Old Teen Essays
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Article ID: 2230
Age Group: Adult
Posted: November 19th. 1998
Coping with Grief
The death of Matthew Shepard had a great impact on many, many people: People from all walks of life, people from very different religious backgrounds and beliefs, people whose lifestyles, sexual preferences or political leanings were all over the sociological spectrum expressed outrage, grief, disbelief and a sense of deep shock that such a young life could be cut short in so brutal and callous a fashion.
I received many letters about Matthew, his life and his death, this past week. A few stopped by to share their personal struggles with the emotional ravages that they had experienced while trying to make sense of the situation. Some others wanted to share with us their own very personal and painful stories of loved ones who are facing a terminal disease or to talk about the recent ( and sometimes not too recent, but still fresh in their heart) loss of a loved one or friend.
It seems that Matthew's death has unleashed a flood of expression on perhaps the one last taboo subject left in this society: The fact that we are all going to die.
We are all going to pass on and leave someone behind who will miss us just as we have all lost someone close to us through a death experience that we still miss.
Yet, even though we all will share this experience, here in this country we often force people to keep their grief behind closed doors and within a small circle of family and friends. Death and grief make people uncomfortable and we are taught that it is not a nice thing to do to make people feel uncomfortable.
Matthew's death, just as the death of Princess Diana last year, has thrown open that door on grief and sorrow. Despite the discomfort that we have felt about these passings, perhaps it is healthy that we can talk about death a bit more openly. Perhaps we really need to. Perhaps that is why I am writing this.
My dad, who I loved dearly and miss daily, died seven years ago. I remember the day that he told me that he had terminal cancer; that what we thought was arthritis from a life of hard work was really the cancer cells that were eating away his bones; that he would be dead within a year.
But more than that, I remember each other day of that last year.
We were lucky.
We talked about death and what may happen to the spirit thereafter. We talked about his fear and his anger and his regrets for all the things that he had done and all the things that he still wanted to do and would never accomplish. We talked about how things that may seem so important to us day to day become as forgotten prize ribbons-things once coveted and now gathering dust in a box in the back of an attic-and how priorities are shaped by time and age and death.
We were lucky.
And we talked about how lucky that we were: lucky to have the time to talk, lucky to be able to be honest with each other, lucky to have known and loved and respected each other, lucky to be able to share this one last adventure into the unknown together.
So in many ways, I am writing this for my dad and for Matthew, and for you and for me. My dad and I were lucky, but the world is filled with people who are grieving alone or unable to talk about their feelings openly with others. This is for them, too.
SHARING OUR GRIEF:
We need to know that grief is a normal and natural response to loss, it is part of the human experience. The only way to avoid grief is not to live and not to love.
The loss of a loved one throws us into chaos and whether we manage to get through that day or the next week or even the years after-one thing remains: Our lives have been changed forever. That is one of the most important things to realize from the beginning to be able to cope with grief.
You will never be the same again and that is all right. Your world has changed. It will be different from now on. You will heal, but you will never be exactly the same. Accept this and move on.
The first days and weeks are filled with activity and preparations. You may feel like you are watching yourself go through the motion through someone else's eyes. You may feel detached and numb and begin to wonder into what nether region all your emotions have fled. This is a stage of denial and disbelief. It, too, is normal.
In between these times of not knowing where the real "you" went, you may cry and feel depressed and lose sleep or sleep too much. Or you may force yourself to be the strong one for the rest of the family. You may become angry over little things. Sometime you may think that if you start crying, you will never stop. That's okay, too. Absolutely Normal.
But more importantly, realize that we all grieve in our own way. Don't be thrown if you-or someone you know-wonders why you are or are not reacting in a certain way. Whatever way in which you grieve is normal for you. However long you need to grieve is normal for you. Your spirit knows what is necessary for your body and your emotions to begin to heal.
But that doesn't mean you have to go it alone. Since we all have or will face this same experience of loss, we can help each other.
HELPING YOURSELF, HELPING OTHERS:
Most people really need to talk about their grief experience. They may tell the story of those 'last days" over and over again. One of the most loving things that a friend can do is let them talk and just listen. Most people do not want advice on how to "buck up"; they just want their grief to be heard and acknowledged.
Perhaps that is the real explanation of why we all talked so much about Matthew's death even though most of us never knew him. We simply NEEDED to talk about it.
Most often the reason why-after the first flurry of condolences and cards-that people seem to drift away, is that they don't know what to say. But it may help them to realize that they don't have to say anything except, "I care about you and I am here because I care."
That is what we need to hear and Goddess bless the friend that dares to be silent in the face of the sanctity of our grief. That is the friend that you will treasure forever.
Time by itself does not heal all wounds. There is a person missing from your life that cannot be replaced. Your life has changed forever. But what you DO with the time that you have will help you on the road to healing.
YOU ARE THE LASTING MEMORIAL TO THE LIFE THAT IS GONE:
The times of holidays and birthdays and family celebrations always bring back the realization that someone is missing. Often we try to push this feeling of loss aside. Perhaps the more healthy thing to do-especially since we are Pagans and believe in the continuance of the spirit-is to always INCLUDE the dead family member in the celebrations. Bring out their picture, set them a plate, raise a toast in their honor. Tell the family stories. Buy that birthday, Mother's Day, Father's Day card instead of avoiding that aisle in the store on those days. (I cried quite publicly the first year that I did this, but the thought of NOT buying the card made me hurt even more.)
Memories of love last forever. My dad said that as long as you remember a person, they are never really dead.
Here's to you, Dad! I love you.
October 25th., 1998
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