Responses from blog on loss
The responses on “Friends Leaving Us” has affirmed things that were written in our original post and also gave new insights into this issue. Many wrote a note saying thank you for the help this has been from Kay and I processing our losses. Several have written with more detail and asked that their comments stay just between us. But others have added insights that they have agreed could be shared. The following are those sharings:
From Lynnette Hughes, Arlington, VA
“I learned so much walking with Esther, my lifelong friend and later my dad’s wife, as she transitioned to life on the other side! I definitely saw how working through letting go – possessions, abilities, desires – led to a beautiful and easy death. Some of that letting go was not by her choosing initially but I watched her work all that out with the Lord and come to a place of acceptance. I also saw how even as her capacity to do for others was diminished, she was still involved and caring. I watched her be encouraging to the aide who came in nightly to bathe her feet. Even on the day she died, she was still asking me about my daughter, Anna and if I was doing OK.
I saw her learn how to deal with my dad and his dementia by not trying to bring him “back to reality” but by entering his world. At the nursing home, My dad would want to set up for a meeting (being a pastor his whole life) so Esther and he would go around and collect some random things and take them into the big meeting space and then Esther would tell him they were all ready. And he would be so happy and calm down.
I think of an older friend back in PA who I took my Dad to visit as we were moving him and Esther to VA and she told us how every night she would say to Jesus, “I think this would be a great night for you to come and get me!” She was in her 90’s with some health issues but still engaged and involved with others but with her eye on heaven.
Then this excerpt from one of my favorite authors, Wendell Berry, relating what one of the men was thinking about someone who had died.
‘And yet their absence puts them with you in a way they never were before. You may even know them better than you did before. They stay with you and in a way you go with them. They don’t live on IN your heart, but your heart knows them. As your heart gets bigger on the inside, the world gets bigger on the outside. If the dead had been alive only in this world, you would forget them, looks like, as soon as they die. But you remember them, because they always were living in the other, bigger world while they lived in this little one, and this one and the other one are the same. You can’t see this with your eyes looking straight ahead. It’s with your side vision, so to speak, that you see it. The longer I live, and the better acquainted I am among the dead, the better I see it.’
A really good book about dying well is Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. He is a doctor himself and speaks so well of these end of life issues. It helped me so much to know how to deal with doctors and think about all this as Esther was declining. Highly recommend it!
From Bob Thompson –McMinnville, Oregon
“As a pastor I conducted over 200 funerals and after retiring I sometimes felt that I didn’t want to go to another one. Of course, I do. What I’ve learned is that you never retire from caring and connecting; that it’s important to be part of someone’s home going—to be with them, if possible, when death comes; and then to join with families and friends in celebrating a life that meant so much to you and to them. For Christians, it’s part of what it means to be the body of Christ; for anyone, it’s part of sharing what it means to be in the human family. We diminish ourselves and others if we turn away. Even when we don’t feel like it, or we feel somehow threated by our own limited life, we connect and care.
From Edie Rittinger – Vancouver, Canada
“I have just finished reading your blog on “loss”. I can certainly relate with you and Kay to the deep sadness of losing dear and precious friends – I have lost four since October (beginning with Carolyn Hinsdale), and am now facing the imminent loss of my only sister. The words of Mary Jane’s grandson, Jess certainly resonated in my heart – my loved ones are always going to be part of me and the gifts of love, caring, mentoring, and fun together will never leave me. I am so thankful that all of them are safely at home with Jesus.
Sometimes I wonder if I have properly grieved for these friends, and then I am reminded of the words of St. Paul “we do not grieve as those who have no hope” and I thank God for the hope he has given us in the gift of our Lord Jesus. They are most certainly a part of that “great cloud of witnesses” who cheer us on to our final destination.”
