...of faith, family, and farming
Grief is a funny thing. One minute all you want to do is laugh and be distracted, and the very next minute you feel like you might punch the next person you overhear having an extremely shallow conversation. It’s messy, challenging, and unpredictable.
Over the last 9 years of our marriage, my husband and I have endured 7 deaths of family members. I don’t mean our “Great Aunt Millie twice removed who lives across the country" deaths, but the passing of seven people who sat at our holiday tables, were in annual extended family pictures, and part of our family events. Some were a peaceful expected blessing, some were a brutal tragedy, and some were in between. One question we receive over and over is how do we press on? How can we face such heartache over and over, and still be okay? Not everyone’s answers will be the same, because no one experiences grief the same, but I’d like to share three things that have reoccurred in each of experiences.
First, let me start off by sharing our experiences. I am absolutely not an expert in any form and do not have any type of degree in counseling, but sharing our experiences will allow you some insight on what type of life experience we faced…
Nine years ago, my robust full of life 80 year old maternal grandfather went out to get the morning paper. He tripped on that walk, cracked his head, and never came back to us. Shocking and sudden, but at 80, it was also a softer blow knowing he lived such a long happy life, never endured any aching horrible illness, and left when he was still so full of life.
Shortly after, my paternal grandfather who had struggled with cancer for years and stated living felt “like laying on pitchforks” was finally granted his wish, and was allowed to leave this life. A peaceful blessing on all accounts.
Six years ago, my brother-in-law and his family were making their way back home to Oklahoma after they spent their summer out here in California to visit all of us. Both my brother-in-law and sister-in-law were raised in CA and we were all friends growing up as teenagers. My sister-in-law was one of my best friends. They had only been in OK for a couple years because he was working for a congregation in Norman preaching God’s word. They came out every summer, Thanksgiving, and winter break to see all their family after they moved so we could dote on our sweet little nieces, and nephew. During their drive home, a horrible chain of events ended with a head on collision with a big rig taking the life of my beautiful sister-in-law. She was 32, and she left behind her husband and three precious children all under the age of 10. This, to date, has been the most difficult to overcome. There was absolutely no silver lining in her passing. It rocked everyone who knew her, every community she was part of, and still affects many today. I think of her daily.
Within months of our sister-in-law’s passing, my husband’s paternal grandfather who fought dementia for years quietly passed while in a care facility. He had not been himself for years, and while losing someone is always difficult, it was another peaceful blessing, especially following right on the heels of such a horrible family tragedy.
Soon followed my paternal grandmother who had dealt with many old age illnesses and was in a care facility when she quietly passed in her sleep. She had lived a long beautiful life having 7 children, 21 grandchildren, and too many great-grandchildren to count.
Two years ago, our brother-in-law who struggled for years with mental issues and medications decided he didn’t want to deal with it all anymore. He jumped out of a facility transportation vehicle while it was on the freeway. He was in his 30’s and left behind my sister-in-law and their four children all under the age of 10.
Now, just over a month ago, we lost my precious mother-in-law. She had battled Multiple Sclerosis for almost 30 years, but at the time was doing better and feeling better than she had in years. One evening she had a terrible headache. It escalated to a point my father-in-law called 911. By the time they got her to the ER, she wasn’t breathing on her own. There was absolutely no reason for her episode, finding no new MS activity or other causes for her sudden decline. We prayed vigilantly for a week over her in the ICU, but ultimately we had to let her go. This was expected in future years, but so sudden all at the same time. This is also the hardest to date for my tender husband who felt his mother’s love so deeply.
I do not share these losses with you for sympathy, and please do not feel obligated to provide your regards, as that is not my intention. My only intention is to allow you to understand when I share these thoughts, you also understand that they come from all facets of grief and from the heart.
Family and Friend Support – Our world through each of these losses was made so much smoother due to family and friends' support. Allowing each other time and space as needed, sharing duties and responsibilities, providing grace to those who carried a greater loss with each passing, and sharing memories and stories with each other. We never could have made it through any of these if it wasn’t being the giver or recipients of these tremendous blessings. If you are further removed from the loss, providing child care, food, money, and transportation are the best family and friend supports you can provide physically. Time, patience, a listening ear, and understanding are the best supports to provide emotionally. We all want to do something when someone close to us is experiencing grief, and these were so helpful in every instance. If you are enduring the loss, seek those who are supportive and willing to help in any way they can. Don’t feel bad if you need to utilize help. That is what friends and family are for, and they are all wanting to do what they can to help you. Allow yourself to use that luxury. Voice your need to be alone, your financial strain, your need to just talk about your memories. Whatever it is, allow yourself the gift of family and friend support.
Grace – Loss is hard for everyone involved, but some may be more closely related to the loss. The closer to the loss they are, the more grace they deserve. Grief is messy, and some handle it well, while others are a complete mess. Some make peace earlier than others, some are angry and lash out constantly, some are depressed and carry a sadness with them that lasts forever. Be kind, show love and support, and don’t ever lose your patience with them. We are all built different internally, and our hearts all mend on different schedules in different ways. All reactions are possible. Some may require medical attention if necessary, but that doesn’t make them wrong. Be gracious. If you are enduring the loss, be patient with yourself. Grief has no timeline or proper response. Some days will be easier, and some days will take your breath away with sorrow. Just try your best every day to press forward. You will overcome this, and learn how to live with the grief in your own time. Be gracious to yourself.
Faith – Faith is the most solid foundation with which we have endured these losses. While family and grace have been great earthly gifts during loss, faith is an immeasurable spiritual gift we could never do without. Faith in knowing life is greater than our time here. Faith that our influence lives on long after we leave. Faith that the Lord is our comforter, our stronghold, and our Savior. Seek Him in times of grief instead of turning away. He will never give you more than you can endure, and His ways are higher than ours. Loss can be very difficult to understand at times but it will all be clear in the end, just as He allowed His son to die on a cross is now clear...it was all for us. Not our will, but Thy will be done in all things.
Again, I am not an expert in this field by any standard, just sharing our personal thoughts through the grief we’ve endured. I pray this post may help someone during their grief, or help someone assist another who is grieving. May God bless you during your grief and bless those who are grieving around you.