Throughout our culture we celebrate special days constantly. Some days like Christmas and Valentines Day have been hijacked by corporate greed, but still, many of us still look forward to time with family and friends. We love to renew old relationships and find out the latest from our loved ones.
Some days, however, represent grief and loss. These days are approached with pain and longing for special people and relationships we have lost. We see the day approaching, and, as hard as we try to hold them off, they come anyway and invade us with deep memories of sometimes awful situations.
Yesterday my wife and I recognized... celebrated... well, perhaps just "got through" the four year anniversary of the loss of our 29 year old son. We did have the chance to think of fond memories and joys with Lance Jr. We called him Lanny. My mother called him LJ. He was a loving person who didn't fit the mold of society. He struggled in so many ways, yet had joy for life and people in his life.
Four years ago we lived through the great tragedy of turning off life support on our son and donating his kidneys to strangers. We searched for meaning on that day and found a little comfort that his death would bring life to others. It was an intellectual decision for my family of broken hearts.
The journey of a million miles started that day with a single step towards the exit of the hospital. The depth of grief was so deep and overwhelming. I was confused, disoriented, and lost. Grief was so completely overwhelming, and I had never understood the depths that it could take me.
Four years later, I miss him dearly, and I see the same in my wife's eyes.
So, what lessons have I learned in four years? What has this experience done to me? Where has God used my grief to help others? What was gained through this loss? The last question is so strange, but I have learned that people are re-formed through trials. Some are made into people that are better somehow and others are made worse.
One day shortly after my son's death, I called an acquaintance that had not heard about Lanny's death. He told me something that still sticks with me, and I have tried to achieve. He told me that having known me for only a short time, he knew I would be in a position, someday, to help others because of what happened to my son. I remember how amazed I was at this statement when it was said.
If you were to read some of my oldest blogs, you can see a bit of a progression. At one point I ask something like, "It's been 18 months, why does it still hurt so badly." Of course, I thought time would take care of the pain. We know that is a myth.
The lessons of this are still coming slowly as I travel this road. One thing I learned is that most everyone suffers, in their own way, grief for a lost loved one, relationship, pet, or whatever. Another thing very closely related to this is that people very seldom tell anyone else about their pain. When I introduce the subject of grief to others and tell my own story, there's usually an outpouring of emotion that has been kept inside under lock and key, now opened and flowing freely. People want to feel better. They want to be heard. However, they seldom feel safe enough with others to expose the deep feelings of their broken heart.
I have learned to be a better listener... a heart with ears. I am surprised that sometimes that all it takes to help others. Listen, nod, cry, laugh, and listen more. For the person that finally feels at ease to tell their deep feelings, this is like pouring gasoline on a fire. Feelings are the important thing for healing a broken heart, not facts.
As already alluded to, safety is a key also. Knowing that there is confidential communication that won't be repeated around the water cooler is vital for the griever. In my grief support groups, this is repeatedly noted as an important factor in being able to "release the dogs" of emotions.
As for helping others, this one eluded me for some time. First, I knew that I needed help myself. How could I help others when I was so broken? I read some books and even taught a grief support group with a religious ties, but in the end, I still hurt. I needed a program that had steps, that had an outcome. I needed a program with an end. About six or seven months ago, when I read about the Grief Recovery Institute, I was pretty excited and convinced my wife that I needed to do this program and become a certified teacher of it. Until this program, the terms "grief" and "recovery" really didn't make sense to me. I was told that the loss of a child is impossible to recover from... another myth.
Since that time, I have been able to help a number of people formally and many others informally by just listening and providing a free book to them. Often on airplanes as a I travel, I find someone dealing with loss and give them a card. I gain great personal joy in listening as people feel comfortable enough with me to let their emotions flow. I encourage people often to read the Grief Recovery Handbook and participate in a program. I enjoy giving hope to people that feel that there's no recovery from loss.
So, after four years, you might ask if it still hurts. The answer is yes. But the pain is just from missing someone that I held so dear. I miss Lanny and that leaves a hole. Still others may ask if I'm better now. The answer is also yes. I have worked through my relationship with Lanny and resolved many incomplete hopes, dreams and expectations. I get better also through helping others. You may be asking about anniversaries, birthdays, holidays and how we deal with them. The best answer I can give you is that we approach each as it is. We cry, we talk, we remember. We are always shocked with the speed in which time flies by. It seems like just yesterday. We try not to distract. We seek to memorialize in some small way the life now gone.
Let me know if this helps. Please reply to the post or send me a message. I would love to hear from you.
Certified Grief Recovery Specialist