From Rick Irish, Wilder, Idaho
“Thank you for your very thoughtful musings on death, with clears reminders of the hope that carries us forward toward its embrace! Today I came to be touched by the grief that lingers from Dad’s death 34 years ago, so your words are especially timely. One thought occurs to me in the context of our culture’s rapid move toward assisted suicide. Barb and I have seen in the experience of her unchurched mother’s apparent vision of Yahweh shortly before her death from cancer, that when we think our intervention in the face of death is merciful, we risk short-circuiting the very purposes of God. The closer we approach the gates of death the greater is the mystery of life itself, isn’t it? Which is as it must be for such earthbound creatures as the likes of us. Thanks be to God!”
From Sandra Hellyer, Toronto, Ontario
“I guess I’ve never thought of grieving loss as something to be ‘coped with’ but rather just a part of a stage of life. When Bill died, I never thought in terms of ‘coping mechanisms’, rather I just clung to God, with all my might, and as a result, my dependence on God grew and my relationship with God deepened. I experienced God’s comfort, God up-holding me, God giving me strength, God guiding me, God’s faithfulness – all of these things in a very real, deep way.
Even though I never thought in terms of coping, I was very much aware of the fact that everyone grieves differently. I was also aware of the fact that I had to grieve properly! The first visitor to the funeral parlour ‘visitation’ was Father Bob Ogle, and his first words to me were “You need to grieve properly!” Then a few days later just before the actual funeral service, Henri Nouwen had the family form a circle and hold hands, and he too talked about grieving properly – ’embracing the pain’ as he put it.
Despite this, (and I did try to ‘grieve properly’) my British heritage with the stiff upper lip tradition was what came to the fore. Also, growing up in an alcoholic family, one learns to somehow cope with the pain, and just carry on. And carry on I did.
It was a blessing for me to be able to go to Crete with my daughter, Linda and her family the following year – away from all the activity, and everything familiar, and just be with God. As you know, I had my own place there – we lived in the same building, but I was on my own, upstairs from the family. My memories are mostly of the healing power of the sea – going for long walks along the beach, or going for long swims 3 times a day. It was very peaceful. And all of Crete is so beautiful, with the mountains and different eco-systems, just living there was healing.
At the time, I had an image in mind of a door – the closed door to my pain very slowly opening, and allowing the pain to come out, to be recognized and given to God, and for healing to take place. In the year and a half we were there, inch by inch, the door opened wider and wider, and more and more was given to God. Those experiences of God’s availability, love and faithfulness were completely internalized, (something I know) and will stay with me for the rest of my life. It all was a wonderful gift from God!
That was certainly a very special time in my life, but that’s not to say that the pain is all gone – I think that is something that will always be there. Even though I am very happy now, and feel completely healed, every now and then something will happen that tells me differently. For me, one of the triggers is music – a couple of times I’ve been going happily along, then heard a song on the radio (maybe a mournful, jazzy sax) that strikes some sort of chord in my subconscious, I guess, and an overwhelming feeling of yearning and missing Bill will come over me. A couple of times I have been outside and seen someone who looked like him from the back, or walked like him, and my heart will make a huge leap, and again, that overwhelming feeling of loneliness and missing him. In the twenty years Bill’s been gone, these have happened maybe 4 or 5 times, which is quite rare. But the feelings are deep enough and real enough to let me know that something is definitely still there.
And of course I’m not lonely. Paul and I are very happy, my family is wonderful, and the deepening with God continues. God continues to be so good to me! But at the same time, I’m looking forward to be able to re-connect with Bill’s spirit in the after-life.
So that’s my reaction to your request, Kent – no theories of how to do it, just experiences. It’s my prayer that you and Kay will be able to experience a deeper sense of God’s love and care during this season in our lives of experiencing not one, but many losses. With Lots of Love & Many Blessings,”
From Charlie Glendinning, Washington, D.C.
“These are important thoughts which we find unthinkable mostly out of fear. Thinking THROUGH them with you both, in some ways, helps to pull the stinger out. There is tremendous beauty in suffering the wounds of separation from our friends. They have helped to shape us by the very act of our having chosen to be attached to them. When they leave us, what remains is their shape forever embedded IN us. Whenever it comes – however painful it will be and I know it will be – there will be with it, the sweetness of that shape of their loss always at my side. There is tremendous beauty in wounds that Jesus heals with such compassion and creativity.
