Honest Grief Compassion and Transformation
Honest Grief, Compassion, and Transformation: “Don’t cry in front of Arie, it will change her permanently. You have to be strong.” This advice was given to me by a well-meaning family member when Jason, my late husband, passed while I was pregnant with Sophia (who is now 10 years old). It was about a week after my husband died and I was weeping, at that moment, in my master closet and little Arie happened to be there at 2 and 10 months old.
I knew the loving person giving advice didn’t mean harm, she just wanted to protect Arie’s childhood. So I hugged this person and said, “I love you, but what you are asking me to do is really unhealthy. I have to cry because something terrible has happened. My children will know when I am happy and when I am sad and we will go through it together.”
I had not yet read books on the subject of children processing loss. Honest grief just felt right, and I hoped my decision would work out with my children. That moment set the tone for how my little family processed grief for years to come.
Honesty in Loss is Strength. When loss is hidden, I find it takes longer to find authentic freedom. I didn’t want to run from grief, because grief means to transform us for the better and, besides, always running is exhausting.
Fast Forward 10 Years: Authentic grief has changed my daughters. Permanently for the Better. Here’s How:
Day 2 of Loss: I had forgotten the part where grief catches you unaware and you weep at random, inconvenient moments. Arie was there at one of those moments, only now she was 13 years old.
I wept over the loss of Papa with my child and we hugged. When the tears subsided I said to her, “You’re actually farther down this grief path than I am. I know what it is to lose a husband, but I’m almost 50 years old and I’ve always had my father. I’m so sorry you have felt the loss of a father.”
Arie, who had been hugging me, sat back on our couch for a moment to think and then she said, “Mom, I am sad and I do miss Papa, but it was hard for him to be in his body. He was always dizzy (he had vertigo for 5 years straight after his stroke) and I think he was in pain. Now he’s not in pain and I’m glad for him. I know he’s with us.”
I sat back stunned. My child’s words were true.
Day 3 of Loss: When I woke up Thanksgiving morning, it hit me again and I wept that my father wasn’t physically in my house. Sophia snuggled with me in bed while I cried for several minutes.
Then Sophi gently said, “Look outside, Mom, it’s a beautiful day.” And she was right. The sun was shining through the autumn leaves. It was a good day.
I’ve been asking my girls every day how they are, and I asked Sophia again yesterday morning. Sophia replied, “I miss Papa, but I feel in my heart he is with his family that he hasn’t seen in so long.” (Papa’s father was taken from him by Nazi soldiers during the Warsaw Uprising when Papa was 9 years old. He never saw his father again). Sophia continued with a smile, “I think he’s having a great time so I think about that and I’m okay.”
Arie joined us, and then we three had a tickle fight. That moment started our Thanksgiving.
The words of my own children, ages 10 and 13, gently reset my own perspective. Ten years of being comfortable with grief, empowered my girls to speak compassion and peace into loss, which gave us all the freedom to have authentic Joy on Thanksgiving.
We miss my father, YES, but now thinking about his homecoming and how he’s with my mother, my late-husband, Jason, my maternal grandparents, and all his family from Poland…and I honestly rejoice with him, as my daughters do.
Preparing for my father to move in with us after his stroke five years ago, I was scared. As a widow, how would I take care of him and my girls, then five-years-old and eight-years-old?
The singer Amy Grant spoke in an article about caring for her father, who had dementia. She had moved him to her property, and in the magazine article she said something like,
“The last lesson our aging parents have to teach us is compassion.”
Her words gave me the courage to move forward into the unknown, saying yes to having my father move in with us even though I had no idea how it would all work. And God met our little family every step of the journey.
I wanted a front row seat for my father’s last lessons. I didn’t anticipate that he’d teach that compassion to my girls as well.
But Papa did teach them, just the same.
Thanks, Dad. Today we rejoice in your Freedom. We’ll see you again in heaven.