What I’ve learned from grief

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Grief only exists where love lived first – Franchesca Cox

As I write this I’m waiting on the call. The call that my grandmothers life has ended. Every time my phone dings with a notification I feel my heart lurch. I’m afraid to look. As much as she needs release from her broken body, to lose her forever is beyond my comprehension. The grief has begun.

I’ve struggled with the realization these past few weeks that this is truly the time she’s being called home. My grandma is such a fighter. She has more lives than a cat. Just when you think it’s the end she bounces back and is in the race again. This time was different though. I think we could all feel it, even if it wasn’t said out loud. You can’t bounce back forever. But as much as we knew it was coming, it’s still raw and painful and took us by surprise.

Through all the sadness the past two weeks, the tears, the feelings of complete helplessness, I’ve realized that grief can be a teacher, if I let it. While some try to shut it out because to grieve can be perceived as weak, I’m determined to let it in. To learn everything that God shows us through some of the most painful times of our lives.

Lessons from grief. What I've learned through grieving.

Grief causes us to re-evaluate

I get so caught up in the day to day struggle. Maybe you’re the same. Things that should be important are saved for another day, because today we are busy with stuff. You know the stuff I’m talking about. The busywork that takes over our thoughts and our actions. The emails we have to answer, the lunches we need to pack, and the dinners we’ve got to plan. The extra hour we have to spend at work, so family time gets put off just a little longer. And maybe at bedtime we’re short with the kids. We hurry through the evening routine and skip that extra book they want to read. Because we’re exhausted from doing all that stuff.

I’ll confess something horrible to you. The other night when my grandma was starting to go downhill, I had the opportunity to go visit after Travis got home from work, and I almost didn’t take it. My mother was staying at grandmas that night, so she was already in good hands. She didn’t need to see me right? I was so tried, it was a trip in the late evening, and I knew, I just knew that what I was going to see would make me sad. I almost justified not going to see my grandmother, who means the world to me, because it was inconvenient.

Shame. On. Me.

After one second of thought, (one second too long) I pushed that option to the back of my mind. Because deep down, I knew it wasn’t one. And I went, and it was sad. But, as I sat on the bed with my grandma, who was sobbing on my shoulder about how she wasn’t ready to go yet, and she didn’t want to leave us, and her tears fell on my chest, and my tears fell on her head, I knew this was needed. She needed me.

Grief shows you what’s truly important

I’ll share something I’m so ashamed of, and will haunt me until the day I leave this earth. I didn’t get to tell my other grandmother goodbye. It’s a shame I carry forever, and it’s totally my fault.

My grandma was dying of cancer, but I thought she had more time. And I also didn’t want to see her like that. To see her hurting. I still have the text. Can you believe me? I texted her, saying I would come visit soon. But it never happened. She died before I took the time out of my busy schedule, that in all reality wasn’t near enough busy to warrant such a lame excuse, to push through the hard to say goodbye to someone I loved.

The grandma who always had a secret stash of candy for when us grandkids came to visit. The grandma who made the best German chocolate cake I ever did taste, and always had sweet tea at the ready. My proud southern grandma that would make sure to buy us the toys we asked for at Christmas. The grandma that never let us down. I let her down. Grief shows you what’s important, even if sometimes it’s too late. Still, there’s hope. You can learn from your mistakes and be better the next time. Sadly, there will always be a next time for losing someone you love. It’s a harsh reality.

Grief creates compassion

I stopped at the gas station last night to get a toothbrush.

It was for my mom. My husband got off from work around nine, and once he was settled and the kids were in bed, I decided to go visit mom and grandma in the hospital. I texted mom asking if she needed anything, and she said a toothbrush. So there I was at the gas station at eleven at night, praying they sold them. As I was searching, I began to wonder how many people there are at any given time, in the store shopping, commuting to work, picking up the kids, going about their daily tasks, but going about them completely and utterly, painfully grieving.