Years ago, when we first moved into our house, in the back yard was a small grove of cedar trees that were growing side-by-side. I don’t know whether it was because of the re-grading of the yard, but one of the trees didn’t make it and I had to go out one day and chop it down. When I removed it, I saw that what was once a nicely shaped group of trees, now had a hole. A space where something used to be. Each of the trees that remained was affected to some degree and where once the cluster was solid green, now you could see inside where it was bare, brown and twiggy, full of vines — things that couldn’t be seen before. The absence of someone very close to us — however painful it is at the time, reveals things to us that we didn’t know were in there — both good and bad — but ultimately for tremendous good.
Years later, as I now look out over my tiny forest; I notice that the trees have re-shaped beautifully and filled in where the old tree was. To a new eye, it’s just an attractive stand of trees. But to my eye, I can tell where the missing tree used to be but the change in the shape of each of the other trees has only added to their beauty . . . they have become more interesting BECAUSE of the existence of that one cedar tree.
So, my continuing prayer for all of us is that we would hold in our hearts a sense of God’s care and compassion during this filling-in time and a heightened awareness of how precious we all are to God through this experience.”
From Mark Siljander, Mooresville, North Carolina
“Ten PM last night driving home from a speech at a local college, I was excitedly thinking of whom I could call to catch-up with during the down time. This late at night the list is understandingly narrow, but traditionally I would call my sister Eva, but she was dead. Or, my best friend since seven-years old, Jim…he died too. Then I thought of my companion strategic partner in the Abrahamic work Bill, but he too had died. The others would be too old now and would be in bed. Then my mind flooded with an unanticipated pain of prison; three people with whom I was very, very close died and it was not possible to attend their funerals. So what do we do with this profound sense of loss?
You also mentioned “finishing well”; especially with family and friends. This is a penetrating point that requires one to take stock of relationships and how effectively we are at loving. We can at some level, make up some of the hurt of loss; by loving…loving hard…loving unconditionally. Especially loving those that are with us and embellishing the memories of those who are gone. It is not easy, but with a broken heart and too often tears I am trying and indeed most of the time coping, save the quiet times floundering alone in a car at ten p.m. thinking who is alive that I can call. Sometimes I just need to call who should be my best friend and brother…Jesus.”
From Sam Rea, Washington, D.C.
“I’ve only one thought to add to those you have given us. We all grieve when we lose a loved one. But somehow the quality, or kind, of grief is different for me: one sort is when I feel that I have given all the attention I could give to the departed — no feelings left unexpressed, no opportunities wasted to enjoy his/her company —and another kind of grief, sharper and more despairing, when I have not done so, for whatever reason. This teaches me how, if only for my own sake, I must treat my nearest and dearest, and neighbor, as well. But it is not a cure. See how C. S. Lewis grieved over the death of his Joy. Still, the difference is instructive.”
From Peter Desmier, Roxboro, Quebec
“I spent the 80’s and 90’s sitting at the bedside of several friends who were in the process of losing the battle with a fatal illness. Many had fought hard but eventually accepted their fate and prepared themselves and even those they were leaving behind for their eventual passing. Others were not so accepting. They were frustrated and angry resenting their powerlessness and sense of aggrieved loss.
At the closing of the last century and the oncoming millennium I witnessed the passing of an uncle, an aunt and both parents within a four year period. Each one had approached their 90th or were well in their nineties. Lives well lived. There was no sadness or regret. I experienced a sense of joy as they were being released from their failing bodies and mind.
As a child my parents spoke openly about dying and death. There was no fear but a belief in something else. That we are on a journey and this life was but a stage in the process. Each elder family member spoke of travel prior to their passing. “Where are we going…we need to pack for the steamship….what country are we in….did you make reservations….” Each as if they were preparing for the next process of their journey.
