Monday, September 21, 2020

Grieving: The Bleak Time


Photo by Dave Freer

My gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, and our adult daughter Tobhiyah arrived safely home on Sunday morning. They had gone to North Carolina for the Celebration of Life service for Kole Norris and Nehemiah Pratt, held on Saturday afternoon. 

Vanessa said it was a beautiful service, a tribute to the young men, and that the entire time was a time of healing for the families and community. And then, probably just before noon, she went to bed, and didn't get up again until this morning at 6:00 AM to go to work. 

I thought she needed another day, but she was too aware of the needs the law firm had, so she chose duty to others, rather than maintenance of herself. I tried to get her to take another day off, but she was determined. 
Actually, I can see value in that for her; they DO need her experience and proficiency at work. They rely on her to get the job done, but they also rely on her for the maturity and calm she brings to her co-workers. And, since they need her, she will receive good wishes from her colleagues, AND she will be able to fill her mind with all the critical details of legal filings, interviews, etc. Having something to do can be a part of her healing.

This is the bleak time of healing. I thought the picture, a cedar gum growing in volcanic rubble on a mountain somewhere in Tasmania, fit this period pretty well. So, I stole it without permission from a blog I'm subscribed to. (Sorry/Not Sorry, Dave.) I encourage you to read the post, called "Delusions," to get perspective on perseverance, which is what the picture means to Dave. And. hopefully, we all will persevere as well. Because this is the bleak time.

If you want to review the widely accepted stages of grieving, look up Kubler-Ross. That really isn't what I'm trying to re-create here. I'm wanting to describe the gritty, boots on the ground, experience many of us are going to live over the next little while. It's the third step in grieving, and it will last much longer than the first two. This blog will apply best to the people who were closest to Kole and Nehemiah; their family and friends. It's been my experience that it's applicable to other emotionally draining times as well, but it's been with the deaths of loved ones that I found it to fit most closely.

The first part of this experience was the shock, anger, fear, and disbelief we experienced when first we heard of the deaths of these two young men. It was just IMPOSSIBLE to believe; our minds couldn't comprehend it. Some of us just sat in shock; others sought, even DEMANDED to know the facts, something that would somehow help them to make the transition from a world with Kole and Nehemiah, to a world without them.
That's made worse by the truth that I talked about in my post of September 13: this is not something that makes sense. Yes, all deaths are shocking, but they are more expected in certain cases. If someone is a soldier in a combat zone, death can intrude. People who are engaged in certain illegal behaviors have no reasonable expectation of a long life. Fire-fighters, as a part of their jobs, risk their lives on a regular basis. But Kole and Nehemiah had NOTHING to do with any risk factors. Their deaths were totally unexpected. And that made the first step so very hard for many of us.

The second stage of this experience came in the immediate aftermath of the accident. There were people who had to be notified. Arrangements had to be made. Some of these were awful. I was the initial point of contact for my family, and I had to tell Nehemiah's adult cousin Tobhiyah, and then his aunt Vanessa, the person who gave him the name Nehemiah. That was awful. I hope you never have to do that; but, if you do, expect unexpected responses. Those are mostly going to be shock and rejection, but don't take it personally. I've had to break bad news to people before, and sometimes, that role sticks to us. DON'T TAKE IT PERSONALLY.
Other aspects of this second stage are quite healing, even redemptive. For me, writing about these young men was powerful and encouraging. I hope you read Jodi Johnson's tribute to her son and Nehemiah; it was beautifully moving, and it gave her a chance to speak of the joy and brotherhood these two young men found with each other, and with other friends and family. 
While the preparation is going on, either for a conventional funeral, a a Celebration of Life, it gives all of the bereaved a focus on something. Whether you are planning the service, or just planning to be there, you have a focus on something in the future, something which can be accomplished. It leaves little time for anything else.

The third stage starts after the ceremony. It can start immediately after, or when you get in the car for the drive home, or when the last guest departs. This is the bleak time. 
The grief is still palpable, and there are no arrangements you can distract yourself with. During this time, your task is acceptance, and learning. Both of those are exceedingly hard for everyone, but the closer you are to the one who has passed, the harder they are. They are also mixed so thoroughly that one blends into the other.  
The acceptance is a continuation of the first stage: understanding that they really, really are gone. This is FORCED upon you, by circumstances, which for the first time do not include the physical presence of the person who is gone.
And the learning comes with it: we are forced to LEARN how to deal with various events and circumstances, which have always included the other. It's in the bigger events, like the first Halloween, the first Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays; it's also in the little things, when you see a movie, and think, "I'll bet THEY will like that;" and then, you remember.
It's the bleak time.

I really do think that, for those hit most strongly by the loss, a year should be designated as a mourning time. That doesn't mean that you wear black for a year, although you can. It does mean that you might expect to be ambushed by a flood of emotions, at any time, and that you should be prepared to accept that as a part of your life, for the season. 

Talking helps, as long as you are talking to someone who understands grief. That doesn't HAVE to be a counselor or pastor, but they are usually good at this. Fortunately, there are usually a number of grief groups that are available in most locations of any size. Atlanta probably has a million of these, but even in the smallest place I've lived (population 4,000), the funeral home offers grief support. 

The bleak time is not forever. That message is also available in the picture at the top of this blog. In the midst of desolation, live prevails; growth happens. And, eventually, we DO learn how to live our lives in a new way. 

Two final thoughts: 
1. Grief can make you act badly toward other people. Hopefully, the people you are around will cut you some slack. That's REALLY important when you have two people, living together, both grieving. The best you can hope for, really, is that you don't both have your disturbances at the same time. It's not always going to work out that way, though. Give yourself, and give other people, some room to act strangely. It WON'T last. And, if you have just blown up on someone over a trivial matter, as soon as you realize it, make a heartfelt apology, and TRY NOT to go off on them again in the same conversation.

2. I'm not telling you anything I haven't been through. Grief has pounded me flat on multiple occasions. But, I have learned wisdom from two books.
The Big Book says "No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we can see how our experience can benefit others."
The Big Big Big Book says "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort that we ourselves have been comforted by God. "

And it's from my own experience, informed by these sources (and others), and not some academic program or seminar,  that I offer up these words to you.  I hope you find something of value here; perhaps for yourself, perhaps for others. If you have found it meaningful, won't you please put a comment below? It encourages me, you see. 

Peace be on your household.

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