Grief, loss and trauma

These words are not something I have any particular expertise in (I even had to look up the definitions of grief and trauma to see exactly what the difference is), and neither do I particularly want to get more expertise. It's relatively easy to "learn" a subject, but real knowledge tends to come through living it. It does bring to mind Peter Sellers in his last movie role. Chauncey Gardner was a very simple gardener who knew little but gardening. His explanation of how each season was an essential part of the cycle of life is inspiring.

When you are going through a loss, it can be very difficult to see much else. But I have found that with the benefit of hindsight, each period of darkness eventually produces growth. In my case, this would not easily have penetrated my understanding so effectively in any other way. Sadly growth is not automatic.

Some people think so negatively they have no expectation of good - no hope. Others are so caught up in their grief they never seem to get out of it. It is our choice - a choice we're usually unable to make in the midst of grief. We can't adequately prepare for grief, but it is easier to handle if we live our normal lives with gratitude for what we have and hope for our future. 

Hope is often referred to as part of a trilogy - faith, love and hope. It is often seen as a tag-along to the other two, but at times it takes the lead. It's normal Western psyche to compartmentalise and sequence things in a list, yet by doing that we miss the inter-connectedness of the whole. Is this all just nice theory? I think not. Personally, I identify with three major episodes of grief.

The first was the death of our first daughter at birth. There is no greater tragedy than that the loss of a child you have been waiting and planning for. I've lost my parents - both earlier than normal - but that is still more normal. I've lost my most treasured friend, just a few months younger than me. He did more with his too-brief life than me and many I know. He left his wife and four school-age daughters, and that was the first time I really argued with God. I still don't know why God did not deign to change His mind and intervene, but when I told my friend of this argument, he smiled and said that was where he'd heard too. But still, it wasn't as tragic as a new-born baby dying.

Among other things, that taught me empathy - still not a strong suit. This was apparent when we later talked with friends who'd suffered a cot death. At least we didn't know our daughter. To our surprise, they felt bad for us as at least they'd got to know their daughter for an all too brief period.

The second was the death of my first business. Two of us left our third partner, not because he was criminal but because he seemed to lack the ability required to maintain relationships. In hindsight, we were the last of a long line of failed business partnerships, plus three failed marriages. Our debt was enormous, and for the first (and only at the time of writing) time, I could see no way out. Taking the children to the park I switched on the car radio which was tuned to a short-lived local station and heard a guy I'd never heard of (Mark Lowry) talking about open-heart surgery. I love humour but hadn't laughed in the last six months. This guy had me laughing - not just sniggering. In closing he said no matter where we were, "this too shall pass". Laughter opened me up, and this wee gem snuck through. From then on I could see a little light at the end of the tunnel, and it wasn't a train coming the other way. There were still difficulties, but it wasn't so dark.

One of the things I learned from that is that we don't all think alike. I already knew that when police interviewed witnesses, they got varying descriptions. Now I know that applies to every part of life - not just accidents. We all perceive things differently. I had forgotten a story from years earlier. A person said "I have a dog", and the listener pictures a vast array of dogs. He asks more questions (size, need, colour) and eventually they both agree they have the same picture. Except that where one is black and white, the other is white and black. We'll never completely agree with others, but at least making the effort to try greatly reduces conflict.

The third was as we were close to being clear of debt, I had a stroke - a major stroke. I'd had to cancel my life and health insurances because of the debt, and we still had an overdraft. WINZ gave me a benefit for almost a year, and my partner paid me out enough to clear the O/D and leave a small amount. For 2.5 years I had to learn to think as apparently is fairly normal. My first day out of hospital saw my wife set up the laptop so I could read my emails. She got the first one up, and I read it. I then asked how I got to the next one. Today I can read emails with no difficulties, although if it's late I often defer it until the morning. And it applies to other things I refer to infrequently. My short-term memory is the biggest (but by no means only) issue I still deal with.

After 2.5 years I got up from watching the final of a British drama and realised I was thinking about the show. I just did / could not do that, and suddenly realised my mind was working differently. I had my mind back. I was so pleased - until within a week I had to apologise again to my wife. With the old way of thinking came back old ways I'd learned were not helpful to her. That is still a work in progress, but I've found that having to think slower actually gives me time to think deeper.

When my wife gave me a kidney, I came out of the hospital so well I was determined to make up for last time. As I was making plans I started talking with God for the first time in my life (except when things were really bad). One of the first big things I heard was to slow down. That's not in my nature, but a number of other health issues have kept me relatively quiet, and slowing down really has let me talk with God. He can speak louder, but that's not His style. Again a work in progress. I am (slowly) learning to do what I can when I can and not to fret over the rest.

Do I wish I didn't have to put up with the limitations of the stroke? Of course. But would I, if it were possible, wish the stroke away? 100% no! I have learned so much I wouldn't have otherwise learned. If you know the story of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, he lost his mind for seven years. I often used to wonder at the story, but now identify with it.

Out of all this, I've learned that grief is not something to be avoided. When asked to pray for someone in crisis, the first part now is always to ask God what He wants me to pray. I would love Him to "fix" the situation (I know He can) but usually He wants to be with us through the hard times.

 

Last Modified

Last modified: 27 January 2021.