Grief in Action

by Sue Hawkes

When I started to write this introduction for our June newsletter, it was in the wake of my father passing away. For five of the six weeks following his death, members of our family were in hospitals for various emergency situations. I found myself dealing with each event as it occurred, and postponed the grief to deal with each week’s unexpected occurrence. Every week it was a different family member in the hospital and each one postponed the realization that my Dad is no longer with me; there are no more weekend visits. It’s the end of twelve years of caring for and visiting either or both of my parents every weekend.

I want to ensure I thank the masses of people who extended their support through cards, notes, food for our family, plants, flowers, texts, trees being planted, donations to the Alzheimer’s Associations and kindness – words and gestures while we were spending our time in a different hospital or two every week. I handled many of the details for my Dad’s funeral while sitting in the hospital with my son after surgery for a collapsed lung. Thank you to the many people who took the time to do the simple things, the daily tasks that had suddenly become overwhelming when faced with the surreal nature of all that was occurring.

There’s a profound awakening that occurs amidst the grief and sadness when your parents die. For me, it’s been a deep sense of gratitude and connectedness with my family, friends and clients who went beyond the awkwardness in communication that accompanies death. Most people extend sincere offerings when writing or saying “I’m so sorry for your loss” and “please reach out if there’s anything I can do.” They are great words indeed, however I have learned most grieving people don’t know how to reach out, ask for help or take advantage of those offerings at that time. In times such as this it is better to act. Do something. Don’t ask, don’t wait, and don’t extend your offerings to help – just do something. Drop off a meal for the family, run errands, do some household tasks, help them with the everyday stuff.  It’s the simple things that suddenly seem overwhelming and which you have no energy for – mowing your lawn, watering plants, grocery shopping, getting the mail and a thousand other “little” tasks. While we all benefit from the thoughts and prayers offered, the fog that accompanies grief is a form of paralysis only those who’ve been directly impacted truly understand. And that fog lasts throughout a year of “firsts;” first holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and such. When it’s not your loved one, you attend a ceremony or two, share in the emotions of the event, visit with the people attending and return to your life fairly quickly. When it’s someone dear to you, you rally for the events to celebrate your loved one’s life, communicate through a whirlwind of people, and once the events are over, you’re left with a hole in your life. For me, it’s been most visceral after the funeral ended and I had my first moments alone. That’s when it hit me; I’ll never return to the “same” life again. The reality of the hole in your life is a strong one.

Most of us struggle to engage in authentic conversation around death and dying. It’s not an easy conversation to have; our own humanity is at stake, our own mortality.  It’s vulnerable. It’s real. Those who’ve lost a close loved one don’t shy from those conversations and I’m especially grateful for them during my own time of vulnerability. They dove into those conversations with me and stayed there. No hurry, no platitudes, just connection and relatedness. That immediate depth of comfort was experienced in conversation because the person truly related and was in no hurry to move into something safe or superficial. That is one of the most poignant times I can recall feeling most connected to all people. Gratefully so, I was understood by someone who gave me permission to feel lost, separate and vulnerable. In doing so, I no longer felt any of those things.  I was connected and whole again, just grieving with someone who had been there and done that. I was instantly transformed because someone took the time to understand and be vulnerable with me.

In the wake of the mass shooting in Orlando, as well as the Stanford rape, we need more than thoughts and prayers, social media posts and hopeful messages. It’s a time for us to do something during the grieving. This isn’t the platform for our causes, it’s time to act. We all need to stand together and communicate, to be vulnerable and care enough to change things.

Sue HawkesGrief in Action