I speak as an ordained interfaith minister, a funeral director, hospice volunteer, as well as a parent and grandparent living on Maui for over 35 years.
Of all deaths, the death of one’s child, especially a sudden unexpected death, is by far the most difficult and painful of all, and asks for deep grieving.
How can we then navigate the waters breaking our heart in pieces, the beyond words pain, often accompanied by guilt, regret, should‘ ofs, shock, disbelief, and more…?
I have seen parents so in pain they don’t want to live any longer, people who cannot imagine continuing on, marriages that could not survive, hearts torn apart … One of my teachers has said, “Some of our greatest work is how we live with a broken heart.” This says there’s nothing here that needs to be “fixed”.
I have seen three responses to a heart broken that big, when one can finally tread the waters, no longer drowning. One is, the person builds a protective wall around their heart to insure they’ll never be open to that much pain again. Armoring the heart in that way, love has trouble getting in or getting out. We see these people most everywhere, often characterized by bitterness, coldness, and they have few, if any, intimate relationships. Sometimes still “caught in the headlights” at the scene of that distant life shattering moment.
Another response is what I call ‘spiritual over-ride’, the inability or unwillingness to engage in grieving; thinking it ‘unspiritual’ since on the absolute level there is no death. While it is true, there is no death, it is also true there is death. The realization and weaving of these two truths is what contributes to wholehearted and sacred living. To deny one is to deny the human experience, to deny the other is to deny something larger, called by many names.
The third response is that somehow, beyond what anyone could imagine, given what this person had to experience, their heart, being cracked and broken, after having visited some of the darkest times of their life, somehow emerge with that crack having made their heart bigger. Now having been transformed into someone capable of giving and serving the larger community, now with so much more to give. How we wonder could that happen?
It’s difficult, in this culture, to give grieving the time, space and value to move us into deeper life. We’re supposed to “get over” it, take two weeks off and get back to work, work supposedly being the antidote to wallowing in grief. We have been made to think of grieving as a bummer, “What, you’re still not over that yet? What is wrong with you? Maybe you need to see a professional?” If I’m not “over it”, I begin to think, “maybe there is something wrong with me.” Often our friends have their own unresolved grief and become uncomfortable in the presence of someone’s grieving.
We grieve what we deeply care about. We grieve the fact that everything is impermanent and will end. Everyone one we know will die, our marriage will end, our relationships will end, our career will end, our friendships will end. And we grieve when that end comes that’s a beautiful thing, not to be “gotten over”. Our grieving feeds our love of life, our love of the people and things we care about.
Our grieving cannot be just a private event. When a child scrapes her knee and runs crying and screaming into her mother’s (or father’s) lap, usually, if the mother simply wraps her arms around her daughter (or son) and holds her close, that child will at some point, jump up and head back to play, having had her expression “held”. So too, we as a community can become a safe, supportive “holding container” giving those grieving among us permission, respect, space and time to let what’s moving through move. In fact, it’s what helps build deep community. Part of this “holding” is a watchful presence, is this person eating and sleeping and taking care? The death of a child in our community is a cause for us all to grieve and hold a space of compassion and support.
Image Credit: Lychee Therapeutics