I wrote the following article which was originally published by The Herald January 3, 2012.
As many of us were unwrapping delightful holiday gifts, surrounded
by our loved ones, a family in our tiny little community was struck
with the deepest, most agonizing loss.
You may have read about the freak windblown branch that took the life of a young child on Whidbey Island on Christmas Day.
There are no words to describe the depth of sorrow in the community. We are the kind of community that really celebrates the joy of each other's children growing and the kind of community that grieves together.
Sometimes grief can feel relentless.
Grief works on all of us differently and sometimes we find that our culture "expects" some kind of resolution or folding away of our grief, and sometimes we find that we just cannot put it away.
Grief does not have a schedule. It does not arrive or leave at a predicted time. Children in particular may not feel their grief until months after a loss.
They are confused when they see the adults grieving, and they are kind of numb and not crying themselves. When we are children, we may need help and reassurance that it is OK to not be crying.
Children need support to understand that the numbness will pass at some time in the weeks or months ahead.
Adults sometimes make harsh demands of grief, frustrated by how hard every single task becomes when we are grieving.
When we are grieving, it's helpful to set aside all expectations we have of ourselves. Set aside our frustration and recognize that grief just gets to have its way with us.
It's not helpful to try and "pretend." Pretending to act fine only postpones the grief. It forces the grief to hide, and the grief will be triggered by some other traumatic event in the future and be much, much harder to get through.
When my daughter lost both of her grandparents in 30 days, she found herself unable to wake up and go to school in the morning.
She went through this period for a couple of weeks where she kept asking me what the point of everything was if we are only go to die. Why bother?
She was a teen at that time. It is really normal for a teen to question everything about life when they have a sudden loss.
I didn't try to rationally explain it to her. I just made her warm tea and sat with her allowing her to say what she needed aloud. I had no answers.
When she felt ready, I drove her to school late. A month or so later, she passed through this part. She was able to wake up and the questions just quieted.
It is important to be with the grief for as long as it needs to be with us.
Just be with this unwanted visitor, allow it to be with us, allow it to change us, to rearrange things in our day or our week or our life.
Grief sometimes needs to rearrange things in our life to make room for what is necessary to know and to feel.
Years ago when my dad died, I was shocked by the grief it unleashed. I became aware that it wasn't just his death that was hitting me, it was all the losses of my childhood that it unleashed.
Things I didn't even know I had grieved for suddenly woke up and ripped through me for quite some time.
I often see people coming to my office afraid of what the grief will do.
The grief is essential. It is a part of living that we will all pass through again and again. Part of living and loving involves carefully holding and tending our losses. It is a normal natural thing to grieve for those we love and lose.
I recently read "The Long Goodbye" by Meghan O'Rourke. It is a memoir about an adult daughter grieving the loss of her mother.
In her process O'Rourke researches and shares lots of information about grief. This is an excellent book about grief, and I think people who are grieving will feel comfort reading the author's words.
Comfort is not something we can expect to give the grieving, but we can reach out to those in grief and be with them in their excruciating discomfort.
It is very helpful to reach out and try to offer support with the discomfort. Reminding people to let go of whatever is too hard and try to ease the discomfort.
I know our community will be remembering this young girl and her family each Christmas ahead, lighting candles in her memory and honor.
The loss will never heal, and that is true of some losses. Some stay with us, always.