Yet today I struggle with one of my “kids” who at 23 is fighting through his second course of aggressive chemo to stem the advancement of an aggressive form of leukemia. Gone are the feelings of peaceful passing and joyful release. I’m frustrated at being sidelined and watching and not being able to do! He on the other hand is resolute in his ability to get through this. He is clear on what he needs to do. What is important and what he will not waste time on – mourning friends – negative outlooks and sympathy.
His courage and living in the moment teaches me to recognize how I spend my time with those close to me. Now is the time to be caring and loving so at times of passing I can share in the sense of a life well lived. At the joy of ones passing and not a life of regret.
I would be remiss if I did not take this time to express how the time spent by both you and Kay on a troubled teen almost 50 years ago became a beacon of hope and inspiration throughout my life. Through the good times and bad your commitment to each other, family and friends was a template that helped contribute to my journey.”
From Carol Hernandez, Potomac Falls, Virginia
“Losing those we love and who have poured into us cause us to acutely feel, “He has set eternity in our hearts.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) Time is short here on earth—we want endless time with those we love. And if they have repented and called on Christ to be saved, we will have that endless time with them! As Tim Keller said in his book, “Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering,” this is not how it is supposed to be. But because of the garden, death and separation resulted. Not only separation from God but from one another.
My favorite quote is by Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
“That life only really begins when it ends here on earth, that all that is here is only the prologue before the curtain goes up—that is for young and old alike to think about.”
I just read Isobel Kuhn’s biography, “In the Arena.” She and her husband were missionaries to China during the 1940’s and 1950’s. As she lay dying, she remembered a letter she read from Dr. Harry Rimmer to Dr Charles Fuller re: death. Sorry if it is a little long but it is excellent!
Next Sunday you are to talk about Heaven. I am interested in that land, because I have held a clear title to a bit of property there for over fifty-five years. I did not buy it. It was given to me without money and without price. But the Donor purchased it for me at tremendous sacrifice. I am not holding it for speculation since the title is not transferable. It is not a vacant lot. For more than half a century I have been sending materials out of which the greatest Architect and Builder of the universe has been building a home for me, which will never need to be remodeled or repaired because it will suit me perfectly, individually, and will never grow old. Termites cannot undermine its foundations, for they rest upon the Rock of Ages. Fire cannot destroy it. Floods cannot wash it away. No locks or bolts will ever be placed upon its doors for no vicious persons can even enter that land where my dwelling stands, now almost completed and almost ready for me to enter in and abide in peace eternally, without fear of being ejected.
There is a valley of deep shadows between the place where I live in California and that to which I shall journey in a very short time. I cannot reach my home in that city of gold without passing through this dark valley of shadows. But I am not afraid, because the best Friend I ever had went through the same valley, long, long ago and drove away all its gloom. He has stuck by me through thick and thin since we first became acquainted fifty-five years ago, and I hold His promise in printed form never to forsake me nor to leave me alone. He will be with me as I walk through the valley of shadows, and I shall not lose my way when He is with me.”
From Joan Malouf, Scottsdale, Arizona
“As we have seen many people grieving now it is interesting the different forms that it takes. We only know our own story. One of the most helpful books to me was strangely enough by Sue Monk Kidd. It’s called When the Heart Waits. It meant so much to me because of her emphasis on what God does in the dark. What has always been an encouragement to me is that pain, loss, missing, all count for something in the Redemptive plan of Our Lord. It all has to mean something for His Kingdom or it’s lost for losses sake. Being grateful comes easier when you know that in God’s hand He uses all these things for good and I want to be a part of that too. We are sharing with you in the constant awareness of the longing for loved ones.”
From Rick Malouf, Scottsdale, Arizona
“As we have discussed in the past, your thoughts on finishing well are needed by so many but I don’t think I fit into that category. The reason is I started well because of the input you and Frank Consalvo had, and continue to have in my life. I think it’s one of the reasons I love spending time with so many young men in trying to help them live their lives in the present while considering the future.
Of course Jason still lives in us and we wouldn’t want it any other way.
