I had been a visitor on too many dead body calls, accident, and suicide and homicide scenes to count as a Police Chaplain for 15 years when grief came home.
I knew enough from my work as a Chaplain to expect that when it came to my home, my life, my heart, it would not be the same as what I had encountered on those countless scenes of loss and grief. It would be mine, not that of someone else. This time, I wouldn’t be able to go home and go on with life like I had so many times before.
I was somewhat familiar with grief myself, having lost my older brother at the age of 33 to AIDS. It happened right when a birth mother told us that we were the chosen adoptive parents to our oldest son. Something of my brother’s death seemed to just maybe bear a little bit of redemption. And it was over 20 years ago.
Diagnosed with lung cancer in 2014 at 80 years old, Mom chose the route of no treatment. She lived her life as fully as she could, until she couldn’t anymore.
It turned out that five weeks before she would leave this earth, my younger brother’s wife would tragically lose her battle with drug and alcohol addiction at only 33 years old. She left behind a 6-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son.
My brother immediately moved to my city to be near family support for he and his children. For the first time since I left home after High School, we were living near each other. At the same time, I was packing in preparation to leave the city I called home for over 29 years for another clear across the country.
Understandably, yet surprisingly, the move was much more painful, soul tearing, for me than I expected. I could only hope and pray that 2016 and the season of new work and new home would bring fresh life to my battered heart.
Instead, the new year brought four more deaths of people attached to my wife and I, all of them suddenly and unexpectedly. In March, it would be my best friend. One day short of the six-month anniversary of his death, it would be her best friend. Two weeks later, it would be our boys’ former football coach. Four weeks after that, it would be her adopted older brother.
With a Twilight Zone-ish twist, they were all 55 years old. Grief seemed to find its way into every nook, cranny, and crevice inside my soul.
I am a practitioner, teacher and coach of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, and had been for a dozen years. I had helped countless other Pastors integrate its principles into their own lives, and that of their congregations.
One of the principles of EHS is “Expanding Your Soul Through Grief and Loss.” I knew enough to be aware that grief was going to find its way in my soul much like a trickle of water turns into a brook, then creek, then river, forging its way through vast territories.
What I found myself unprepared for, and am still reconciling, is just how deep that work needs to happen in me. I knew that life wouldn’t stop for my grief. Those around me would keep on living, but I was caught off guard by how quickly life would want to intrude on my mourning.
Now halfway through 2017, the spinning world is still on its own axle. Only eight months after my wife’s best friend’s passing, two of her four children have married.
My wife’s youngest, 28-year-old cousin recently lost his battle to drug addiction. My dad considers whether or not he will receive treatment for the recent diagnosis of bladder cancer.
I have long known that life goes on after the loss of people we love. I am learning to accept this for what it is, rather than battle with its glaring truth. I am discovering that there is life in grief, and that our losses do not have to make us less, but can make more room for life and love.
I wish I could tell you how that happens. Instead, I can only tell you that it does. Give yourself the love and grace and time that you have given to others when they were in the shoes of loss and you were wearing the clothes of comforter. It is just as much yours to receive as it is when you give it away.