Grief doesn’t mean we get to tap out of life, to take a break. No. We still have to go on living, doing, and being. And as I realized this, I also saw the need to show a little more compassion to those around me. Because to the cashier at the gas station, I was a girl that needed a toothbrush for who knows what. I can bet with almost a hundred precent certainty he would have never guessed it was because my mother was with her dying mom in the hospital, and she didn’t know she would be spending the night, and all she needed to feel human that evening was to brush her teeth. To do anything that would be considered normal in an otherwise completely un-normal situation. That cashier didn’t have a clue.

How many people do we come into contact with weekly that are dealing with deep, mind numbing grief, but yet they still have to show up? They’re not going to broadcast it to the world, but in their world, it’s shattering none the less. So I vow to be kinder, to smile at those I pass, and to be extra compassionate. Because you just never know.

Grief encourages you to re-prioritize

As I was watching Peter Pan with the kids the other evening, snuggled in multiple blankets, them snacking on fishy crackers, me sipping hot lemon water, I thought about how many times that day my son had asked me to come sit with him. I had been busy, and kept saying “in just a minute”. When he would remind me a short time later, again I would say “I just have to finish this first”.

Some day he won’t ask me to do that anymore. One day he’ll be grown and gone and I won’t see him daily, or even weekly, and that guts me. I won’t be able to kiss my daughter on her nose each night and say our prayer. The prayer, that incidentally, I say to them nightly because it’s what Grandma would say with us each evening whenever we came over for a sleepover at her and grandpas house.

“Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

My kids know it by heart, just as my sister and I did growing up. And even though I’m good at being present for my family, I could do better. I could be more encouraging and welcoming when my husband comes home from work, I can get better at setting a timer and walking out of my office when it goes off. At adventures with the family, at crafting with the kids, at looking at my phone less and looking around more. Grief allowed me to see what I was missing, and now it’s up to me to remedy it.

Grief is a form of Love

To grieve is to love. Grief is the ultimate showing of love. The heavier your grief, the more that person meant to you. I believe grief is meant to be felt, to be lived, to be learned from. For so long grief has been the one emotion most are afraid to show. We dread it, we are scared by it, we feel ultimate loss of control from it.

As I watched grown, strong men I look up to and love break down into tears, shaking and sobbing over the life that’s leaving, it made me realize that grief is often the only time some of us will outwardly show pain. It’s the one time we’re unable to fight the sadness, and allow it to overcome us. And so we cry. For the person we love, for the emotions that have been bottled up, for all the hurt we’ve felt.

Through loss I have learned to cherish life. Because of pain I am able to feel more deeply. Through sadness I have gained more appreciation of joy.

I know my savior lives, and that my grandmother will be carried up to heaven. Her continued, unrelenting, childlike faith is something I admire most about her.

And lastly, I grieve for me. For my life without the person that has impacted it in unparalleled ways. But I know that to appreciate something fully, sometimes we must lose it. And so soon, I’ll say goodbye to my grandmother in her human form. But her spirit will live on in each person she impacted, each life she touched. And I can only hope that one day I can live up to the legacy she created.

I love you Grandma Judy. Now and always.

Grandma Judy, grief,
Grandma Judy and my daughter Evelyn, 2015

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Eryn Whalen, Lessons in grief.

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One Comment

  1. This was so beautifully written and full of so many powerful insights. I understand what you mean about your grandmother because when I was around 13, I did the same thing with my mom’s mom… I didn’t like seeing her all sickly in a wig, so I remember saying something about wanting to leave and her commenting about me being in a rush to go. And then she ended up passing away before I saw her again. I did feel awful about it and wished I could go back and change it, but I eventually had to forgive myself and let it go and I hope you will let yourself off the hook too. I’m sure your grandmother knew how much you loved her. Grief can do some crazy things to us, so extend yourself lots of grace during this time. And know that I will be praying for your family! Xoxo

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