“Death ends a life but not a relationship”. So speaks the main character in Robert Anderson’s play I Never Sang for My Father. When we lose someone, they live on in our memories. Sometimes, too, they live on because we haven’t resolved something or because some things were left unspoken.
I don’t think there is a correct way to grieve. Rather we get into trouble when we think there is a correct way to grieve and we’re not doing it. I recall a wonderful lady who lost her husband of over 50 years. She told me that helpful members of her church had given her books on grieving and that she’d read them all, the result being that she was confused. What did I do? I gave her another book to read! I gave her A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis. The book consists of Lewis’ struggle for the first year after he lost his wife. After the first year of grieving ends, the story just stops. No happy ending. No end to the grief. Clearly, Lewis ends his book with the undercurrent that his grief will go on. (By the way, the woman found the book very helpful).
Grieving can be downright annoying. At times, it is unexpected, evoked by strains of music, a smell, or some other wisp of a memory. Cigar smoke, for example, always evokes my Uncle Gaddy, whom I loved and miss to this day.
The best that we can do is face our grief and allow the emotion, comforting ourselves with the reminder that grief is testament to caring, a pricetag if you will for loving.
I presented the woman mentioned above with the following scenario: if you could avoid this pain by going back in time and undo the relationship or simply not care as much, would you do it? Without hesitation, she answered “No!”
Grief teaches lessons. There is one loved one who crossed over, leaving me with uncertainty that I had told her I loved her. I’ve made sure to never let that happen again.
“Death ends a life but not a relationship”. Indeed, my relationships with my parents, with the sisters I never met, with friends and loved ones continue to evolve and in some cases to heal. If grief is a component of those relationships, then I embrace it.
Reflections: 1. What relationships do you have where grieving is a part of them? Is there anything about your grief that involves something unspoken?
Further reading and viewing: There is a movie version of I Never Sang for My Father with Gene Hackman that is worth seeing. Lewis’ A Grief Observed is also recommended.