by Ron McCallum—
For a year now, I’ve been thinking about grief. Not just my own grief, but collective grief from the pandemic, societal grief over unjust systems, and the grief of my relatives and friends. Grief is difficult. For my daughter-in-law, it came with the death of her father from the coronavirus. For my sons and me, it came with the death of their mother and my wife, Karen. Grief also came with the loss of my prostate to cancer and changes in my masculinity that will affect me for the rest of my life.
Grief accompanies loss, and not just the loss of a spouse or friend. It comes with the loss of a job or a marriage or a relationship, and with a subtler loss, like the loss of memory or health. Grief hits people in strange ways
at different times, during different events.
The years 2020 and 2021 have been filled with grief. The pandemic has taken millions of lives worldwide. Most of us know someone who died of COVID-19 or of complications brought on by that disease. Our sorrow may also have been compounded by the loss of a job, the loss of freedom due to shutdowns and, for so many children, missing out on friends and activities while going to school in their living rooms and kitchens.
THE CONUNDRUM OF GRIEF
Grief hit me when I woke up one morning to find my wife of 48 years on the floor, the victim of a heart arrhythmia that took her life. My kids gathered and we grieved together, as much as we could while still in shock. My wife’s sister and brother arrived the following week, and my sister lingered a little longer. No one quite knew what to say, how to comfort my family or how to express their own pain. We smiled and were caring to one another, but no one said anything that truly indicated their pain or loss.
In the weeks after my oldest son left, he had numerous anxiety attacks. He thought he was having a heart attack or other heart issues. My middle son became very stoic, trying his best to keep everything together for me and for his small family. He kept busy but did not deal with his own grief. My youngest son has always worn his emotions on his sleeve. He called me every few days to check in, to tell me how he was doing and to express how bad he felt about the loss and my pain. As for me, well, I found the weeks and months after Karen’s death unproductive. I knew I had things to do, but I just couldn’t move to do them. About three weeks after my wife’s death, I had major surgery to remove my cancerous prostate. It felt like loss upon loss, as I now was dealing with recovery issues, too. I didn’t go out. I wasn’t motivated to do anything—not even to get out of bed or eat. I just couldn’t—didn’t want to—do anything.
But here’s the big lie: I told everyone I was doing just fine. I just didn’t want anyone to worry. People didn’t need to know that I was totally unmotivated to live life. People didn’t need to know that the double whammy I had experienced was keeping me immobilized. My kids were dealing with their own issues. I didn’t want to be a burden to them. My friends were showing concern through emails and text messages, but they had their own lives to live. This is the grief puzzle when we weigh our personal healing against the grief and sadness of others: How do we grieve when we don’t want to burden others? It’s a conundrum.
THE GIFT OF TIME
Then I discovered something that changed my perspective. When we are grieving, time is on our side. Time is our friend as we work our way out of pain and loss. Time allows for the immediacy of grief to dissipate. Time waits for motivation to return. Time allows rest and recuperation and relief. Time is indeed the great healer.
It’s been a year since the shocking, swift death of my beloved wife. I miss her everyday. Everything around my home reminds me of her. But time tells me I can move on. Moving on doesn’t mean forgetting. Moving on doesn’t mean our years together are null and void. Moving on does mean that grief is loosening its grip, freeing me from a holding pattern that was stagnant. I know there will be difficult moments and days in the near future, after the final disposition of my life mate’s ashes and as I undergo radiation therapy for continued prostate cancer issues.
There will be tears and breath-holding and words that come out sideways as I find my balance and move forward. But I am on the road to healing.
The Rev. Ron McCallum is a freelance writer and retired pastor who has served calls in Michigan, Arizona, Alaska, Oregon and Senegal. His late wife, Karen, was a Gather subscriber.