There is no script for how to handle grief. Everyone deals with grief in his or her own way.
Because of this, we really should never judge anyone for how they react or behave when they’re faced with the loss of a loved one–whether family or friend. What we see may be only a part of the reality, and not the entire reality itself.
I know this to be true because of my own experiences. The first was in 1994.
In the late 1980s, my family and I migrated to the United States leaving my parents behind in Jamaica. It was really hard on all of us because I was their Caregiver even though they lived in their own home about a half-mile away. I was my mother’s only child and my father’s youngest. They were also losing their three granddaughters, ages eight through 12 whom they doted on, and who loved them dearly.
My Father’s Stroke
When I received the phone call in July 1994 that my father had a stroke and had been taken to the hospital, I made the decision to travel to Jamaica to see him. My gut feeling was that this might be the last time I’d see him alive. The trip was planned for 10 days.
My own family was very concerned because a few months prior I’d been in the hospital for 21 days, 7 of which were spent in the Intensive Care Unit, and follow-up surgery was scheduled for the month after my proposed trip.
On my arrival on the island, I went directly to the hospital. The third day I walked into the hospital ward, with just enough time to say hello to my dad; then he was gone. Had he been waiting for me to arrive that day? I fell on his bed, cried for a bit, hugged him, and that was it.
I loved my father dearly. However, arrangements had to be made immediately, lots of people had to be contacted to make this work. There was no time to waste. I went into production mode.
I don’t remember crying again while in Jamaica.
Giving my Mother the News
When I went to my parents’ home to tell my mother, we were not sure how she’d take it. She surprised us by taking it very calmly and told me that she had not expected him to recover as he’d had several smaller strokes before but this was the first time he’d gone into a coma.
I did not see her shed a tear after 42 years of marriage. She remained very calm right up until the funeral.
A month later after returning to the United States, I attended the Memorial Service of a casual acquaintance whose family we wanted to support.
During the Memorial Service, the floodgates opened up, and the tears would not stop. It dawned on me that my tears were the ones I had not shed for my father. Attending another Memorial Service transported me back and all the unshed tears seemed intent on being released.
Mother’s Grief Signals
Three months later my mother joined our family, and I discovered how much she was grieving when we tried to talk about her husband, my father. Her voice would invariably wobble, as she was ready to burst into tears. She’d say she did not want to talk about him as it made her too sad.
This went on for some time until we were in my car alone one night. I explained that I loved my father very much and understood and empathized with her grief; however, she was not being fair by not wanting anyone to mention his name. By the end of our conversation, she was more open to the idea that, because we loved him, we wanted to be able to talk about him, and she should too. That would honor his memory.
Although it took her a little while, she slowly began to speak about my father, and so could the rest of us, without her getting emotional.
The Curious Twitter Feed
Recently I stumbled on a Twitter Feed, the contents of which caused me to dig a little deeper. The feed was supporting someone who was involved in a tragic accident, and who had come under severe criticism and ridicule.
I saw a lot of empathetic statements and requests for people to put themselves in the place of “the father” rather than condemning him. This aroused my curiosity even further.
The results of my research were painful to read about.
Based on the newspaper articles, an eighteen-month-old baby girl was normally taken care of by her grandmother while her parents were at work. Apparently, the grandmother became ill and the parents, both police officers, had to find alternate care for the baby. Ultimately, on this day, dad was the last to have the baby in the car and was to have taken her to daycare.
It appears that this was a total change in his routine. Perhaps the baby fell asleep and was completely quiet. Dad forgot the baby in the car, locked the car, and went in to work. When he remembered the infant, some eight hours later, the baby was found unconscious in the car. She died two days later.
I saw a photograph of the little casket with her photos, and she was one sweet little baby. My heart bled for her and her parents. I prayed that they’d survive this tragedy together.
Here is where the story ties in with my title, Grief Unscripted.
“Too Tough to Handle”
The newspaper reported that the parents were so grief-stricken, they were unable to attend the funeral service of their baby girl. They apparently stayed in a home nearby but were unable to go to the church where her tiny white casket lay. The newspaper headline read, “Too tough to handle.”
As always happens in situations like these, there are lots of criticisms, sympathies, judgment, and condolences.
One person tweeted something that echoed the question in my mind: Will the parents later regret that they did not attend the funeral service? I do not know if they were at the graveside. It’s my hope they did. If not, will they ever feel they have closure?
Just Be There
Grief is personal. Grief is unscripted. It’s important that we avoid being judgmental when observing others who are dealing with grief. Every person deals with grief in a different way. Just be there for the one grieving.
Your ability to provide loving support will go a long way to help someone who is experiencing grief.