This time I'm talking about a lesson I have learned rather than one I've been teaching to my kids. After the death of our baby, we have been inundated with well-wishers and sympathizers. People have been very good to us. They've been feeding us and praying for us. This being the first time we have had a child die (and hopeful the last time), it is all new for us. I have encountered death before. But, those cases were more distant: acquaintances, former teachers, a baby niece, grandparents who had lived long and good lives, and first trimester miscarried children. Of those others, the grandparents hit me hardest. That was because I knew them longest and best. I have found that now when I grieve, I am no longer grieving just for one person. I am grieving for all of the losses I've known. I also have found that when I hear of another person's loss, I feel an echo of that in my heart. I'm hoping that in the future, I will be able to be as helpful and supportive as people have been to us.
That echo in the heart seems to be common. When people hear of our loss, I have noticed that there will always be some who then share about a loss they have had. They are the ones most likely to have tears in their eyes for me. I have found that if I can set aside my self-centeredness for a time, those are opportunities to help others know that it is safe to grieve or share current struggles with me. Our next door neighbor is struggling with his wife's failing health. Another neighbor lost his wife about two weeks before we lost our baby. A church matriarch still mourns the loss of two husbands. One of my Aunts still mourns the loss of a baby son who died 50 years ago. Different people deal with death in different ways. For some the grieving process is a long one. I really don't know how long my grieving will go on. Perhaps I will be one of those that grieve for the rest of my life. So far, though, my grief has been fleeting in the few free moments I get from day to day.
It is a recent realization to me that I don't mourn the individual as much anymore as I mourn the reality of death. Death is the enemy that we all eventually have to face. Life by life, people are taken from us. Even though as Christians we know that death of a Christian loved one is a temporary separation, it will last for as long as we ourselves live in this life. As a result, we still suffer the loss of those people who have been taken from us. I no longer feel the need to try to cheer someone up. It is enough to recognize their loss. I have found that letting them talk of their grief or just holding a hand and being silent is enough. They know that I have had a loss and that I understand. It is OK to grieve.
However, I do not feel even remotely sad most of the time. Does this mean that I'm not getting enough grieving time? Does it mean that I'm shallow or heartless? Does it mean that I'm forgeting our daughter? I don't think sadness has to always accompany grief as a neverending mood. I'm a pretty optimistic person in many ways. I'm married to a fun loving guy. We have three wonderful kids ages 6 and under who live in the present and who force us to live in the present. I find it hard to be depressed for long. Life brings joy to us in the midst of sorrow. God knew what he was doing by putting so much beauty in the world. If you find yourself constantly sad, I think you need to evaluate why. If you can't see joy in the beautiful things around you, you probably need some help to bring yourself out of depression.
The fact that I'm mostly happy, does not change the fact of my loss. It just makes it easier to bear. But I've also learned that if I want to be mostly happy instead of sad and fearful, I have to make some choices. I choose to live life for today and not dwell on the past which I can't change. I choose to live for the possibilities in the future and not dwell in fear what might yet happen. I also choose to avoid news stories that describe what horrible things people do to each other. I know my heart is not calloused when I encounter one of these by accident and my blood runs cold. I choose to avoid violent movies (I used to watch them all the time, but now I'm too sensitive to the evil that they depict) and instead try to use my time more productively. I remind myself that it is harder to build up than destroy. Still, I want to be a builder in life. I want to make a difference for the better. So I hope that the loss that we have been through really is building our character. Sometimes I feel like our world is lacking in the character department. Perhaps if we let our character be built by whatever hard times come our way, we will be the better for it and so will our world.