On several occasions in the almost eleven years since my daughter Jeannine’s death, I have attended calling hours for several friends whose loved ones have died. If the deceased is not a child, I will sometimes get comments like, “I know it is not the same (death of a child), but I feel so horrible (about my loss).”
In some way, I appreciate these comments because it is validation of Jeannine’s death as unthinkable and unfathomable. To me however, these comments also serve to unwittingly trivialize the significance of the loss of their loved ones. Death permanently changes the landscape of those individuals left behind. The death of anyone significant in our lives, whether it is a child, parent, grandparent or spouse, compels us to reevaluate our values and priorities, compels us to redefine who we are. Because the grief I experienced after Jeannine’s death was so egocentric and the support I sought was primarily from other parents, it was easy for me to temporarily lose sight of the fact that life-altering loss could occur with anyone.
A Stone Encased Heart
A dear friend of mind sent me a picture of a rock that she found while walking on a beach near her home. There was a distinct shape of a heart on the left side, which is small in comparison to the rock in which it is housed. As we embrace the journeys of all who have experienced death and commit to compassionate presence as their stories unfold, the heart becomes bigger than the rock in which it is encased. As our heart becomes the center of our being, love, compassion and mercy for others will govern our actions, define our path and determine our legacy.
“No matter what… I will continue to live from the center of my wide open heart.” – Anonymous
Taking the “Worst” Out of Loss
One of the things that has helped me during my ongoing transformation following Jeannine’s death, is not categorizing my loss as the worst I have experienced in comparison to other losses that I or others have experienced. I look at Jeannine’s death as being the loss that was most life altering and redefining. Embracing this perspective has allowed me to open bear witness to and be enriched by the stories of all bereaved individuals who have crossed my path. In the process, my commitment to service in honor of my daughter Jeannine has expanded, giving me greater purpose on my journey.
“We must choose mercy; it is our only course. Though its cause may be dark, and though we may not sense it at the time, it makes us a vessel of grace. It fills us with unbounded love that pours forth without judgment on all it sees, because it knows that every life, no matter how flawed or humble, is precious beyond measure.” — From the chapter titled “Candles on the Grave… Love in Action,” found in the book, Calm Surrender, Walking the Hard Road of Forgiveness, by Kent Nerburn.