One area you touched on is how we as friends and family can and/or should respond to a survivor. I believe the community of Jesus is generally very poor at this. I have been pleasantly surprised and painfully hurt at who asks about Jason and who doesn’t – especially early in the process. Tony and Janet Hall really helped us with this when they said they have a huge need to talk about Matt even fifteen years later. But most people don’t even bring it up which I understand because it is awkward and they don’t know what to say. But their silence is more painful than a dumb question.
One last thing: You and I have discussed in the past the wide variation in the way people grieve. We as a community need to give people a really wide swath when it comes to allowing people to grieve in their own way and timing.”
From Tony Hall, Washington, D.C.
“In regard to the loss of our son, Matt, without getting deep into the issue, you never get used to the loss. We think of him all the time. It gets easier over time though and I’m constantly thinking of how special the quality time we did have with him. Sometimes I think that death didn’t really happen. You think why questions. Was it because of my sin? Why us. But after a while, you realize you can’t answer these questions. But I can tell you I love God more now than before Matt died. I live by faith.”
From Geoff Way, Roseville, California
“I have had a good number of friends who have died, but I have only been with three people when they actually died: My son, Elliott, in 1999 and now my Mom in October and my Dad in November. It was clear that Elliott’s spirit was gone when we unhooked him from life support and his heart beat for maybe 5 minutes and slowly stopped very peacefully. My folks were struggling through their last breaths and that was a much harder experience. Still, I have been alive for 60 years and have been with only 3 people while they were actually dying. The process of dying is not a common experience for most of us and I think that makes this harder for us.
Another thing is that loss originates out of love. Like love, there are some common characteristics of loss, but each of us experiences loss in our own unique way. Love and loss is much better entered into and shared rather than discussed. It is hard trying to put into words a very intimate experience.
In many cultures, a body remains in the house for family and friends to visit and sit with before burial. We have nondescript vehicles, zipped bags and shrouds over gurneys to make sure no one sees a person who has died. In all three of my experiences it has been profoundly meaningful to be able to be with Elliott, my Mom and my Dad after they had died. It affirmed the reality of the event for me and it helped me connect with each of them after they were gone. I think our aversion to death in our culture robs us of some of that needed connection from the way we process death.
David Bogaard’s death is a loss. I will miss his sparkly eyes, winsome smile and huge hugs. David was one of the most caring people I have ever met. He had a gift for asking questions. You would be with David and through conversation you would feel deep love. I am going to deeply miss his friendship and caring.
There is a different kind of loss. It is an ache, a deep emptiness. I have that with Elliott. I have that now with my parents. I think it is that emptiness and ache that accompanies deep grief.
I think my experience is different than Roy Thompson’s. I don’t know what it is like to lose an arm, but I imagine it is an everyday loss. Every time you look in the mirror or every time you do a routine task you realize it is gone. I think my loss aches have been more like broken bones or sprained ankles. There is extreme pain at first and significant pain during the repair process, but at some point you go on to regain a level of functioning. I think it took me about three years to get to that point after Elliott died. With a sprained ankle or broken bone, you will be reminded of the injury as a result of a variety of experiences (change in the weather, move the limb in an awkward way, use it too much) but for the most part you go on moving through life. I will have waves of sadness with Elliott, but at this point they seem to come as I need them, but I do not have a constant reminder of his death like I did at the beginning. However, I did not lose a vibrant, healthy child and Elliott’s death seemed to be much more of a blessing of having him finally whole and with Jesus. The fact that there was some relief in his death for a very difficult life may color my experience.
I am not close to being there with my parents. I have flashbacks of both of them in hospice in their final days. These are hard memories. I assume these will be replaced with other memories in the months to come. I know in my head that I did not want to see my folks continue to struggle through their difficult last days, but being with them in the process of dying seems to have caused me to be absorbed with their last days. I believe these hard memories will eventually be replaced with good memories, but I don’t know what the path looks like for that process to take place.
It is good to be so connected to someone that it hurts when they die. We are very good in this family affirming that we are with each other 24 hours a day even though we are not physically present with each other. With all of our social media apps and texts and emails, it often does not really feel like we are apart even though we are not physically together! With death, those other forms of communication stop and we are back to relying solely on the presence of the Spirit to continue our connection.
