When my father died of congestive health failure 5 years ago at the age of 91, it was an event I had anticipated for the last year of his life. His quality of life had diminished and the funny and creative person he had been all his life had been relegated to some infrequent moments when he wasnt sleeping on the couch. It was hard to lose him, but it was equally hard to see him living the limited life his disease dictated to him.
What I had not anticipated was the thoughtful transformation in my own life as a result of his passing. Although my mother is still alive (she is 90), I began to notice that I was thinking about being next in the line of succession. Both of my older cousins had died, one at the age of 40 and my oldest cousin at 62 from a heart attack, and I am now the oldest cousin of 10 remaining.
Gone now is the security of feeling sandwiched between the generations of parents and my own children. I am a grandparent now and am undertaking the roles once held by my fatherI am Pop Pop. When my mother dies, I will be THE older generation in my family.
Every loss of a loved one causes us to rethink ourselves. We ask who we are now, what has changed and what remains. When we lose a spouse or a parent we lose much of our past and the ability to have someone with whom to remember. The grief process is difficult because what we believed about ourselves has altered, and everything can be subject to questioning. Our faith in God may be shaken, our sense of security in the world may be shattered, our feelings of belonging to someone else in a meaningful way, and our daily agendas become random rather than scheduled. It does feel a lot like we are going crazy.
In reality what we are experiencing is the normal reaction to the abnormal circumstances of losing someone we love. After someone dies and the rest of the world seems to move on, we are left with the debris and chaos caused by our loss. Sharing ones loss with others in a bereavement group can help one to see that others out there in the seemingly indifferent world are struggling too and that our courage to face tomorrow requires the companionship of others who understand because they have been there.
Facing our loss is the first step toward healing our sorrow, and by so doing, creating space for new realms of opportunity to surface in our lives. This new Popup I am, is excited about the change in roles, and is looking forward to watching my children and grandchildren grow, being a support for them, a feeling needed in an entirely new way.
Reverend George Burn is the director of pastoral care and facilitates the Growing Through Loss bereavement support group at Mount Nittany Medical Center. The seven-week session starts on Monday, March 24. Call Rev. Burn at 814.231.7090 with questions and to register.