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A letter to my grieving self

By Charles Qualls

Dear grieving self, there are a few things we need to get straight. So listen up. Some of this you know instinctively, because you’ve spent a career saying it to others who grieve. But this is your turn again. This is not a drill. You are not leading a grief support group. This is your life.

First of all, understand that Reba McEntire got it right. In that song she wrote, she said “Last night I prayed the Lord my soul to keep, then I cried myself to sleep. So sure life wouldn’t go on without you. But oh, this sun is blinding me as it wakes me from the dark. I guess the world didn’t stop for my broken heart.” That’s not at all to say that people don’t care. To the opposite, the love has been overwhelming. You know that. But their lives go right on, and yours has too as well.

Your Dad was a gift that you had for a long season. Treasure that season rather than being embittered or surprised that it is over. What was unresolved will now go unresolved. You can’t fix what you said or didn’t say. So celebrate what was. Cherish the memories of him in his healthier days. Be glad you had him.

Another thing I want to say is “Don’t be that person.” Don’t be the person who acts like no one else has ever suffered the loss of a loved one. Fact is, nearly everyone else has. So you join (again) a club none of us wants to belong to, but all will if we live long enough. Talk about it if someone asks you, but don’t bring it up every single conversation. Dispense your grief in doses that those around you can handle. They will walk alongside you if you don’t wear them out with it.

Take the time to grieve. You won’t busy your way through this and you won’t distract your way through. Grief will wait on you, so pay it some attention. Feel what you feel, because you can’t negotiate this. Your feelings are what they are, and they are different from your thoughts, beliefs or philosophies. Your feelings will tell you where you actually are. So don’t stuff them back deep inside. In fact, if you do that they’ll eventually force their own way out. That might happen at the worst time, or you might damage a relationship or job by acting out on “stuck” grief. So let it happen.

Speaking of your feelings and grief, you know what’s about to happen. At times you think you should cry, you may or may not do so. You’ll be “strong” or maybe the tears just won’t come. Then, at other random times when you don’t even know what the trigger was, you’ll be a blubbering mess. Get ready. Driving down the road, pushing a cart in the grocery store, trying to doze off at night — that’s when it’ll sneak up on you. Let it happen. It’s OK.

Your father lived a robust 91 years. No one got cheated. He had been entrapped in a body and mind that had long since stopped working. He had become everything he told you he never wanted to be. Death came as a friend. Grieve him properly, because losing him still hurts.

There is a Sesame Street Golden Book called “The Monster at the End of This Book” that you need to get off the shelf and re-read. You’ve used it in the occasional funeral. Treat yourself and go read it again soon. It’ll remind you that we spend our lives trying to not turn the page or walk through the next door. Because there’s a monster at the end of the book. Most of us think of death as the monster at the end of the book. But sometimes, that just isn’t so.

Oh, and one more thing. Don’t forget to say “Thank you” to God. It’s polite to be thankful when you’ve had something you were grateful for. In the midst of all the sadness and cruel adjustment, you are still thankful for your Dad. It’s OK for both extremes to be true at one time. You have the capacity to feel both. So be sad. And be glad. It’ll work out in the end if you’re not trying to get these things to fight each other. Above all else, remember that God’s humanity loves you and they have your back. You’re going to make it.

THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is pastor of Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.