It can be hard to grasp or even accept the idea that there are such things as “grief gifts.” How can we possibly believe that the experience of grief and loss will bestow any such gift? Especially when all we have now is an aching longing for that which is so out of reach. It is not a new concept. History and literature abounds with a similar notion.
“In my end is my beginning.” — Mary Queen of Scots
“Sadness flies on the wings of the morning. And out of the darkness comes the light” — Jean Giraudoux
“Even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that still lies ahead.” — Frederick Buechner
And the last one here from the Dalai Lama, “It is under the greatest adversity that there exists the greatest potential for doing good, both for oneself and others.”
I never thought that out of such a tragedy I would ever come to write this article. More surprising to me is that I have, indeed, received many gifts from the pain and anguish of my grief.
1. The Gift of Myself (Oneself): When I lost my son, I was a physical, mental and spiritual wreck. My whole self was stripped bare, raw and exposed. Gone were care, desire, coping and tact. Other people become irrelevant. There was my pain and nothing else. The structure of my life and my self were completely deconstructed. I was a shell and within that shell was the real me. It was the first time I had been freed by the shackles of what I thought I had to be. This was me.
2. The Gift of Presence: Loss has taught me that there may not be a tomorrow. I was planning to visit my son and have lunch with him on the day he had his accident and slipped into a coma. I spoke to him for the last time 2 days before. Now I appreciate each and every moment I am in the presence of my partner, children, grandchildren. They have become cherished moments in my life.
3. The Gift of Love: My love for my son and my family were greatly amplified in my grief. Now that I have lost a child, he stays forever enshrined in memory and the enormous capacity of love I have for him in my heart. The love for my family has intensified. I am now fully aware of how devastating it is to lose someone we love so very much. I rarely miss an opportunity to let them know how much I love them.
4. The Gift of Nature: Nature has always been important to me, but it became more so in my grief. I found being in nature allowed me to heal in so many ways. In the early days of my grief, I visited a labyrinth, in a bush setting. This became a place of reflection, healing and connection. Bush rocks and gum trees set the scene and I spent many peaceful moments there.
5. The Gift of Meaning: Little things no longer matter to me. Although I am human and lapse occasionally, usually I am not as affected by the minutiae of life that worries so many. The worst possible thing has happened to me. Little things have less power over my life now. They really are not important to me. What means the most to me now are the people I love and those who love me.
6. The Gift of Compassion: After Stuart died, even though I was hurting myself (and still do) I wanted to give back. When I read and heard stories of loss, my heart went out to those families. They too, would have to go through what my family has. It broke my heart. Grief has left me with the legacy of altruism and compassion. I use my experience of grief to help others. I do this through Esdeer but I also volunteer for The Compassionate Friends. An international organisation supporting bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings.
7. The Gift of Writing: I’ve always loved writing. As a child, my favourite ‘thing’ was writing stories at Primary School. Many years ago, I enrolled in a writing course, so keen was I to put pen to paper in a meaningful way. It seemed natural to me then to write my grief out on paper. I used journals, bits of paper and eventually I came to establish Esdeer. Now my writing is part of my life and I never run out of topics to write about. My creativity and passion are being put to good use.
8. The Gift of Spontaneity: I used to be a natural planner. I liked to know months ahead what was happening. I rarely did anything of a spontaneous nature. Now I consider the events in my life very differently. I now know things happen outside of our control. So I take each day as it comes. There is still an element of planning in my life, but now there are those unexpected moments. Moments of connection, moments of pleasure, moments of celebration and moments of recreation. My life is much more balanced now, as a result.
9. The Gift of Gratitude: When Stuart died, I couldn’t have cared less if I lived or died. I wasn’t grateful for much at that time and didn’t expect to be ever again. Now I am. I am grateful for what that experience has taught me. I am grateful for the people who surround me with love each day. I am grateful for the time I had with my son. I am grateful for how grief has shaped my life and enriched who I am. I am grateful now for life, my life.
Maureen Hunter 2011