, I saw that he, too, had chosen this verse. Same reason. They were always on the same page (literally) for the important stuff.
Knowing that he, as well as my mother, didn't make decisions without consideration, I realized the message they were sending with this verse. That they weren't 'gone.' They were in heaven with Jesus, that they were out of pain and worry and were now in unbridled joy, having run their earthly race and done their job well.
And that they didn't want us to be (overly) sad, because they are (present tense) fine, and because we will see them again.
Sometimes people ask what the use of faith might be. There are a ton of right answers, but in this circumstance, having faith, along with faith's partner, hope, offers comfort to the heartbroken, reassurance to the fearful and confidence that we can go on, despite missing our loved one's daily company.
And that has made all the difference in going through my own grief.
I hope that if you have lost someone, that you are comforted by this message. I hope that you find faith and hope and you know that God loves you very much.
Thank you for reading. God bless you!