Multiple losses have been the biggest challenge of my life. In February of 2007 my daughter died from the injuries she received in a car crash. Two days later my father-in-law died of pneumonia. Then, just eight weeks later, my brother died of a heart attack. Six months after his death, my former son-in-law died from the injuries he received in another car crash.
His death made my twin grandchildren orphans and my husband and I GRGs, grandparents raising grandchildren. Somehow, I had to summon the courage to grieve and raise my grandchildren. There was no time for denial, a common response to death and grief.
Vamik D. Volkan, MD and Elizabeth Zintl write about denial in their book, “Life After Loss: The Lessons of Grief.” They think denial is “a shock absorber that helps us slowly assimilate an awful truth.” My shock absorber worked for a few months and fast forwarded to acceptance, or reconciliation, as some call it.
Alan Wolfelt describes recovery in his article, “Reconciliation.” He defines reconciliation as “the dimension wherein the full reality of the death becomes part of the mourner.” The pain of grief changes from being ever-present, Wolfelt explains, to acknowledgement of loss, with renewed purpose and meaning of life.
Again and again, I’ve been told, “Your story is unbelievable.” How do you believe the unbelievable? Two years have passed since my daughter and father-in-law died the same weekend. Looking back, I can identify some of the steps I took on the road to acceptance.
1. Working on grief. Unfortunately, acceptance does not arrive like a package in the mail. You have to work on it daily. Elizabeth J. Clark, PhD, ACSW, MPH thinks acceptance is the first recovery step. She examines grief in her article, “Grief and Loss — Tip Sheet: Understanding Acute Grief,” published on the Social Workers Help Starts Here Wbsite. Clark says acceptance happens when you realize your loved one [or ones] are gone and nothing can bring them back.
2. Feeling the pain. Thanks to birthdays (I’m a gray-haired grandmother) I know pain is essential to recovery. In fact, recovery (or resolution) does not happen without pain. Therese A. Rando gives suggestions for resolving grief in her book, “How to Go on Living When Someone You Love Dies.” One suggestion is to give oneself permission to feel loss, which is pain, and grieve for deceased loved ones. I felt the pain of loss to the depths of my soul.
3. Facing mortality. Jo Turner, a Family and Consumer Professor at the University of Florida, thinks “everyone needs to come to terms with death.” She makes this point in her Internet article, “The Reality of Death.” Grief helps us to see what is important in our lives, Turner says, and we can “use death to enrich life.” Being responsible for my grandchildren has enriched my life in many ways. I’m not living the life I thought I would be living, I’m living a better life.
4. Setting goals. Since I was a child I’ve been a list-maker, and my lists include goals. When I have reached the goals on one list, I make a new one. Bob Deits, Mth writes about goal-setting in “Life After Loss: A Practical Guide to Renewing Your Life After Experiencing Major Loss.” Deits asks mourners to set short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals. “Share your goals and the dates for completion with a friend who will hold you accountable,” he advises. My husband and I created joint goals and worked on them together.
Death has taught me new things about life. I’m grateful for the gift of life, my devoted husband, grandchildren, supportive family, and writing career. Gratitude has created new life paths and I follow them joyfully. According to Hazelden author Melody Beattie, gratitude has other benefits. “It turns what we have into enough, and more,” she writes. “It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.”
My clarity: I’m doing what I am supposed to be doing, writing more, loving more, and giving more. I have a good life.
Copyright 2009 by Harriet Hodgson
Harriet Hodgson has been an independent journalist for 30 years. She is a member of the Society of Journalists and Authors, the Association of Health Care Journalists, and the Association for Death Education and Counseling. Her 24th book, “Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief,” written with Lois Krahn, MD, is available from Amazon.
Centering Corporation in Omaha, Nebraska has published her 26th book, “Writing to Recover: The Journey from Loss and Grief to a New Life.” The company also published a companion resource, the “Writing to Recover Journal,” which contains 100 writing prompts. Please visit Harriet’s Website and learn more about this busy author and grandmother.