I think we struggle with this concept as if it was some form of crazy séance experience. Our spirits never die. Our spirits remain deeply connected with the spirits of those we love who have died. We affirm that we will be reunited with love ones in eternity, but we also need to affirm and encourage each other to be open to experiencing a connection with them in our spirits after they die.
Again, everyone’s experience will be different and there is no road map for this, but I do continue to feel a keen connection with Elliott since he died. It is certainly not every day, and it often comes where I don’t expect it, but I think being open to the experience allows us to continue some of the connection we had when we were together. I do not feel this yet in the same way with my folks. It may have been so much of my connection with Elliott was non-verbal because of his difficulties in communicating that this type of connection was easier to keep. I really do not know, but I think it is good for us to remain open to experiences of continued connection after we have lost someone we loved deeply.
This is a journey. This is difficult for all of us. We need to give each other a lot of space to experience loss in the way that we feel comfortable. It will be different for each of us and the best thing we can do is enter in and be present with each other in this process.”
From Three Widows, McMinnville, Oregon
In April Kay and I had dinner with three friends (Kathie Bumpus, Dores Mitchell and Marilyn Owens) who have become widows in recent years to learn from their journeys as they have coped with the loss of the most special person in their lives. For each of them their husband had been a great companion and partner for many years – which we know is not the truth with many marriages. Here are some of their thoughts without an attempt to put them in any particular order:
They affirmed some of the ideas that were in the piece in the blog: Friends are Leaving us:
- One of the things they missed most was a companion with whom they could talk about everything – process the good and the bad of life. One of them said, “I can find people to do things with, but I miss having someone I can do nothing with.”
- The loss of your mate is something you never get over. They gave us, and affirmed two quotes that we had not heard before: “It will get better, but it will not get easier.” And “You will get through it, but you will not get over it.”
- How we finish is shaped by how we have lived – what we have valued and how we have lived those values.
- Each person who has lost a spouse or a child has a similar experience with others who have a similar loss – but each person’s journey is unique and it is not helpful for others to tell you what you should feel or think or how you should process it.
Then these ideas that they expressed over the course of the evening:
- The first year has the pain of going through all the special things in the year (Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays, etc.) without your spouse. One thing that helps is to be with a family member or other friend for each of those days so that you are not going through it alone.
- Also during that first year it is probably better to avoid the funerals of other friends – too many fresh memories and too much pain.
- Going to church was a challenge: Where do you sit – by yourself; the music evokes tears as you try to sing songs that have meaning; some people don’t know what to say to you and sometimes say really inappropriate and hurtful things. And at the same time this is the place where many of your friends are.
- Many people have regrets when their spouse is gone – regrets because of what they wish had been different. Especially things that they wished they had said to each other. There is no way to avoid a great sense of loss, but the thing that keeps these three from lots of regrets is that throughout their marriages they talked about everything with their spouses and they processed life with them. There was nothing that they wished they had said to each other.
- We had to become more creative in finding ways to entertain ourselves. Often there are things to do during the day, but dinner and the evening at home alone are especially challenging. Each of the three found they had increased their reading and also found some specific ways to be involved with others that were new for them.
- It is also necessary to keep initiating with others – even family members. When you have been a couple for so many years, and you are not now, lots of things you used to get invitations to are no longer happening. And it is hard to have to be the one who more often is the initiator of times and ways of relating.
- One commented that holding on to your sense of humor has been important. It has helped to think about the funny times as a connection to the fun times.
- Gratitude has been important. There is so much to be grateful for in the life you have had together and that you can celebrate. It was even suggested that no matter how your loved one has died there can be gratitude: If sudden than you can be grateful they did not have to suffer; If a brief illness than you can be grateful for the opportunity to lovingly say your good byes; and it a lingering illness there is relief and gratefulness that their suffering is now over.
Thus ends the thoughts from friends who are bringing insights to us.