According to worldwide death mortality statistics approximately 153,000 people die daily. That means deaths worldwide leave behind about 1, 377,000 mourning family members and friends emotionally devastated every day. Statistics show by the time you finish reading this blog an estimated 642 people will have died. How will the mourners left behind deal with loss?
To many mourners new to grief it would appear that Death has won and has the final say. No matter what we do, say or believe in, Death comes for us all and the people we love. In fact, when I look back at all my losses that Death caused, I have been overwhelmed with how successful Death seems. The list is long: My maternal grandmother, my baby sister, my best friend in high school, my unborn son, my wife and my two-year-old daughter, my mother, and countless friends and family members ripped from this life by various means. Death has succeeded in robbing me and other mourners of the physical presence of countless precious people and leaving us in emotional turmoil and pain.
But my most recent loss has provided me with evidence that Death is not the ultimate winner it appears to be. This Christmas holiday my children and I were with my 88-year-old mother-in-law and my sister-in-law. Only a few weeks prior my mother-in-law had become widowed. Her husband and high school sweetheart had died after a long battle with a devastating illness. My in-laws had been married in the late 1940s, raised a family of seven children, and endured the deaths of three of their children at young ages – one of them my wife Cindy, and experienced the death of a grandchild, my daughter Katie. Following her husband’s death, my mother-in-law also received news of the death of her brother-in-law, my father-in-law’s youngest brother.
Despite the fact that Death has robbed this wife and mother of countless loved ones and friends, Death has succeeded in stealing lives and inflicting pain only. Death has failed to bow the head of this strong wife, mother, and grandmother. First of all, my mother-in-law’s long list of losses to Death has failed to rob her of her strong faith. She had a few weepy moments during our holiday visit, but most of her time was spent smiling, preparing delicious holiday meals, and talking about how fortunate her husband was to be with the three children who have died. Every bit of her conversation conveyed that she envied her husband and that she held on to the strong belief that one day she too would be with her departed children and husband.
Second of all, my mother-in-law’s losses to death have failed to rob her of her hope and purpose. She continues to follow her daily routine of five minutes on an exercise bicycle, listening to familiar and inspirational songs, and placing phone calls to friends who need her help and encouragement. She continues to cook and refuses to take free daily hot meals from Meals on Wheels saying there are other people more deserving of the service then she is. She continues to attend church services where she and my father-in-law have worshiped for over 30 years. After his death, my mother-in-law returned to singing in the church choir and is one of the first persons present for each practice. My mother-in-law would love to return to teaching the kindergarten class at the church, but her declining health and energy won’t allow her to do so.
Last of all, my mother-in-law’s losses due to death have not robbed her of her love. She shows her continuing love for all those she has lost to death by missing them, mourning for them, and honoring their lives with her healthy grief and a life that is lived to the fullest. My mother-in-law, like many other mourners, knows that Death does not end relationships, it just changes them. She and many other mourners know that the best way they can honor and remember their loved ones is to lead a good life.
Death does rob us of valuable, important people. But Death does not have to rob us of our memories, our love, our faith or our hope. Healthy grief and a life well lived are the best memorials you can build for the person no longer physically present in your life. Choose to show your love through healthy grief, hang onto your faith and believe that there will always be a reason for hope looking forward to the future. Then Death does not have the victory or the final say.
Remember three things in loss:
- Your loss does not define you or the rest of your life. Just like my mother-in-law, you can realize that you are not defined by what happens to you, but you are defined by how you respond to what happens to you. You have the choice to hang onto memories, a continuing healthy relationship with your loved one, your hope, your faith and your love (for the loved one and for everyone else in your life).
- You have access to resources to cope with loss and lead a good life. Reach out to others and let them know what you need in coping with the loss — support, comfort, encouragement, and inspiration. Remember your faith, although damaged and tested in loss, can give you unlimited resources if you will allow it to.
- You honor your loved one by leading a good life and holding onto your faith, hope and love. Your loved one would not want your life ruined simply because they died. They want you to have happiness, peace, joy and success. Honor their wishes.
And the last enemy to be destroyed is death. 1 Corinthians 15:26
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13
Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise” available online at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Love-Never-LPC-S-Larry-Barber/dp/1613796005 ), Barnes & Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/love-never-dies-lpc-s-ct-larry-m-barber-ct-larry-m/1104364890?ean=9781613796016).
The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunca Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa”
Both English and Spanish versions are available for Kindle and Nook. Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX http://grief-works.org.