My elder daughter died in 2007 from the injuries she received in a car crash. Oddly, she died on the 23rd day of the month, the same day she was born. Each year, as I approach the anniversary of her death, I pause and take some time to assess my grief journey. This year is no different. In a few days I start the ninth year without my daughter.
How am I doing?
All in all, I think I’m doing surprisingly well. Like you, I didn’t choose this journey, but I’m here, and trying to make the most of my days. Reading books by grief experts has helped me to assess my progress.
Bob Deits, in his book Life After Loss, says “Nobody wants to be good at grieving—we are half-afraid that having such a skill would attract more grief.” Deits asks people to do their grief work and following his advice has taken all the courage and persistence I could muster. But I kept at it, which wasn’t easy, because three more family members died after my daughter died. Still, I haven’t given up on life or myself.
Judy Tatelbaum, in her book The Courage to Grieve, says each bereaved person can be a “creative survivor.” In other words, we have the power to make good things from grief. “Making grief meaningful can be an antidote to despair,” she writes. Each of us determines what our meaningful actions will be. Instead of writing about health and wellness, I changed the focus of my writing to grief healing, and produced eight books on the topic. Doing this gave new meaning to my life.
Marianne Richmond, in her book, The Gift of Memory, writes that the heart [our feelings] can lead us to healing. According to one verse of her picture book, “A time will come when the pain of where you’ve been makes room within your heart for hope in life again.” Years passed and, despite challenges and crises and pain, I continued to believe in hope. Some days believing in hope was all that kept me going.
Today, I have a new life and a new mission. In 2013 my husband’s aorta dissected and he had three emergency operations. During the third operation his heart stopped beating and he had a spinal stroke that paralyzed his legs. It’s a miracle that he is alive. Now I’m his family caregiver, a role I’ve had for more than two years. Grief comes in many forms, and I grieve for the fisherman that used to tromp through streams, and the buddy who used to walk around the neighborhood with me.
Perhaps you’re wondering how you are doing. Assessing grief progress comes down to basics. You’re making progress if you can talk about your loved one without sobbing. You’re making progress if you continue to do your grief work. You’re making progress if you’re making good things from grief. And you’re making progress if you feel like you’re moving forward with life. Love doesn’t stop after a family members dies; it lasts forever.
Awful as it is, grief can also be awe-full, and make us savor the gift of life.