Back in 2012, I received a text message from a young lady, devastated after losing her brother in an accident while he was at work. She wanted to know how I had ‘managed’ when my dad died earlier that year. Her text found me still raw, taking one wobbly step at a time to find my way out of the foggy valley of grief.
With time, the fog did dissipate and to my pleasant surprise, after what seemed like endless months of sadness, I was reunited with the mirth that I thought I had lost forever. If, during the down-in-the-foggy-valley experience you’d told me that the sun would shine on me again, I would have reacted with incredulity.
In December 2018, we as a family found ourselves in a foggy valley once again when my father in law passed on suddenly. His demise, which happened 19 days after his sister’s, brought down the curtain on his generation.
While these experiences are tough on many levels, they have taught me a few lessons to live by; lessons that are instrumental in building resilience. I hope you will find them helpful.
- Remember the words of Desiderata, especially the counsel to “nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.” In life, we are bound to experience pain, whether from the loss of a loved one or from other circumstances. Keep the faith, and as the bible says in the book of Jude 20, “build yourself up in your most holy faith.”
- Keep short accounts. Forgive quickly, and often. There is nothing as bad as leaving pain in someone’s heart, or someone passing on with unresolved disputes.
- Extend grace to others, more so to family. Do not let lofty expectations blind you to the fact that family members too bear emotional burdens and pressure in the face of loss. Be supportive, show understanding. In her book “Becoming”, Michelle Obama quotes her parents as saying that everyone on earth is carrying an unseen history, and that alone deserves some tolerance.
- Carpe diem– seize the day. Whenever you have opportunity to share, call up or show up at a loved one’s door – do so. No one knows whether the last words you speak to someone may be your ‘last respects’ to them. Always endeavour to leave people with good words.
- Dig deep – when someone you love dies or when you encounter misfortune, it is easy to blame God, feel helpless or feel like the world is closing in on you. You may see people laughing or having an enjoyable time and think that you will never laugh again like them. Often, discouragement, sadness and pain seem to take over. When that happens, take time to mourn and then dig deeper inside of you, taking it a day at a time. You will find that beneath that sadness, discouragement and pain lies a peace that surpasses all understanding, and a blessed assurance that you are not alone. The sun will indeed shine on you again.
- Focus on what you have left, rather than on what you’ve lost – easier said than done, but very helpful. I remember when my dad died in 2012; I was alone, miserable and feeling sorry for myself. My family was in Ethiopia and I had travelled to Kenya from Johannesburg where I had gone for a meeting. My son was stepping up from middle school to high school and I was missing the ceremony. Dad had sure picked a wrong time to die, I thought. Anyway, I was lying down engulfed in sadness, when an email popped from a friend, reminding me to cherish the memories I had of dad. When I started to think of things to be grateful for, I realized they were so many and my spirits lifted. Recently when my father in law passed on, one of the things I was very grateful for was his story and the many life lessons that we can learn from it. That’s a story that deserves a whole post on its own but suffice it to say that reflecting on my dad in law’s life gives me inspiration to serve, give generously and refuse to be held back by artificial barriers.
- Forgive yourself for whatever you may have missed. Do not let the guilt of what you may not have done for the departed haunt you. The one Christmas we did not spend with my father in law happened to be his last here on earth and it stung to think that we missed that opportunity. However, we just had to be content with the time we were blessed to have spent with him.
- Nurture friendships and do not neglect fellowship with the church family or with people with whom you share faith. Friends and the church are some of God’s ways of lending us strength in our time of weakness. Our friends, church family and partners have been a huge blessing to us in every way – their presence, prayers, thoughts and resources – and for that we say THANK YOU.
- Go easy on yourself. Loss often involves change – for example, from having a parent, spouse, a job etc. to not having one. While change is physical, it is accompanied by an internal, psychological process of transition. If you need to, do not be afraid to seek out support from counsellors to manage the phases of transition. One resource I have found helpful in navigating transitions is a book titled “Managing Transitions” by William Bridges. It is available in print and as an e-book at Amazon.
For those who may be grieving at this time, may peace, comfort and grace be upon you. To all of us, I pray for fortitude to do life and to bear whatever it may bring our way.
Tags: #digdeeper, #healingfromloss, #lifelessons, #pauseandponder, #resilience